A Guide to Plumbing Apprenticeships for Applicants & Employers

Due to the unique skills required and the often challenging environments they need to work in, plumbers are some of the tradespeople in shortest supply across the UK. The current high demand for qualified plumbers means that the profession has become more lucrative than ever before, with a huge amount of training opportunities available to those willing to make the most of them.

If you believe you have the necessary skills and work ethic to make a career for yourself in plumbing, an apprenticeship can be a fantastic way to begin your journey in the industry. Similarly, employing an apprentice can be a great way to secure yourself a keen and skilled assistant while enjoying the reward of giving someone the best start to their career.

Whether you’re a potential apprentice or an employer looking to start taking on apprentices, you should find everything you need in this essential guide.

What is an Apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship provides a way for prospective plumbers to ‘learn on-the-job’ by giving them the opportunity to gain practical work experience whilst undertaking official training and qualifications at the same time.

Benefits of Apprenticeships for Young Adults

Full-time education isn’t usually the best option for young adults wishing to learn a trade. Not only can the courses themselves be expensive, but it also leaves little to no time for gainful employment. Apprenticeships offer young adults a way to learn their trade whilst working at the same time, providing them with both a crucial income and the practical skills that can only be learnt on the job.

Completed apprenticeships also result in qualifications that assist career progression, a range of opportunities for further training, and an introduction to an employer who may well give you a job for life.

Benefits of Apprenticeships for Employers

Hiring an apprentice can be a great and cost-effective way to grow your business. Rather than taking on an unqualified and inexperienced assistant, your apprentice will be learning while they work with you, meaning that their training will be fresh in their minds and they will be well-versed in the latest regulations and best practice. Someone who is new to the industry can also be much easier to work with than a trainee who already has some experience and who might have learned bad habits from a previous employer.

While there may be some additional cost involved in employing an apprentice, there are several financial incentives offered to employers by government schemes. The National Apprenticeship Service, for example, will pay for the entirety of training for apprentices aged between 16 and 18, 50% for those aged 18-24, or 40% for those over 24. Grants are also available to help towards the wages of apprentices under the age 25.

What are the Main Challenges for Apprentices?

Much like the industry itself, a plumbing apprenticeship is not easy. Being thrown into the deep end can be challenging for anyone, but moving from the world of education into the world of full-time work can be especially daunting for younger candidates. The work may be more physically demanding than you’re used to, and you’ll have to quickly become proficient at working efficiently and safely to strict deadlines.

While apprenticeships do give you the opportunity to earn while you train, the salaries for new apprentices can be low, especially for those aged 16-18. If you’re not able to live at home or benefit from financial help from your parents, apprenticeships can come with their own financial challenges and you may have to find ways to fund yourself during this time, such as housing benefit. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll leave your training ready to earn a good wage without being saddled with the debt of a university education.

Challenges for Employers

While hiring an apprentice may cost you less than hiring an assistant or already-qualified plumber, it will still cost your business money and you have to be prepared for the challenges that come with bringing an inexperienced apprentice into your team. Apprentices also come with a wide range of legal responsibilities, so you’ll need to be prepared to assist with their training.


Becoming a Plumbing Apprentice

Education & Requirements to Apply

Apprentices in England and Wales must be aged 16 or over, eligible to work in the UK and not already enrolled in full-time education. Before you begin your apprenticeship, you must ensure you have secured at least 30 hours of work a week with your chosen firm – although colleges and training centres can assist with finding you a placement, so it can be a good idea to get in touch with them first.

Apprentices in Scotland and Northern Ireland will also be required to have a minimum of four Standard Grades at Level 4 or higher and must pass the official Selection Test.

While no upper age limits apply for apprenticeships, it’s worth bearing in mind that the financial incentives offered to employers are usually for hiring apprentices under 25, so preference may be given to younger candidates.

Types of Plumbing Apprenticeships

In the UK, there are two types of apprenticeship available: Intermediate, an entry-level qualification aimed at those completely new to the industry, and an Advanced qualification for those with some experience and practical training or those who have already completed the Intermediate qualification.

The Intermediate scheme takes between two and four years, depending on the amount of time you want to dedicate to training; those who take two days a week for training can complete the course in two years, while those who want to take just one day a week to train can complete the course in four years. The latter option, known as ‘four-year day release’, is usually the most popular due to its higher potential for earning. Some courses also offer ‘block release’, where you can spend part of your year training daily and part of your year working five days a week.

The Intermediate course includes all training in the installation, maintenance, and decommissioning of simple (usually domestic) systems as well as some training in English, IT and maths skills. Completion of the course results in an NVQ Level 2 qualification, equivalent to five GCSEs.

The Advanced qualification is completed over two years on one-day release and covers more specialist skills such as complex industrial systems and working with oil and gas. Completion of the course results in an NVQ Level 3 qualification, equivalent to two A-levels.

Assessment for both qualifications is undertaken by a training advisor or assessor who will visit you every eight to twelve weeks to create your personal assessment portfolio, which will include observations, testimonials from your employer and photographic evidence of your completed work.

For apprentices in Scotland or Northern Ireland, an all-inclusive, four-year scheme called the Modern Apprenticeship in Plumbing can be taken, which covers all the same training in one go and results in an SVQ or NVQ Level 3 in Mechanical Engineering Services, Domestic: Plumbing.

Finding & Applying For Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships can be advertised by local employers or as part of nationwide or local initiatives, so it’s a good idea to contact your nearest training centre or college as well as keep an eye on local newspapers and company websites. Another great resource is the government’s Find an Apprenticeship site.

Places on apprenticeships can be hard-won, so make sure you put effort into your application. Contact desired firms to find out when they open their applications, apply to as many places as possible, and get part-time work at a relevant company to boost your chances.

Work Description & Salary

On any given day as a plumbing apprentice, you could be working on constructing or maintaining pipe systems, testing for leaks, solving complicated dimensional problems, clearing or adjusting your environment, or making tea for your more experienced colleagues!

Apprentices aged under 19, or those aged over 19 who are in their first year of training, can expect to earn the apprentice minimum wage of £3.70/hour. If you’re 19 or older and have completed your first year, you can expect to be paid the minimum wage rate for your age, which is currently £5.90/hour if you’re aged 18-20, £7.38 for those aged 21 or over, and £7.83 (national minimum wage) for those aged 25 or above.

The official estimate for an apprentice’s earnings is around £200/week after bonuses and tips, although this depends on the region, sector and apprenticeship level. Some higher apprenticeships might pay up to £300-£500/week.

Once an apprenticeship has been completed, plumbers can expect to earn anything from £20,000 per year at first, to upwards of £60,000 per year with experience.

Top 5 Tips for Succeeding in Your Plumbing Apprenticeship

  • Be keen – Ask any plumber: the best apprentice is the one who always looks busy. If you have nothing to do, ask for another job or offer to make tea or fetch lunch. The more hard-working you seem, the better your testimonials will be.
  • Make yourself an asset – Studying hard will make you the best apprentice you can be, and this doesn’t necessarily only apply to your day or two at college. Studying in your own time, asking questions and boosting relevant skills such as maths will all help you to progress quickly.
  • Be neat, careful, and safety-conscious – As an apprentice, the often cramped or dangerous working environments that go hand-in-hand with plumbing will not yet be second nature to you. Avoid sloppy or careless work; it might require extra concentration and effort, but working cleanly and safely will make you much more popular.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask – No one expects an apprentice to know everything already, and asking about something you’re not sure on is much easier and safer than making a mistake that your boss might have to spend time and money rectifying.
  • Be courteous, professional, and polite – Even if you’re the hardest-working, most skilled plumber on your team, your employer will not want to keep you on if you’re unpleasant or difficult, both to your colleagues and your clients. Maintaining a professional and polite demeanour at all times will stand you in the best stead.


Employing a Plumbing Apprentice

Legal Requirements

Apprenticeships come with lots of legal requirements to protect young workers and ensure they are gaining the best training. These include: providing at least 30 hours’ work a week (usually for at least 12 months), paying the apprentice minimum wage, covering national insurance costs, providing a safe workplace, ensuring your apprentice is working with experienced staff, providing relevant training, and allowing them to take time off for study.

Apprentices also have the same rights as other employees when it comes to sick pay, holidays, maternity leave, redundancy, and any extras you offer the rest of your team such as childcare or mentoring.

Top 5 Tips for Ensuring the Success of You & Your Apprentice

  • Make sure you’re getting the correct funding – Taking on an apprentice is not only great for your business, it’s vital for the industry as a whole. With that in mind, make sure you’ve applied for all the relevant financial incentives to avoid any unnecessary losses.
  • Choose your apprentice wisely – Before you take on your apprentice, it’s a good idea to think about exactly what you’re looking for in your new employee. Do you want someone personable and chatty, or do you prefer working in a quiet and diligent team? Finding an apprentice who is a good fit is one of the best ways to ensure future success for you both.
  • Be prepared – As well as being aware of your legal responsibilities, you’ll also need to make sure you have the correct insurance set up before your apprentice begins work. It’s also a good idea to create official, clear health and safety guidelines, as well as train your existing staff in health and safety so that everyone is prepared for working with a less experienced team member.
  • Be aware – Working with government schemes and local education authorities (or simply researching current training schemes) will help you keep up-to-date with the course that your apprentice is taking, and what you need to do to add to their training.
  • Be supportive – It’s important to remember that many apprentices are young and working for the first time. Treating them with respect, making them feel part of the team, and supporting their learning and development will ensure that you’re left with a fantastic new employee once the apprenticeship scheme is finished.

Apprenticeships are an excellent resource for both those looking to learn their trade and those looking to employ them. If you’ve found this guide useful and are thinking about either beginning your apprenticeship or taking on your own apprentice, we’d love to hear your success stories over on Facebook and Twitter.


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