Trade body backs ‘surge’ in youngsters considering alternative career paths

THE Scotland and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF) has welcomed the ‘surge’ in interest from school leavers in careers in the plumbing and heating sector.

As youngsters digest their exam results, the organisation said that at a time when the prestige of a university course is being ‘progressively devalued’, a ‘significant’ number of youngsters are looking at alternative career paths such as apprenticeships.

Fiona Hodgson, chief executive of SNIPEF, said, “It can take years to become a successful plumbing or heating engineer and it requires lifelong learning as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate. It is gratifying to see the levels of interest in the industry at the moment and SNIPEF and other trade associations are strongly supportive of apprenticeships – as are employers, who want to future-proof their companies with qualified, skilled and enthusiastic employees.

“The plumbing industry opens up a huge diversity of career paths, it pays very good wages and it creates the opportunity for individuals to run their own businesses or move into senior management positions, as many SNIPEF members have done. Many plumbers progress to design, consultancy, teaching and management, making the plumbing and heating industry a career with a future, with opportunities for both males and females.”

Dale Thomson, training manager at SNIPEF, added, “There is a widespread recognition that apprentices are the future of the industry and that they should be valued and rewarded accordingly. This recognition is reflected among potential candidates who are increasingly aware that a career in the sector can be financially attractive, personally fulfilling and socially very worthwhile.”

19-year-old Connie McNaughton, from Cupar in Fife, is a nearly fully-qualified plumber, who takes pleasure in proving people wrong who express doubts about her suitability for her chosen career.

“Sometimes people have doubts about whether I could do the job,” she explained. “They are not rude, it’s just because I’m a girl. In that case, I go out of my way to do even more professional work than ever. It answers their questions.”

Connie started a pre-apprenticeship at the age of 15 and now has just the Accredited Certification Scheme Gas exam remaining. She has already passed the Plumbing and Heating Final Competence Assessment and is being entrusted by her employer, local firm Robert Walker Plumbing and Heating, to represent the company on less complicated domestic jobs.

“Today we were installing an unvented cylinder,” she added. “At other times, we fit boilers and deliver boiler services, or perhaps we will be called on to fit a whole bathroom. There is always something new. I work mostly with my mentor, Demi Glenn, who has been fully qualified for 12 or 13 years. It’s unusual to have two women working together in this industry, but she has been great to me and has taught me just about everything I know.

“I have been going out on my own recently, doing small jobs such as fitting taps. It’s a bit weird working alone, but the company has good customers, who are really welcoming – and I get lots of cups of tea.”

Connie wanted to take up a trade from a young age but had never considered plumbing until her dad had spoke with company owner Robert Walker, who was a personal friend.

She said, “Rab asked me lots of questions, then gave me a trial and we took it from there. I know he is close to retirement, but he has given me a great chance and he wants me to see it through. In the long term, I would like to run my own business and have people working for me. The teamwork I have experienced has shown me that things can get done a lot faster and more effectively than by working on your own.”