Mica May: Training Director for Stopcocks Women Plumbers discusses how to train as a plumber and how the training options can affect your confidence in plumbing.
Sadly there are currently no women only training courses to become a qualified plumber.
Courses are provided in local Construction Colleges and in Private Training Institutions
The curriculum is usually provided by City & Guilds and the qualifications by NVQ.
An NVQ1 is a foundation level course, NVQ2 is the basic level usually asked for by employers and the NVQ3 is what used to be called the Master Craftsman.
To train with other adults only will require you to attend one of the private training institutions.
This may not work out more expensive than via your local construction college, that will depend on the private institutions fees which can vary wildly and whether your college (private or not) will apply for funding on your behalf. Your local construction college and private institutions both can so it’s definitely worth asking! Usually funding is only available for under 25s with full funding only being available for 16-19 year olds on an Apprenticeship.
The 6189 NVQ Diploma (level 2) requires you to be working as a plumber as you go through the course because it is structured as an Apprenticeship (Scotland requires a minimum of NVQ 3 for your work to be insurable). It is a combined course covering the theory and workshop training plus on-site assessment (which is the NVQ aspect). Find out what the college (private or statutory) will do to ensure you have the opportunity to be assessed on-site.
The other option at this level is the 6035 Diploma. This does not require you to be working, but as it doesn’t include the NVQ, that means it does not include any practice in the real world, or the assessments that prove you have the skills in real life. So it is like taking driving lessons but not passing your test.
This is where many colleges and training institutions fall down as most don’t have sufficient relationships within the industry to meet the demand for trainees to be placed in jobs.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, you do not need to be employed by another plumber to complete your assessment, but you do need to work in the real world (paid or unpaid) to gain your assessment. An assessor will travel to you to assess you and this is part of what your assessment fee covers (from £600 – about £1500). Check how many assessment visits are included in your assessment fee within the 6189, most people need at least two and some colleges require that many.
The 6189 is referred to as a full time course, usually over two years which fits in with your job in the industry because you attend college two days a week and work with your employer for the other three.
The 6035 can be taken as a full time course or two evenings a week. Most adults find themselves doing this because running an adult life on an Apprenticeship wage – usually less than the minimum wage (often around £2.35 an hour) – doesn’t work for many over 25s and Apprenticeships, even for under 25s are about as rare as a blue moon. You will need to find a way to get your ‘in the real world’ experience and to be assessed if you take the 6035. Doing it without would be like learning to drive on a race track and never dealing with traffic on the road or taking your test.
Courses in construction colleges usually take longer than in private institutions, and are full time or two (usually) evenings per week. On the 6189 you are highly likely to be in a group with mostly 16-24 year olds who are the ones most likely to gain Apprenticeships, whereas the 6035 is more often made up of more adults. Both ways you will usually take both theory and practical skills in a combination which allows you to have hands on practice in the college workshop as you go along.
They usually cost upwards of £4000
Training in a private institution can be far more flexible. You will probably only be offered the 6035, as they rarely offer Apprenticeships. Usually you study the theory at home – online and from books and go into a workshop for week long blocks to do the practical side of the training at times you arrange to suit yourself. However, fees can vary a lot from around £3.500-£15000 so do check and compare. Price may not affect the quality of the training so make sure you really understand what is included and what is involved. Some of the cheaper seeming courses work out expensive with essential requirements left out of costings until after you’re half way through so you may find out that there hidden surprises after you’ve signed up and started. The apparent flexibility of going into college when it suits you can sometimes lead to an overload of theory and a lack of confidence at handling tools and the practical side of things.
The attraction of fast track can leave you feeling rushed and without sufficient time to really integrate and learn the practical skills you will need to work.
Whichever route you choose, it is essential you give yourself plenty of opportunities to practice.
Practice what you’re learning as you go along, so that you can gradually integrate and consolidate the skills. This can feel like a long way around but is in fact the quickest. Do persuade your friends and family to let you work on their houses!
Don’t fall into the trap of lots of book learning and leaving the practical learning until you ‘know the theory’, this does not work and can lead to overwhelm and an unnecessary lack of confidence in your skills.
The NVQ3 or Master Craftsman is just that, a more advanced level of training. It will eventually be introduced as the minimum level, just as it is in Scotland.
Some colleges offer it before you have completed the NVQ2 work you’re required to complete on-site. Be aware that this can lead to a severe lack of confidence if you aren’t in a position to gain lots of practice in real life, because it can give you more things you don’t know how to do ‘in your bones’.
However, although we wouldn’t recommend it, it is legal for you to promote yourself and work as a plumber without any college training or work experience at all! This – and training not backed up with real world experience are probably two of the biggest reasons for ‘rogue plumbers, so vilified by the media.
Be aware that the easiest way for any college to obtain funding for you is as an Apprentice. Full funding is available for 16-19 year olds on an Apprenticeship, there is half funding for 19-24 year olds and very very occasionally part funding for over 25’s who have never received funding for training at this level before.
If you are over 25 you will need to consider how you will support yourself during training which can take several years and more until you receive a proper income. This is a big cause of drop out and even, working without proper training or qualifications, or unsupervised by someone who has this.
Our sister Social Enterprise Get My NVQ C.I.C. is in the process of being set up to enable adults to gain the necessary skills, confidence and that essential NVQ.
Look out for more information on this or use the form on this page -> to request we keep you up to date on developments. We recognise that getting your all important competence in real life and your full qualification are essential and are doing everything we can right now to get that moving.
If self-employment is what rocks your boat you can purchase a licence and become a self-employed Stopcocks Women Plumber. We will support you to gain confidence in your skills and increase your competence far faster than you could alone.
We provide phone and one-to-one mentoring and work alongside our plumbers, increasing your skills and widening your work repertoire quickly.
We also run ‘boot camps’ whenever we have the opportunity, so several of our plumbers work together with a mentor on a big project.
This boosts confidence and ends the isolation women plumbers often encounter.
As a Stopcocks licencee we will support you to establish your business as a self-employed Stopcocks Woman Plumber and provide a total package of business support including the often misunderstood and frequently unpopular – marketing!
We’re currently increasing our range of services in line with what our existing plumbers have requested. This will include a greater concentration on equipping you to run your business, including more marketing and promotion. However, we do not yet have a confirmed fee for this.
Good luck with your training. Take a look at Hattie’s book, The Joy of Plumbing; a guide to living the life you really REALLY want, http://joyofplumbing.co.uk which I’m sure will be both an inspiration and will answer many of your questions about your future as a self-employed plumber.
Please do keep in touch and tell us about your journey