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Why Britain’s Plumbers Are Always in Demand

No sooner has Britain’s shortage of plumbers been plugged than the Australians have started trying to recruit them, which once again drain’s the industry of workmen.

But we all know when there is a shortage of plumbers – because nobody can get hold of one.

Plumbers can be seen as a bellwether for economic health, during the housing boom they were in high demand, and now after the slump, they appear to be finding work down under, so that dripping tap won’t be fixed for a while and the leaking pipe will carry on leaking- because they’re just too busy.

This was the situation a couple of years ago, so the industry saw a surge in plumbers coming from across the seas.

Plumbers are one of the professionals wanted by Australia as it raises its annual target figures for skilled workmen and women, coming into the country. This seems to be an appealing offer for many as the sun; sea and sand go hand in hand with excellent pay and open visas.

“It’s very indicative of how the economy is doing because demand for plumbing services rises when the economy is doing well,” says Peter Wright, an associate professor in labour economics at Nottingham University’s Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre (GEP).

“Most people’s perception of plumbers is that they are people they ring when they have a leak, but many are employed in the housing sector.”

The recent shortage in the supply of plumbers in the UK was partly due to the expansion of higher education which drew people away from skilled trades, he says. Apprenticeship schemes became less prevalent and there was a lag before higher education colleges stepped into the role.

“Demand for apprenticeships rose rapidly during the late 1990s with the booming economy. As people became wealthier, they spent money on their houses and there was increased house-building.”

This however is now set to balance out after the hike in tuition fees, which is opening up other options such as apprenticeship and skills qualifications.

“Australia is probably undergoing the same experience”, he adds.

The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering’s spokeswoman, Carol Cannavan, says that over the previous few years there has been a flood of people entering the industry in the UK.

“What sparked it was the media exaggerating stories about plumbers making a fortune. We had other skilled workers like bank managers saying they wanted to change their career to become a plumber because they had seen in the paper how much they could earn.

“But they discovered when they got on the courses that you have to be a practical person and want to learn how things work, so it’s not for everyone.”

It takes years to qualify as a plumber, usually three, but because being a plumber is not a protected title like solicitor, people could call themselves a plumber after attending a four-week course, says Cannavan.

David Greenaway, a professor in economics says “One of the reasons why plumbing is significant is that the relative price of such services has been driven up by other household goods getting cheaper.

“Because it’s a trade job that we all from time to time call upon, people get puzzled when what they regard as – although skilled – still a tradesman job that seems to be getting so expensive relative to other things they are buying.”

Here are some simple steps you can follow to become a plumber:

  • Follow the NVQ route (SNVQ in Scottland): This combines theory and practical work, in-class work and practical experience.
  • All recently qualified plumbers need to hold a level 2 qualification or higher.

For more information about how you can qualify as a plumber call us free or fill out a form on the right.

All data correct at time of publication.