Our response to Dr Simon Reddy; a master plumber and teacher in FE, and a founding member of Tutor Voices
An interesting article, Thank you.
May I add our perspective?
We feel there are more factors at play here.
Our experience at Stopcocks Women Plumbers is that many plumbing firms are unwilling or unable to place Apprentices; not unreasonably. We believe the reasons for this are:
Small sole trader companies do not have the ‘wriggle room’ to properly support or supervise an Apprentice.
The £1500 incentive grant does not touch the sides as far as Apprenticeship expenses are concerned.
The industry has already lost credibility and the young people (overwhelmingly male – I’ll come back to this later), especially 16-19 year olds, who benefit from full course funding, are more likely to have ‘ended up’ on a plumbing course than to have chosen it. It’s not perceived by young people as something anyone with options would actively choose.
These young people are of an age and experience of life level, that they require total supervision and instruction if they manage to gain an Apprenticeship.
The NVQ was introduced to bring vocational training into line with academia. However, the number of Apprenticeships available – mostly in the large construction firms does not meet the demand either of people wanting to train as plumbers, predominantly over 24, nor of colleges who wish to retain their income and want bums on seats. This goes for Construction Colleges just as much as Private Training Institutions.
It’s all made far worse by the poor standards and ‘lack of authenticity in assessments’ you mention.
Stopcocks was formed in 1990 by one woman plumber who found herself, after contacting every plumbing business she could find in Leeds, still without an Apprenticeship. This is the situation 99% of the plumbers, all female, who join us, find themselves in.
Many of them too have contacted every firm in their area and like Hattie, our founder, they’ve been unsuccessful at gaining any kind of placement, even when offering to work for no pay.
We don’t know whether male trainees are in the same situation, since we only advertise our company to female plumbers and trainees. We imagine it is similar though less extreme.
Whether they are part of the tiny minority of under 25’s who contact us or adult career switchers – the vast majority of females coming into skilled trades come into this category, the story is the same. No one will take them on, even when they offer to work for free.
Many have embarked on training only to discover part way through that the course they are on is not in fact a qualifying course. They have paid good money to train in the belief that they will be equipped to work, only to find that they have to shell out more to gain an NVQ and that that requires them to be working as a plumber out in the real world and to be assessed there.
Of course there will be a number of these who cut their financial losses and set up to work unapprenticed and unqualified.
Our experience also shows that women are considerably less likely to do that.
Having been through college, sometimes the only female in the college, sometimes the only one in their trade and sometimes the only female on their course and putting up with attitudes that are frequently unsupportive at the very least (some of their stories would make your toenails curl) – to discover that their several thousands of pounds paid to train is not enough and that they need to find a job (virtually impossible) and pay more on top of what they’ve already experienced; the majority of women, unwilling to work in an industry where they’re unwelcome and in which they’ve had no opportunity to develop competence or confidence – head back to their old job, because they need to keep the wolf from the door and the industry has broken their hearts.
This is sad for them and for the industry, because people who want to be a plumber enough to be heart broken at being prevented from doing it are just what the industry needs to turn it’s reputation around.
We feel that the industry needs to support and welcome these adult learners, especially the women. People with experience of different worlds from construction understand concepts such as customer service and have a strong work ethic.
They are capable of becoming the role models the industry so badly needs.
Only then will the industry be able to bring on young people and teach them by demonstrating exactly what being a great plumber is all about. Pride in workmanship and in customer care can then become an incentive to join the industry, rather than the current reputation where anyone can become a plumber, (they can’t) make tons of money (only rarely) and don’t have to be concerned about reputation or customer satisfaction (very common in general as our customers tell us. They are always delighted to be spoken to respectfully and listened to. This seems a rare novelty).
We’re sure this is just as distressing for those male plumbers who care about their standards of work and the satisfaction of their customers as it is to us. There are plumbers and plumbing companies made up of men who want to turn the industry around and provide good quality work. There are also plumbers who love the idea of women joining the profession, they are some of our greatest supporters, recognising what we bring, sadly, the ones who speak up are a minority.
It’s not just Apprenticeships we need to look at, we need to rethink the whole way the industry views itself.
The training standards and courses are the responsibility of the colleges and regulatory bodies who also need to step up and help the industry to find a way for companies to properly support trainees to become fully competent.
Is there an alternative to Apprenticeships? We think that needs to be developed, so that we can increase the numbers of competent skilled tradespeople, there’s a ‘skills gap’ after all.