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How to become a plumber and how long does it take?

Posted on 12/11/2021

So you want to become a plumber?

Then you’re in the right place because in this article we’re diving deep into the plumbing world to give you a step-by-step guide on different paths on how to become a plumber.

What does a plumber do?

Depending on your skill set and experience, you’ll get to do a number of tasks during a regular day on the job such as:

  • Estimating approximate cost and timescales of the job
  • Finding the root of the problem your customer is facing and offering the best solution
  • Servicing, installing and fixing water, drainage and heating systems
  • Efficiently responding to emergencies such as blocked drains or leaks
  • Repairing and replacing faulty pipes, taps, washers, boilers and other appliances or parts
  • Cutting and joining pipes and fittings
  • And many more exciting things!

How long does it take to become a plumber?

Depending on the route you choose to become a star plumber, it can take up to 3-4 years to receive your full qualifications. That’s if you want to take a more traditional fail-safe route such as an apprenticeship (around four years) or S/NVQ Level 3 (around three years).

You can also try one of the fast-track plumbing courses, which can take 4-16 weeks to complete. Always make sure you choose a recognised training provider such as a college or an accredited course (e.g., NVQ Level 2) so that your qualifications are recognised.

What do you need to be a plumber?

It goes without saying that it would be ideal if you enjoy more practical hands-on work since that’s mostly what you’re going to be up to day-to-day. You’ll also need specific industry-related hard skills to become a true expert and shine in your role. Those hard skills will depend on your training and interests, and you can always take additional courses to expand your knowledge.

You’ll also need:

  • Manual skills and physical strength to handle daily demands of the job
  • Mechanical skills to apply the training that you’ve received and think quick on your feet, especially in emergencies
  • Customer service skills
  • Administrative and computer skills
  • Health and safety procedure knowledge
  • Softs skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, flexibility and reliability.

What qualifications do you need to be a plumber?

The correct qualifications allied to plumber experience are key to make sure you can work safely and to a high standard.

Older plumbers may be City and Guilds qualified, the forerunner to today’s NVQs. These are recognised and accepted plumber qualifications.

For qualifications to be recognised, they need to be provided by an accredited organisation such as Pearson or City & Guilds.

So what specific qualifications do you need to be a plumber in the UK?

Diploma in Plumbing Foundation

If you have no experience or feel you would benefit from a refresher, then an entry-level qualification like the Diploma in Plumbing Foundation may be the right place to start.

It is designed to teach you the basic skills in your training as you progress to become a plumber.

Levels 1 and 2 of this qualification consist of 19 units that will equip you with a sound foundation from understanding and applying safe working practices to fundamental scientific principles.

The main category of qualifications for plumbers since the 1980s has been National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) or SVQs in Scotland. The NVQ program merged with the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) in 2008, and then this subsequently merged in 2015 with the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

Despite this, the term NVQ is still commonly used.

NVQ Level 1

All NVQ training is done on the job.

The NVQ Level 1 covers routine and basic industry knowledge that can help you to secure a traineeship or junior position with a firm. This will help you get that vital plumber experience as you learn a wealth of practical skills needed before you can progress to the more advanced NVQ Level 2.

This course can take anything from four months to a year to complete, but there is no time limit so you can work at your own pace.

NVQ Level 2 (SVQ 2 in Scotland)

This is the minimum qualification a plumber will need to begin a career.

To complete this course, you will need a basic prior knowledge relating to plumbing or heating preferably, alongside basic practical skills.

To gain the NVQ Level 2, you will need to go on a work placement as well as undergo guided learning.

You will have to sit a test to get on the course assessing your scientific and numerical ability — important skills for any plumber.

There are two NVQ Level 2 plumbing qualifications to choose from:

  • NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Plumbing and Heating
  • NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Installing and Maintaining Domestic Heating Systems.

These include understanding and applying the following within Business Services Engineering (BSE):

  • Safe working practices
  • Communicating with others
  • Environmental protection measures
  • Scientific principles
  • Site preparation and pipework fabrication techniques
  • Cold and hot domestic water system installation and maintenance techniques
  • Central heating system installation and maintenance techniques.

The NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Plumbing and Heating also teaches a plumber to understand and apply:

  • Domestic rainwater system installation and maintenance techniques
  • Domestic above ground drainage system installation and maintenance techniques.

NVQ Level 2 plumbing assessment

To achieve your NVQ Level 2 you will have to pass a series of assessments and sit practical and theory exams. These take place in a training centre.

You will also have to submit a portfolio of work and pass performance assessments in your workplace to demonstrate your skills.

NVQ Level 3 (SVQ 3 in Scotland)

It can take three years to achieve this level but this plumbing qualification means you are officially competent.

This is perfect for a plumber who already has well-established skills and knowledge base and is working with minimal supervision.

There are mandatory units that you will have to take:

  • Understanding and carrying out electrical work on domestic plumbing and heating systems and components
  • Servicing and maintaining oil firing pressure jet appliances
  • Installing, commissioning and handing over ‘active’ solar thermal hot water systems
  • Being aware of the requirements to install, commission and hand over rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse systems.

You can also specialise as there are six pathways available with this qualification:

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