Apprenticeship options

training and apprenticeships

If you are looking to enter the plumbing and heating industry, you may be considering training via one of the following options:

  • Apprenticeship
  • College course(s)
  • Private training provider.

All are valid pathways into the industry, with an apprenticeship the most highly sought after route.

Which training route to choose?

The training option you choose to take will depend on your personal circumstances. It is really important that learners look into all the options available and choose their course or apprenticeship wisely.

College courses

Colleges can be a great place to start learning a trade and offer a number of different courses, aimed at different levels of skill and understanding. It's vital the learner knows what qualification they will gain at the end of their course and if it will give them the right knowledge, skills and experience to be gainfully employed in the industry.

Learners are advised to research the courses and educational establishments before committing to them. Make sure you know what Level your qualification will achieve and if it includes the practical work experience necessary to gain an industry recognised qualification such as a full NVQ Level 2 or 3. Some colleges may be able to help with work experience if they have good contacts with local employers. This is vital to achieving a qualification that could lead to employment.

The college will be able to inform you of entry requirements, term start dates, length of the course and costs (if applicable). Colleges will likely run courses full time, part time and may offer evening courses. As part of your research on the course at the college, find out if the tutors / assessors have themselves achieved a NVQ Level 3 qualification in their subject area, have a teaching qualification and have industry experience.

To find out more about college courses, visit our training providers page.

Private training providers

Going down this route may suit some people as there isn’t the ‘tie-in’ of academic start dates, term times, etc. This comes at a premium, as it would normally offer more flexibility and cost more than enrolling on a college course. Adult learners often prefer a little more of a ‘mature’ learning environment, so may choose a private provider rather than a college.

Learners are given the same advice as those researching college courses. Make sure you know what Level your qualification will achieve and if it includes the practical work experience necessary to gain an industry recognised qualification such as a full NVQ Level 2 or 3. Find out if the tutors / assessors have themselves achieved a NVQ Level 3 qualification in their subject area, have a teaching qualification and have industry experience. Some training providers may be able to help with work experience - but read the small print as it may not be guaranteed.

A word of warning here – like most things there are good and bad training providers. Even though some will have excellent facilities, they may not offer industry-recognised qualifications. Choose wisely or you could spend a lot of time and money on a worthless qualification.

Head over to our training providers page for more information.

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An apprenticeship is a work-based training programme that offers paid employment while you learn. This is the preferred route of many joining the industry, however, competition for employment as an apprentice can be fierce.

The main benefit is being able to gain valuable work experience and learning, debt-free*. While those on degree courses may end up thousands of pounds in the red, those on apprenticeships will be developing all the practical and technical skills needed to progress in their chosen career, while they earn.

From 1 August 2020, all new apprenticeship starts in England had to be on the new, employer-designed Standards.

* Those aged 24 and under do not pay towards training costs

Who can apply for an apprenticeship?

Anyone can apply for an apprenticeship as long as they are over the age of 16.

What entry qualifications do I need?

Applicants should aim to hold both English and Maths qualifications at Level 2. This equates to GCSE grade C - A (pre-2017 GCSE qualifications) or grade 4 - 9 (new GCSE qualifications). A good science grade would also help.

When it comes to the Trailblazer Apprenticeships in England, 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 a GCSE in both English and Maths at grade 4-9 on completion of the apprenticeship. So if you have not achieved that prior to starting your apprenticeship you will need to study for your Maths and English GCSE’s alongside study for the apprenticeship.

When to apply?

There are no set rules around apprenticeship start dates – it depends on the employer and when they need to recruit to fit their business needs. However you may find that some larger employers will be recruiting far in advance of when the apprenticeship actually starts.

Every apprenticeship vacancy will include a start date and a closing date, so be sure to check both.

What are the training costs?

In England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland those aged between 16 and 24 won’t usually have to fund their tuition - the employer and the government cover the fees.

However, if you are over 25, you may be asked to contribute towards the cost of your training. Some employers will cover this cost, so do ask at your interview.

There is help available for the over 25’s in forms of loans, grants and bursaries, depending on which of the home nations you study in. See our ‘further apprenticeship advice’ section at the bottom of the page for useful links.

How long does an apprenticeship take?

This varies depending by what home nation you are studying in.

In England the Plumbing and Domestic Heating Technician apprenticeship normally takes up to four years to achieve. However, there is flexibility to allow either those with pre-existing experience and qualifications, or particularly gifted students to finish earlier.

In Scotland the Domestic Plumbing and Heating modern apprenticeship usually takes three years to complete.

In Wales apprenticeships are split into NVQ Levels:

  • NVQ Level 2 (the entry level qualification) usually lasts two years full time.
  • NVQ Level 3 is the industry recommended qualification and takes an additional year full time, taking the total apprenticeship to three years.

In Northern Ireland apprenticeships are also split into two levels:

  • A Level 2 qualifications would normally last two years full time.
  • A level 3 qualification would normally take a further two years.

However, there is some flexibility as the apprenticeship duration can vary and can be agreed between the apprentice, training contractor and employer.

How much does an apprentice earn?

All apprentices must receive the appropriate national minimum wage for their age. This may not sound a lot, but when you consider that a university course could cost around £9,000 per year, earning whilst learning really does compare stand up to comparison.

Find out more on the minimum wage here:

How many hours do apprentices work?

Approximately 30 hours per week, plus a day at college. The working day may start at 8am and end around 4pm.

Are apprentices allowed paid holidays?

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

How do I apply for an apprenticeship?

To get an apprenticeship, you need an employer. There are a number of ways to find one and where you start to look will depend on where you live.

For apprenticeship vacancies in England visit:

For apprenticeship vacancies in Scotland visit:

For apprenticeship vacancies in Wales visit:

For apprenticeship vacancies in Northern Ireland visit:

You can also

  • Check out the recruitment section of local newspapers to see if any companies are advertising apprenticeship vacancies.
  • Search the internet for companies to see if they are advertising apprenticeship opportunities.
  • Get in touch directly with local companies and give them a copy of your CV. Ask them to keep it on file in case a vacancy arises.
  • Ask family and friends if they know of anyone who is looking for an apprentice.


Further apprenticeship advice

National Apprenticeship Service

Apprenticeships Scotland

Welsh Government

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Government

Apprenticeship facts:

  • Apprentices get paid while they learn
  • You need to be aged 16 or over to apply for an apprenticeship
  • Apprenticeships typically last 3-4 years depending on which home nation you are studying in
  • Apprentices typically work 30 hours per week, plus a day at college.
  • Those under 25 years old do not pay training costs.

CIPHE Trainee membership

Once an individual has enrolled on an apprenticeship, they can apply for Trainee membership of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering.

This will give them access to an e-learning portal, which is packed with learning modules, demonstration videos, literature and technical information. Leading manufacturers have contributed modules, which cover a wide range of topics, including renewables.

Trainee members benefit from a range of discounts and special offers. They will also be eligible to apply for awards and bursaries. Another benefit of membership is that it shows employers you are on the right track from the very start of your career - holding professional development and high standards at the core of your work ethos.

Trainee membership currently costs just £30 annually – this includes access to learning support and delivery of P&H Engineering magazine four times a year.

For further details please contact the Membership Department at or ring 01708 463116.

Careers advice from the Plumbing & Heating Skills Partnership (PHSP) 

The Plumbing & Heating Skills Partnership (PHSP) has launched new and comprehensive advice on the correct routes to becoming a qualified plumbing and heating engineer.

Aimed at both school leavers and career changers, the guidance maps out straightforward messages on what qualifications and training you need, tips for choosing a training provider and the warning signs that could mean the training won’t lead to qualified status.  

Visit the PHSP website

Career pathways

Want to find out what aptitudes you need to join the industry and how qualifications, skills and experience are key to your career progression?

Find out more

Training providers

Confused about training providers and qualifications? Our training providers section explains the basics so you can make an informed choice.

Find out more

Approved Training Centres ATC

Browse our directory of CIPHE Approved Training Centres (ATC) to find a quality training establishment near you.

Find out more