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Unqualified plumbers rise as training soars

The huge rise in the numbers of people gaining basic plumbing qualifications is unnecessary and could encourage rogue traders.


According to City & Guilds (C&G), 48,000 students gained a certificate in either Basic Plumbing or Plumbing Studies in 2006-07. Six thousand of these came from London. However, since the certificates are an introduction to the industry and do not include any work experience, students completing these courses are considered unqualified say industry bodies.


Last year, only 1,700 plumbing students gained the industry standard Level 3 national vocational qualification (NVQ). This figure is nearer to the 2,878 annual target for recruiting qualified plumbers, as outlined by Summitskills in its Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) published last year.


Keith Marshall, SummitSkills chief executive, said it was working with the Learning Skills Council (LSC) and C&G to redirect efforts towards where there was an identifiable need for training. “I have spoken to the acting director-general of City & Guilds and he understood the issues.


“Part of the problem has been that we didn’t know how many people we needed to bring into the industry. With the SSA, we now know what that figure is,” Mr Marshall said.


“We are trying to get the number of people going through this programme down to a sensible level. We have told the LSC that we don’t need all these people doing first level plumber courses when what we desperately need are courses on renewable energy, leadership and management.


“The ones we are worried about are those who have done this course and now believe they are plumbers and go and try to earn a living at it. That frightens the life out of me.”


Carol Cannavan, communications manager, at the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, agreed. “You have a lot of people with the basic qualification which is not recognised by the industry. The worrying thing is if someone goes into business and they’ve only taken the basic qualifications. There is nothing to stop them,” she said.


She added that securing work experience was now a challenge for many people wanting to secure higher level qualifications. “The big problem is that people need to get work experience to complete Level 2 and 3 NVQs. People start plumbing courses and are keen to get qualified, but then they find it is difficult to progress.


“A lot of people have been attracted to the industry, but have gone for the basic qualification because it is so difficult to get onto the NVQ Level 2 and 3 courses as you need to get work experience and have it in place before you can do the course.


“What we want to see is more people taking up the Level 3 NVQ so they have plenty of experience and are trained in many different aspects. Even with an NVQ Level 3, experience is still very important.”


Sarah Wicks, HVCA head of education and Training at HVCA, added: “We have a glut of people with technical certificates, but there are not enough employers in their region to offer them placements. Colleges have been delivering these courses, but have not even considered whether there are jobs at the end or not. This has been led by the colleges and not employers. Training must be employer led.”