Quality Plumbing Week 2016 starts on October 3rd
Transforming the reputation of an industry – is one week enough?
For the last few years attempts are being made to address the lamentable reputation of plumbers among British Householders; APAC run their yearly Quality Plumbing Week in mid September and several competitions to raise the profile of quality plumbers and skilled trades people also run nationally.
A majority of customers tell us they fear or have
had a ‘bad’ experience with a plumber
TV programmes seem to have no difficulty finding ‘rogue traders’ and a majority of customers contacting us tell us they’re doing so through fear or have had a ‘bad’ experience with a plumber.
So what is happening? How come so many customers still have what they describe as bad to very bad experiences when the trade itself appears to be striving to improve standards?
“to expect young women aged around 18 to change the culture of the entire construction industry, especially when they are less than 1% of it seems silly and self defeating; something different has to be done”
customers are willing to breach building regulations to save time or money
Quality Plumbing Week has been created by national organisation APAC (Association of Plumbing And Heating Contractors) to highlight the importance of using a properly qualified plumber and to give the public education about where to find them, but we suggest that week long campaigns and competitions are not enough.
APAC’s information this Quality Plumbing Week tells us that 74% of heating businesses believe that stricter enforcement would be beneficial to their businesses and 69% of plumbers agree that customers are willing to breach building regulations to save time or money, so isn’t even all about the plumbers!
As long as there is a culture that condones ‘getting away with it’ and a system of training that prioritises it’s own income through ‘bums on seats’ at college (Construction Colleges and Private Training Institutions are guilty of this) without following that up with proper connections in the industry to ensure that every single trainee can gain genuine skill-building work experience this situation will not change.
The size of most plumbing businesses makes it extremely difficult to absorb apprentices into their workforce
Work on construction sites is inadequate as a training ground for plumbers intending to work for the domestic market and the vast majority of domestic plumbers are in very small businesses. The size of most plumbing businesses makes it extremely difficult to absorb apprentices into their workforce or provide placements.
Trainees complete their courses in college (and if they’re over 24, at considerable personal expense) frequently unaware of how difficult it will be for them to gain competence and skills – or a full qualification. For learners over 24 and women, these difficulties are exacerbated and these are the very people who need to be able to earn quickly.
The system is forcing partially trained but unqualified people out into the domestic market
We suggest that the system is forcing partially trained but unqualified people out into the domestic market in order for them to recoup the several thousand pounds they have paid to train and to continue earning.
Many of the so called ‘rogue traders’ are men who simply need to earn a living
Rogue Traders may be fully rogue, but many have little choice but to ‘botch’ because they’ve been failed by the training system.
We are all familiar with the dynamic of women feeling that they need to be at least 80% competent and confident at a task before attempting it whereas men commonly will ‘have a go’ when they’re less than 50% competent. Many of the so called ‘rogue traders’ are men who simply need to earn a living after paying for a course that hasn’t fully equipped them (and with more than 33 routes into plumbing, this is hardly surprising, the training landscape is highly confusing). Women caught in this dynamic, with the majority of them over 26 and like the men, needing to support an independent home often including children, frequently return to whatever job they’d hoped to leave by training as a plumber – leaking out of the industry.
Add to this a culture of ‘laddishness’ where practical jokes and ‘good natured ribbing’ make the vulnerability of being exposed by asking questions is hardly encouraged; small wonder traders will ‘muddle through’ rather than letting their lack of confidence show.
This is all bad for the householder, bad for the industry’s reputation and in the end bad for us all.
Technical expertise takes years to learn, in domestic plumbing, where no two homes are alike and retrofitting most common, the greatest skill level is needed, but this is the place it is most likely to be lacking.
Added to that are appalling standards of customer service – when rating websites can give 5* for plumbers simply turning up on time something is very very wrong.
A week is not enough, we need to pull together as an industry and take a good honest look at our part in what is happening, we need to be prepared to change the way things are done and to address the massive cultural problems the industry faces.
There are solutions, but we won’t achieve them in a week, this is a full time job.
Stopcocks are currently the only national company of female plumbers in the world.
Hattie Hasan employed herself as a plumber when none of the companies in Leeds would even talk to her about giving her a placement back in 1990, she suspected her gender might be the reason. She was highly successful as Stopcocks Woman Plumber.
Hattie began looking into the culture of domestic construction businesses in 2006 when she realised women entering the industry were encountering the same issues and barriers she’d had to deal with in 1990.
Since 2006 she has: articulated the plight of women and girls in plumbing very effectively, written a book (The Joy of Plumbing), taken her business national, spoken at numerous events, supported over 30 women in one year to gain considerable experience and full NVQ qualification as plumbers, represented female plumbers and women in domestic construction in print media, radio and TV, done a week’s stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe and written a report on the barriers women in plumbing over the age of 25 experience – Before the Level Playing Field, Stopcocks Group will launch a national franchise for male and female quality plumbers in January 2017.
While the bigger firms are doing an excellent job of providing Apprenticeships and entry into construction, gender barriers in domestic construction remain virtually unchanged and the numbers of women in skilled trades are still less than 1% (in all except Painting and Decorating).
Hattie and Stopcocks believe a new approach needs to be taken to make lasting and sustainable changes and have created a strategy to do exactly that.
“to expect young women aged around 18 to change the culture of the entire construction industry, especially when they are less than 1% of it seems silly and self defeating; something different has to be done”.