The Complete Guide To Learning Your Trade as a Plumber on the Job

A plumbing apprenticeship is the opportunity to simultaneously work (gainful employment) alongside experienced and qualified plumbers whilst also training either 1 or 2 days a week at a local college or specialist training center towards the plumbing qualifications needed to become a plumber yourself.

Plumbing includes construction, maintenance and decommissioning of various pipe systems used for water and fuel (gas and oil) supply.

Here’s a fantastic video giving great insight into what it’s like to be an apprentice plumber for those who are not so fond of reading.

Tasks that you may be carrying out during work hours include:-

  • Constructing pipe systems
  • Pressurizing systems
  • Detecting leaks
  • Costing jobs and negotiating contracts
  • Solving dimensional problems with applied maths skills
  • Making adjustments to surrounding environment to accommodate new systems
  • Clearing away debris
  • Cleaning and maintaining your tools
  • Making the teas and coffees. (Something everyone needs to know how to do when starting a career as a plumber!)

Some plumbers are what are known as ‘wet only’ plumbers, meaning that they do not deal with gas systems, only with systems such as central heating, kitchen and bathroom systems.

Other plumbers choose to carry out further training and venture into working with gas. To work with gas systems you must have become CORGI registered.

An apprentice’s wage differs depending on year of study and age. The current ‘apprentice National Minimum Wage’ at the moment is £2.65 per hour.

Many employers choose to increase apprentice wages after trust and confidence has been earned and there are many employers who will give out bonuses for work well done. There is also the chance of being tipped for domestic call-outs. The average apprentice wage is actually much higher than the minimum and is approximately £200 net pay per week.

The apprentice ‘National Minimum Wage’ applies to all 16 to 18 year olds and to those aged 19 and over in the first year of their Apprenticeship. If you are 19 or over and have completed 1 full year of your Apprenticeship your employer must compensate you at least the ‘full National Minimum Wage’ for your age group, so currently that is £4.98 for 18-20 year olds and £6.19 for those 21 and over.

Basic Requirements for Apprenticeship Application

In England & Wales, the following requirements must be met before any application for an apprenticeship:

  • Applicant must be aged 16 or over
  • Applicant must be eligible to work in the UK (that includes all EU citizens)
  • Applicant must not be enrolled in full-time education at the time the course is in progress.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, plumbing apprenticeships are based upon training for the ‘Modern Apprenticeship in Plumbing’ scheme and the following requirements, in addition to those of England & Wales, must be met before any application is submitted:

  • Applicant must be have earned a minimum of four ‘Standard Grades’ at level 4 or above, desirably including Maths, English, Science and Craft Design and Technology.
  • Applicant must pass the “Plumbing Industry’s Apprentice Entrance Selection Test” as set by the ‘Modern Apprenticeship’ scheme.

Although there is no upper age limit on applying for apprenticeships, employers are compensated costs towards training people under the age of 25 and so therefore generally prefer to recruit from this age range.

Types of Plumbing Apprenticeships

There are 2 levels of plumbing apprenticeship available in England &Wales:

  • Intermediate Level, aimed at career seekers who are completely new to the plumbing industry. Completion leads to an NVQ level 2 qualification in plumbing and is considered to be equal to 5 GCSE passes.
  • Advanced Level, aimed at those already with an NVQ level 2 qualification and practical experience (generally those that have completed the intermediate level apprenticeship), offering study of more advanced areas, helping the candidate to gain the more specialist skills required for career advancement in the construction and building industry. Leads to an NVQ level 3 Qualification in Plumbing and is considered to be equal to 2 A level passes.

In Scotland & Northern Ireland, the single (all inclusive) option available is the 4 year scheme ‘Modern Apprenticeship in Plumbing’, primarily working towards the qualification ‘SVQ (Scotland) or NVQ (Northern Ireland) level 3 in ‘Mechanical Engineering Services (MES) Domestic: Plumbing’.


Plumbing apprentice in action

A Brief Run Down On The Training Aspect of Plumbing Apprenticeships

Intermediate Apprenticeships (the entry level) in England & Wales take between 2 and 4 years to complete depending on the intensity desired or offered, primarily leading to the certification of an NVQ level 2 in ‘Plumbing Studies’ (City & Guilds course code: 6089). Those attending 2 days a week will complete their training course in 2 years, whilst those attending 1 day a week will complete their training course in 4 years. The latter option is the most common as it enables people to earn a higher yearly salary, often vital for personal financial security, it is typically referred to as ’4 year day release’.

Advanced Apprenticeships (taken after Intermediate Apprenticeships) take 2 years to complete, always on a 1 day-release (per week) basis.

Certain training centers employ a ‘block release’ style system. This system works by attending the training course on a daily basis for a short time and then going back to working 5 day weeks with your employer at all other times.

The core aspects of the ‘NVQ Level 2 in Plumbing’ qualification include installing, decommissioning and maintaining non-complex plumbing systems (such as kitchens and bathrooms). In addition to practical skills, candidates are trained to be functional in the areas of in I.T, English and Maths.

The core aspects of the ‘NVQ Level 3 in Plumbing’ qualification’ build on those of level 2, introducing complex plumbing systems for both domestic and industrial domains and also oil and gas systems.

In terms of assessment, you will be visited by your ‘Training Adviser and Assessor’ in your place of work somewhere between every 8 to 12 weeks (depending on the internal policies of your training center). The assessor will create a personal NVQ assessment portfolio covering all the units of the course that you are studying. This portfolio will be completed in the workplace through a variety of assessment methods including:-

  • Observation sessions of the trainee conducting tasks in the presence of a suitably qualified NVQ Assessor
  • Testimonies from your work superiors
  • Photographic evidence taken at completed jobs

So does this profession suit you?

If you’ve read the entire page up until this point, you should now have a good idea of all the aspects you will experience should you decide to take on an apprenticeship in this sector.

Obviously, the initial factors that you cannot avoid are 1) whether or not you have the fundamental qualifications to be accepted onto one of these courses and 2) whether or not you need financial backing to enroll on a course and if so, do you have access to this financial backing?

If you pass these 2 criteria, then the main questions you must ask yourself are:

Can I see myself being a career plumber for the next 10, 20, 30 or even more years?

Is the amount of time (and maybe money) invested into the training process something you see as worthwhile?

Will the tough physical nature of the job be an obstacle for me?

Do I have confidence that I will be able to easily pick up both the practical and mental techniques that I will be tasked to learn?

Will I be able to work closely, effectively and peacefully with other team members and under guidance of a boss/manager with potentially strict rules and regulations?

Am I willing to take the risk of working closely with dangerous pressurized gas and hot water systems?

If you can ask yourself all of these questions to yourself and conclude positively in each case, then it would seem embarking on a plumbing apprenticeship would be a fantastic idea for you!

How To find Plumbing Apprenticeship Opportunities?

To be able to register on an apprenticeship training course, you must have secured an employment position (30 hours+ per week) with a relevant firm beforehand. Some training centers actually have strong connections to local plumbing firms and will help you secure the employment required to enter the course, so baring this mind, it might be a good idea to give your local college/training center a call first when starting your job search.

The best chance of obtaining a plumbing apprenticeship is with a local construction and building service company. Many of these companies will advertise their positions on their company websites, job-search websites or in local papers.

In most towns and cities in the U.K there will be branches of UK-wide construction and building chains which usually carry out extensive apprenticeship recruitment, making up the majority of the UK’s plumbing apprenticeship places. Some of the latest and most relevant opportunities with national firms will be advertised on this page.

Ultimately it will depend on your specific location within the UK as to which method of search would be the most effective way of find a placement. Large cities such as London will have many big firms with large recruitment operations and hence in these cases it’s best to start there directly. In smaller towns, the pathway is not so obvious and you may need to consult a local recruitment expert to hunt down these positions.

More information about apprenticeships from the government’s website.


Ryan Fisher “Taking the plunge into apprenticeship plumbing was the best decision I ever made. The training process has been really fulfilling, one of the best experiences of my life. I now get to work closely with an amazing tradesman who teaches me something new every day. Having such a valuable skill in life has given me so much self confidence and pride and all my family are really proud of me”.

Kevin Rowland “Being a tradesmen, or at least a tradesman in the making, is great. I work along side some great lads that always keep me laughing. It’s nice to get about and about every day, I certainly wouldn’t like to be stuck in an office everyday anyway. People are always really nice when they let you into their home, usually bringing coffee and food, sometimes even handing out a tip. People always appreciate what we do for them and make you know it too.”

Joe Reynolds “Having this qualification under my belt has been great for me. I recently moved across the country and found a new job straight away. When an employer sees you have training and experience, they know they can rely on you, so getting into a job is simple. I imagine where ever life takes me, I’ll find it comfortable searching for a job as it’s great evidence to employers of competence.