Training providers

Apprentices in college


If you’ve decided to take the college or private training provider route to embark on a career in the plumbing and heating industry, it can be hard to work out where to start. Sadly it’s not always the simple case of choosing your closest college, then embarking on a new career. There are many courses and training providers to choose from and not all are equal. To make sure you are as informed as possible, there are several things you need to know before you choose which route you take into the industry.

Firstly, you need to understand that the demands of learning a vocational, engineering role, will be different to obtaining an academic qualification. Then you need to navigate the numerous routes to becoming qualified, and the different levels of qualifications available. Lastly you need to understand how to spot a quality training provider, so that both your course and training provision live up to your expectations.

Vocational training or academic courses

If you choose a vocational course or apprenticeship, your experience of education will differ greatly to those undertaking an academic route to employment. A larger proportion of your training will be dedicated to learning the physical skills you need, in the workplace, with a smaller portion dedicated to theory or classroom based learning.

That is not to say that theory isn’t vitally important - it is and you will absolutely use what you learn as the basis for starting out on your career - however, if you don’t develop the practical skills you need, employment opportunities will be limited.

It is important to keep this in mind when choosing a course. An industry recognised qualification will always include workplace experience.

Understanding course Levels

Whether you train at a college or private provider, it’s really important you know what qualification you will gain at the end of your course and if it will deliver the right knowledge, skills and experience to be gainfully employed in the industry.

To complicate things, just because you are working towards a certain Level of qualification, it does not mean that qualification will make you employable on completion, or give you the knowledge or skills to immediately go self-employed. For example, if you are taking a classroom-based course, without adequate on-the-job experience at Level 2, you will not gain the practical, work based competence, experience or skills, that will allow you to complete your portfolio or on-site assessments to gain a full NVQ.

The below is a basic breakdown of the course Levels:

  • Level 1 courses are an introduction to the industry only and will not leave you qualified to undertake employed plumbing work.
  • Those looking to enter the industry, should aim for a full Level 2 qualification, (NVQ Level 2 or equivalent), which includes on-the-job work experience.
  • To receive the most comprehensive level of training, and to aid career progression, the CIPHE recommends undertaking a full Level 3 qualification (NVQ Level 3 or equivalent). An NVQ Level 3 can be undertaken once the learner completes the full NVQ Level 2 - this once again requires work-based experience to complete.

The bottom line is that it takes years to train to be a plumbing or heating engineer, and most of that time is spent learning the practical skills required to do the role. If your course does not include mastering those skills in a workplace environment, it is unlikely to provide you with the knowledge, skills and experience to be gainfully employed in the industry.

Work Experience

If the college/training centre can’t help with work experience, you could try contacting local plumbing companies to see if they can assist. It must be said that the majority will be SMEs (small or medium enterprises), often sole traders. For these types of businesses, taking on a trainee can be a daunting prospect as they balance the time training you up with the benefit for the business. Training somebody takes time and patience, and liability for any mistakes made can be off-putting.

Some may welcome a more mature employee who shows dedication, commitment and can be relied upon. Research the companies you are planning to speak with and use your strengths to explain how you will add value during your time with them.

Ask around your family and friends to see if they know anyone in the trade who might give you a chance. If you have transferable skills, such as plastering or tiling, it will put you in a favourable light, as will having a clean driving license.

It might be worth visiting local plumbing merchants to see if they have a notice board. Ask if you can have a space to put up some details about yourself. CIPHE Trainee members can use the CIPHE’s Work Experience service to advertise their details online.

Social media can also be a good tool to use. There are opportunities to reach large audiences on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Community Facebook Groups can be a particularly good place to enquire. Keep your post short and snappy, giving key information about yourself, such as the skills and relevant experience you can offer, and if you have a clean driving license etc. It’s amazing how many people could end up seeing your request for work experience.

Some sole traders or small plumbing businesses may be inclined to offer work experience, providing they don’t have to pay you. Whether you take up such an offer will be down to your financial situation.


What entry qualifications do I need?

Generally, applicants will require 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. If there is high demand for courses, you may have to do an aptitude test to assess your suitability before being enrolled.

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 really important you know what qualification you'll gain at the end of the course and if it will give you the right knowledge, skills and experience to be gainfully employed in the industry.

Learners are advised research both the courses on offer and educational establishments available. 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.

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.

Your chosen college will be able to inform you of entry requirements, term start dates, length of the course and any applicable costs. Colleges will likely run courses full time, part time and may offer evening courses.

Private training providers

Going down this route may suit some older learners as there isn’t the ‘tie-in’ of academic start dates, term times, etc. However this does come at a premium, as it normally costs more than enrolling on a college course. A private training provider may also provide a more ‘mature’ learning environment, compared to that provided by some colleges.

Many private training providers will run ‘add on’ qualifications and short courses, (once you are qualified) such as Water Regulations or Hot Water Systems etc.

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 the subject area and have industry experience. Find out if they have a teaching qualification. 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…

Rogue training providers

The CIPHE always suggests that you select your training provider and course very carefully. While the majority of training providers offer quality courses and industry recognised qualifications, there are number of rogue trainers, selling a dream of easy to complete training and high earning careers.

These types of courses will often come from private companies and promise qualifications in weeks, or months, claiming to condense quality learning into small timeframes. Training providers may offer classroom based learning or home study courses that fit in around your current commitments. Some even claim to have lifelike Virtual Reality content or contractors waiting in the wings to give you workplace experience.

Rogue training courses are usually very big on theory and offer very limited practical work, normally in a training centre. The harsh reality is that this is no match for a four-year, work based apprenticeship. The courses offering just classroom or home learning experience will not give you the skills necessary to enter the industry or gain employment.

Be especially wary if they suggest you will earn £40K+ as soon as you qualify! It takes years, not months to learn a trade, there are no short cuts.

Questions to ask potential training providers

  • Do the tutors / assessors hold a minimum NVQ Level 3 qualification in the subject, along with industry experience?
  • Do the tutors / assessors have a teaching qualification?
  • Is there help to gain a work placement?
  • What qualifications are achieved?
  • How many people complete the course with a full NVQ?

CIPHE Approved Training Centres (ATC)

One way to avoid the trap of the rogue training provider is to choose a course run by a CIPHE Approved Training Centre (ATC).

View our directory of Approved Training Centres

Becoming a plumber FAQ

Have questions about joining the trade? The CIPHE has collated its most frequently asked questions about becoming an engineer. This extensive document will give you a wealth of information on embarking on a career in the plumbing and heating industry.

Download Becoming a plumber FAQ sheet

Changing Careers

Are you thinking of retraining and want a career in the plumbing and heating industry? Our changing careers fact sheet will help you to understand the options available to you.

Download Guidance for career changers

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.  

With some training providers offering intensive courses over a few weeks or months, the clear advice from PHSP is that it takes four years to become fully qualified for those with no prior experience.

Visit the PHSP website

Awarding bodies

The following organisations can offer advice on training in the plumbing and heating industry:


Tel: 01332 376000

City & Guilds

Tel: 0844 543 0033*

*Calls to 0844 numbers cost 7 pence per minute plus your telephone company’s access charge.

CIPHE Trainee membership

Once an individual has enrolled on an accredited course, 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. Should Trainee members need help securing work experience, they can take advantage of having their details added to the Work Experience section on the Institute’s website.

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.

Approved Training Centres

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

Find out more

Apprenticeship options

Considering joining the industry as an apprentice plumber? Visit the apprenticeship options page for the lowdown on all things apprenticeships.

Find out more

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