The Job and What's Involved

Plumbers work on sanitation, heating, hot and cold water systems, and the sheet lead weathering required for the inside and outside of buildings. Qualified plumbers are responsible for installing and maintaining these systems.

The work includes:

  • Fitting pipework to baths, toilets, sinks, central heating boilers, water pumps, hot water storage cylinders and cold water storage cisterns.
  • Emergency repair work.
  • Making and fitting flashings or roof weatherings, to make joints between roof tiles or slates, chimneys and dormer windows.
  • Fitting and jointing rainwater, soil and drainage pipes.
  • Maintenance work, for example routine servicing on boilers and other appliances.

Plumbers use a variety of hand and power tools including wrenches, spanners, saws, cutters and welding gear. They cut, bend, join and fix materials such as lead, copper, aluminium, plastic, zinc and iron, and have to make sure their work is carried out safely and accurately, and that it complies with regulations.

It is possible to specialise in particular areas of plumbing work. For example:

  • Gas fitters make sure that gas systems and appliances are installed, tested and maintained to a high standard.
  • Industrial/commercial plumbers design, install and maintain plumbed services for industrial buildings.
  • Sheet metal weathering specialists develop and install intricate weathering systems to protect listed, historical and commercial buildings.

Some plumbers work in other industries, in areas such as ship or marine plumbing, or in the chemical industry, installing and repairing pipework that carries chemicals.

Starting salaries for apprentice plumbers may be around £7,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are approximately 20,000 plumbing businesses in the UK, of which 80 per cent are sole traders. Despite a recent increase in people training to become a plumber, there remains a shortage of skilled workers. Many women are now entering the profession and details are available from the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering's (IPHE) Women in Plumbing Group (WPG) and SummitSkills.

The main employers are general building contractors with large contracts for housing estates and office buildings, and smaller contractors who undertake work for building contractors and private clients. Many plumbers are self-employed. In some areas of the country there are opportunities for employment with local councils and other public organisations.

Vacancies for qualified plumbers are usually advertised in local newspapers and Jobcentre Plus offices.

Education and Training

Most people start as an apprentice straight from school or college and train on the job.

To join an Apprenticeship, applicants should have at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), particularly in English, maths and a science subject. Applicants also have to pass a selection test and have their colour vision tested. Opportunities for Apprenticeships in this area are limited.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Apprentices train on the job, spending some time working alongside an experienced plumber. This is combined with off-the-job training, such as a day or block-release course at college. Apprenticeships typically take between three and four years to complete.

Depending on the type of Apprenticeship, trainees may work towards NVQ/SVQ Level 2 and 3 in Mechanical Engineering Services (MES) - Plumbing. They also gain key skills and work towards technical certificates in plumbing studies. At NVQ/SVQ Level 3, trainees study water regulations assessment, unvented hot water assessment, and gas safety competence.

A number of organisations offer short intensive training courses, some with home-study options.

Plumbers working on gas installations must be CORGI registered and hold a CORGI ID card before they start work. Registration is a legal requirement for anyone installing or repairing gas fittings or appliances.

Once qualified, plumbers may decide to further their qualifications to NVQ/SVQ Level 4, or even to degree level.

Plumbers with vocational qualifications and appropriate experience can apply to the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering for recognition as master plumbers.

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Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.


Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A plumber needs:

  • Practical skills and good hand skills.
  • To be able to follow technical drawings, building plans and other instructions.
  • To be physically fit and strong enough to carry tools and materials.
  • To be careful and methodical and work safety.
  • To be able to measure accurately.
  • To have a head for heights and be prepared to work in all sorts of weather.
  • To be willing to work in confined spaces.
  • To have good communication skills.
  • A knowledge of legislation such as water and building regulations.
  • A wide knowledge of plumbing systems and appliances.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are plenty of opportunities for progression in the plumbing industry. Plumbers can work towards technician or supervisory level jobs, or specialise in a specific area of work such as heating, ventilation, refrigeration or air conditioning.

Some plumbers progress into design consultancy, teaching and management.

Self-employed plumbers may run their own specialist firms.

Get Further Information

Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors,
14 Ensign House, Ensign Business Centre,
Westwood Way, Coventry CV4 8JA
Tel: 02476 470626

The Council for Registered Gas Installers (CORGI),
1 Elmwood, Chineham Park, Crockford Lane,
Basingstoke, Hampshire RG24 8WG.
Tel: 0870 401 2279

Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing
Employers' Federation (SNIPEF),
2 Walker Street, Edinburgh EH3 7LB
Tel: 0131 225 2255
Websites: and

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