Why is there still a skills gap in the plumbing industry?

Almost two million1 people are unemployed in the UK – and yet employers are still struggling to find employees.

In the plumbing industry this is particularly prevalent.

Plumbing is a trade that has survived the recessions and technological advancements alike, whilst other industries have struggled. Take the magazine industry as an example – the recession hit and people gave up on buying the non-essentials, the internet took over and there was no longer a need to buy a magazine when you could read the information for free online. As a result, publishers have had to switch up their strategies and plunge themselves into the digital world.

For plumbers, this hasn’t been the case because our physical presence is always in demand, whether that’s in a residential emergency situation, or if our skills are needed to make a commercial building run more efficiently energy-wise.

As an employer, we can only afford to send qualified and experienced plumbers out on a job – after all, it’s our reputation on the line. Unlike the media industries, which cite they have too many qualified applicants for any given role, hiring is an incredibly laboured process for us because there are simply not enough professional plumbers out there.

A lack of vocational training within the education system was part of the problem for many years. In 2014, essential trades such as plumbing are still not on the national curriculum, but there are more courses available for school leavers – and more and more people are signing up for them.

The latest research by Edge and City & Guilds suggests that parents may be the driving force behind this, as mothers and fathers believe that their children are more likely to secure a job if they train to be a plumber than if they study for any number of degree courses at university, including maths, law and English2.

Apprenticeship schemes are also receiving a lot of publicity at the moment and can really pay off for a motivated young person, as they’ll gain first-hand experience, a wage and a qualification.

However, the same study by Edge and City & Guilds did find that only 16% of parents hope their children will complete an apprenticeship compared with a total of 45% who hope their children will pursue a degree.

Perhaps this is to do with the perceived amount of money a tradesperson can earn. Plumbers earn a salary of around £35,0003 and set their own hours and rates. By comparison, a marketing manager will earn around £40,0004 a year for a 40-hour week. This is the reality that many people are not aware of.

Jan Hodges, chief executive of Edge, which promotes vocational training, said: ‘There is a disconnect between what parents know about employability and what they feel is the best for their children in terms of academic achievement.

We need to continue in our mission to champion technical, practical and vocational learning’.

We fully support this type of campaigning because we know that the country would be in a very messy state without the hard work that plumbers carry out – the amount of over spilling toilets alone is a thought that terrifies us. Through the continued enhancement of education and better utilisation of peoples’ talents, we hope that the skills gap within the plumbing industry will be something we can finally lay to rest very soon.

1 BBC, 2014. Economy tracker: Unemployment. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10604117.

2 Telgraph, 2014. Plumbing courses ‘beat law degrees in race for jobs’. [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/further-education/11221393/Plumbing-courses-beat-law-degrees-in-race-for-jobs.html.

3 National Careers Service, 2014. Plumber. [Online] Available at: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/plumber.aspx.

4 National Careers Service, 2014. Marketing manager. [Online] Available at: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/marketingmanager.aspx.

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