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Choosing your options wisely

If you are taking your GCSEs you’ll have more than exams and coursework to worry about, there’s that little matter of what you are going to do after school ends. If you have your sights set on a career in the plumbing and heating industry, here is what you need to know.

1) How long will it take to qualify?
Unluckily for you (the year below you) there are big changes happening to the apprenticeship system. There is a new type of apprenticeship set to launch, but it is unlikely to be available UK-wide from September. The new Trailblazer Apprenticeships are being phased in over the next couple of years. How long it takes you to qualify will depend on what route you take, either the current NVQ apprenticeship route, or the new Trailblazer Apprenticeship route.

Up to now the only option was an NVQ apprenticeship; with the first part of the apprenticeship covering the NVQ Level 2 Diploma (Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland), which gave you an entry level qualification, with you then progressing on to the Advanced Apprenticeship in order to gain the industry recommended NVQ Level 3 Diploma. NVQ Level 2 normally lasted two years, with an extra year to reach Level 3. 

The new Trailblazer apprenticeships will last for four years, unless you have pre-existing experience or a special aptitude for the subject, in which case you may be fast-tracked and serve a shorter apprenticeship.

2) What qualifications do I need to gain to get on an apprenticeship?
You need English and Maths 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.

With the new Trailblazer Apprenticeships, employers set the entrance criteria, though it will still be expected that apprentices hold Level 2 English and Maths on completion of the apprenticeship, if they have not already hit that level prior to starting.

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 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 £3.70 per hour (under 19 yrs), but you should note that if you are over 19 you will also earn this rate in the first year of your training. This may not sound a lot, but when you consider that the course has been paid for and you are gaining valuable skills and experience, it’s not a bad deal, especially when a university course could cost around £9,000 per year! As a minimum, apprentices can expect to earn around £90 per week, but some companies may be more generous.

5) How many hours will I work?
The norm is approximately 30 hours per week, plus a day at college. The working day may start at 8am and end around 4pm.

6) Will I get holidays?
Apprentices are entitled to 20 days of paid holiday per year, plus bank holidays.

7) How do I find out more about a career in plumbing?
Check out the CIPHE’s careers webpages. Or for detailed information on working in the plumbing and heating industry, A Career in Plumbing is available on Amazon – priced £9.99.