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Confused by Plumber Training Options?

Mica May: Training Director at Stopcocks Women Plumbers answers why information on the internet about plumber training is so confusing and explains what to look for.

Information available about plumber training is very confusing.

There are several reasons for this, first, nothing ever disappears off the internet so much of what you will see when you search is very out of date.

Regulations are constantly changing and the courses and qualifications were all changed and renamed at the end of 2012.

Some femal trainee plumbers

Some women Stopcocks enabled to train as plumbers

Until the end of 2012 the courses which made up the ‘Foundation Course’ and minimum requirement to work as a plumber in England and Wales were made up of the City and Guilds Technical Skills Certificate Training available as an independent course and the NVQ2 (portfolio and assessment) available separately afterwards.
The C&G Tech Cert was the theory and skills component of the training whether it was taught in a college or online and in the workshop. The NVQ2 was (and remains) the assessment of learning which is still done through a portfolio of work you complete of mainly maintenance jobs carried out in real life, plus an assessment of your work completed by a certified assessor – installation and decommissioning (removal of something like a bathroom) also on site.

Since January 2013 the new combined qualification is the 6189 Diploma, sometimes called the Diploma NVQ2 or the 6189 Diploma NVQ2.
If a course doesn’t include the NVQ2 it will not qualify you to work as a plumber! If you are taking the Diploma 6189 you will be studying the same syllabus wherever you take it.

To get on the 6189 requires you to have a job in the industry and is often combined with an Apprenticeship.

Sadly, for many reasons, Apprenticeships in plumbing are difficult to find, and rarely appropriate for adults living independently because of the very low wages attached to them.

Because it requires all trainees to have a job in the industry the 6189 debars many people who would like to train from starting, so for these people there is the 6035. This can be taken either full time or as an evening course.

The theory and workshop training are almost the same as that in the 6189 but this course does not require you to be in a job or Apprenticeship. This is perfect for most older trainees.

However, the 6035 DOES NOT INCLUDE an NVQ! Unless you have a way of gaining the NVQ2 through work on site (out in the real world, not necessarily on a building site) you will never be able to fully qualify.

It is common for people to take this course not realising it does not contain a qualifying element, only to come to the end and discover this, leading to much disappointment.

Towards the end of 2013, a new Water Safe Standard was introduced, similar to Gas Safe, the old C&G tech cert plus NVQ2 (for plumbers who trained before 2013) or the Diploma 6189 (2013 and after) plus membership of certain trade associations will be the minimum required to achieve Water Safe status for all plumbers in UK in an attempt to prevent ‘rogue traders’. This will bring plumbers in line with electricians and means that anyone working on water plumbing without this level of qualification will not be able to ‘certify’ (home owners will at some point be informed of this through nationwide campaigns) *Update, so far nothing has been done to enforce this or inform non-plumbers about this.

The information that comes up at the top in any google search for plumber training is mainly that provided by private training institutions. Information from construction colleges who don’t spend so much on advertising is more difficult to find. Some private training institutions are quite unscrupulous, for example, training to the foundation level provided in England is unusable in Scotland but I sometimes encounter people in Scotland who have been sold courses in England that cost them upwards of £4000 and which they are not able to use.

However, some private training institutions are just as good as construction colleges in what they provide. They charge the full amount to the trainee, that amount is what the market will bear as with any product. Shop around to make certain you get the best deal for your money and know what you will come out with at the end before you hand over any of your hard earned cash (this goes for Construction Colleges too, sometimes they aren’t as transparent as we’d like – bums on seats are as important for them as anyone)

The people attending courses at private institutions are almost always mature students and the courses usually take less time.

Faster track courses can a good option for people needing to earn a living quickly but unless you are already pretty competent with tools it can be difficult to gain sufficient competence so fast. Online courses that allow attendance at college as and when suitable for you can be a great flexible option but they can also leave people not really comprehending the information – especially if you aren’t already familiar with systems and tools.
This is why we always recommend taking at the very least 6 months to complete your training up to level 2 and choosing a course which combines theoretical and practical learning so that you can build up the practical skills you’ll require as you go along at a realistic pace. Longer can also work better for some adults as finding time to attend college, practice and earn a living can just be too much of a stretch.

Construction colleges provide longer training courses, although they may not work out a great deal cheaper than private institutions as there are only rarely grants or funding support available for over 25s. Be aware that colleges often apply for and get funding for the training they provide, they just don’t ask you as the consumer to provide it all. We are paying for these courses already through our taxes.

On a 6189 you are likely to be learning alongside a majority of 16 – 24 year olds and courses are often delivered over 2 years at two days a week to allow time to work with your employer. Evening courses in a Construction College are almost always the 6035, but just as fast track courses are too quick, evening courses can be too slow for some trainees to consolidate their learning, they can take up to four years to complete and for this reason along with not being qualifying courses are  less popular.

Always check the level of qualification offered and how the college you are talking to will help you achieve your ‘on-site’ portfolio and assessment.

Few colleges (private or construction college) have enough relationships with enough companies in the industry to ensure all trainees are able to gain ‘placements’ (apprenticeships are very rare, especially for over 25s and as they can pay as little as £10 a day aren’t usually the preferred option for independent adults!).
All ‘real’ courses require you to work outside college, in real situations to gain proper experience (just like you have to drive on the road to pass your driving test).

All Stopcocks Licencees are self-employed Stopcocks Women Plumbers and if you join us while you are training you can earn as a plumber as soon as you have gained a reasonable level of technical skills. So, if you have enough confidence and competence from around half way through your training (wherever you receive it) you can work as a plumber.

Of course, we will be assessing your levels of competence and your commitment to the success of your business as a Stopcocks Woman Plumber before taking your money! This is NOT an apprenticeship!

Clearly, there are some types of job you will have the competence to do alone and others you will not. Stopcocks unique mentoring scheme means that for bigger, more complex jobs the customer will be served by a highly competent, qualified plumber. They will pay this qualified plumber and you the trainee can also earn while you work alongside her and learn.

This will help you to gain your skills and a customer base and to complete your portfolio and assessments and gain competence and confidence. You’re working on your own time. You can start off with small jobs (accessing our phone mentoring) and build up to more complex jobs and get paid for it.
As it is, if you are working with a plumber (unless you are working for one of the big employers), they are unlikely to be able to afford to give you the time you will need to work through any problems you encounter on a job – and you will encounter problems, even if that’s just because you haven’t done something before. So what happens is that they are forced to take over the work just when you need the experience in order to learn, it is at this point that at Stopcocks, we will be teaching you, so that you can move forward more quickly.
Also, individuals in small companies often don’t have teaching skills and see helping and supporting trainees as time consuming, though this is not always the case, sadly it is rare for experienced plumbers to have the time and skills to devote to bringing out the best in trainees working with them.

As a Stopcocks Woman Plumber, you are working independently and the customer is yours. No one is looking over your shoulder. For small, relatively uncomplicated jobs we provide phone mentoring to help you through. Thanks to modern technology you can send photos and even short videos through from your phone and Hattie, Stopcocks Women Plumber’s founder (with 25 years experience) or one of our other mentors will talk you through, step by step, phone call by phone call if necessary, so that you can complete the job to your own and to the customer’s satisfaction.
If the job is more complicated, you can work with other plumbers and even Hattie. She travels around supporting our plumbers so that you never need to turn work away. The customer is happy, knowing their work is being completed by well qualified, experienced plumbers – this is what they pay for, and you can gain competence by working alongside our excellent mentors.

As a Stopcocks Woman Plumber if you were asked during the first week of your training to provide all the plumbing in a big barn conversion with five en-suite wetrooms and underfloor heating, plus installing gas, you could say ‘Yes, Stopcocks Women Plumbers can do that’! You would then work alongside Hattie and possibly other Stopcocks plumbers, learning at every stage, how to plan the job, price it and how to divide it up into 1st, 2nd and 3rd fix.
At the end of the job, the customer would be yours, probably recommending you and Stopcocks Women Plumbers to all their friends.

If you’re going to train as a plumber, make sure you can work as a plumber – contact us about your next step

Call us on 0800 862 0010 or email mica@stopcocks.uk

1 Comment
  • Oretha Richards
    7:01 PM, 22 November 2014

    I am currently doing a level 1plumbing course I am going to go on to a level 2 nvq I am 31 and am finding it hard to get an apprenticeship as im over 25 I am looking for a chance to be a plumbers mate so I can gain some onsite experience and I will have to build a portfolio for my nvq 2 how would I go about this .

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