Is an apprenticeship calling?


In Apprenticeships, Education, Training

Across the land, year 11 students have been celebrating the end of school, but with GCSE exams to pass, many will be contemplating what the future holds. If you are one of those considering a career in plumbing and heating, you need the lowdown on what the industry has to offer. The CIPHE has answered some of the most common questions asked by those pursuing a career in the industry.

1) How long will it take to qualify?

Big changes have been made to the apprenticeship system in England. The old NVQ apprenticeship route would see students tackle an NVQ Level 2 Diploma (Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland) to attain an entry level qualification, with students progressing on to the Advanced Apprenticeship (NVQ Level 3 Diploma) in order to gain the industry recommended qualification. NVQ Level 2 normally lasted two years, with an extra year to reach Level 3.

However, the introduction of the new Trailblazer Apprenticeships has added an extra year onto training, rounding it up to four years. These qualifications have been developed by employers and industry organisations to create a more extensive apprenticeship, to help better serve the needs of the modern day plumbing and heating industry. Although four years will be the norm to become fully qualified, there is some flexibility. For example, learners with pre-existing experience or a special aptitude for the subject, may be fast-tracked and consequently serve a shorter apprenticeship.

The new Trailblazer Apprenticeships are being phased in while the old NVQs are being phased out, so for a time, both the old and new qualifications will run side by side. However, given the choice, the CIPHE would highly recommend enrolling on a Trailblazer course.

2) What qualifications are needed to get on an apprenticeship?

As a general rule applicants will require English and Maths qualifications at Level 2. This equates to GCSE grade C - A* (pre-2017 GCSE qualifications) or Level 4 - 9 (new GCSE qualifications). A good science grade would also help.

When it comes to the new Trailblazer Apprenticeships, employers set the entrance criteria. So, someone who can prove they have the right attitude and aptitude for the role may gain it without hitting Level 2 for English and Maths. However, it will be expected that apprentices hold Level 2 English and Maths on completion of the apprenticeship, which will mean adding study for Maths and English GCSEs alongside that for the apprenticeship.

3) What is the industry like?

The plumbing industry holds diverse career paths, good wages and the opportunity for individuals to run their own business. Many plumbers progress to design, consultancy, teaching and management, making a role in the plumbing and heating industry, a career with many opportunities.

4) How much does an apprentice earn?

All apprentices must receive the appropriate national minimum wage. At present the rate is £3.90 per hour for those aged 19 or under or for those older than 19 but in their first year of your training. Some companies do choose to pay their apprentices more.

This may not sound a lot, but the cost of training must be factored into this too. The developing of valuable skills and experience and the off-the-job studying for a qualification, are valuable additions to an apprenticeship package. Especially when a university course could cost around £9,000 per year.

5) How many hours does an apprentice work?

The norm is approximately 30 hours per week, plus a day at college. The working day in the plumbing and heating industry may start at 8am and end around 4pm, but can often be earlier and will depend on the employer.

6) Does an apprentice get holidays?

Apprentices are entitled to 20 days of paid holiday per year, plus bank holidays.

7) Are there any industry bodies that can help with training?

The CIPHE offers ‘Trainee’ membership which allows members to access technical information, online resources, receive P&H Engineering magazine, access Bursaries through the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and attend technical events (to name but a few advantages). Any apprentice studying for an approved academic qualification in a plumbing or heating discipline at an accredited training centre, is eligible to join.

8) Is there somewhere for more information about a career in plumbing?

Check out the CIPHE’s careers webpages.

For more information on CIPHE Trainee membership contact the membership team on 01708 463116 or email