Professional Plastering & Plumbing in Huntingdon

Plumbing Apprentices and it’s challenges for employers

Tim nudged me this morning to listen to a discussion that was going on at bbc radio cambridgeshire. The conversation was with a local college in Cambridgeshire promoting apprenticeships in plumbing. (You can hear me at 2:11:39)

We fully support the plumbing apprenticeship schemes and have been liaising with different cambridgeshire organisations and professional bodies over the last few years to see how best to make this work for us as a small business and for the plumbing apprentice themselves so that we can properly support them as they gain plumbing experience in the workplace.

We are currently trying to take on a plumbing apprentice for Sept 2011 on 16 hours per week but it’s proving to be difficult as our local college (Huntingdonshire Regional College) are taking the stance of not supporting apprentices for anything less than 30 hours per week. This is a huge barrier to small firms and employees.  Small firms like ours may not have enough plumbing work for 30 hours a week but they do have for 16 hours a week and hence the number of work placements are reduced by colleges taking this view.

The National Apprenticeship Organisation have confirmed to me that this is at the discretion of the local colleges but their guidelines state it is purely a recommendation and not a mandatory requirement and placements should still be offered part time ie; from 16 hours.

I am not writing this article as an authority on plumbing apprentices, just merely as a customer of the college and a local employer trying to support the plumbing apprenticeship schemes locally so please excuse me if my words are not entirely 100% accurate to the letter of the law as I am just telling a story of our experience with plumbing apprentices and trying to give a few tips to other plumbing firms who may have the opportunity to support a plumbing apprentice with a work placement.

There are young people who are re-training or who have a second job as they cannot survive on £97 per week. Some of these are even willing to pay for the college courses themselves but cannot get a work placement. They may have more of a chance if the college relaxed the 30 hour a week jobs-worth rule.

Interesting that on the radio show it was announced that only 15% of plumbing apprentices get a work placement to enable them to complete their course. Such a shame that we were one of the companies that were offering jobs within the 15% that now cannot!

I’m curious to know how this rule ever came in in the first place so if anyone knows, please feel free to leave a comment below :)

The challenges we have had as a local plumbing firm in Huntingdon are as below:

1)  Funding

This is not automatic or standard. There are requests made by colleges for “employers contribution” depending on the apprentice’s age and grades (I think).  This means that apprentices are not free and the employer picks up a cost for this. Now if you consider the apprentice rate for 1st year is £2.50 per hour this “employers contribution” is equivalent to the cost of 200 hours worth of salary so it is not a small amount in proportion to salary costs.

It is also worth looking at Private Training Providers rather than Colleges as most of these do not ask for “employer contributions” as they feel the level of funding they receive per learner is adequate and it is not necessary to ask for the contribution from employers.

A list of providers can be found on the national apprenticeship website and they are a friendly and helpful bunch of people who can help you find other training organisations if you give them a call.

2) Key skills / Functional Skills

The name of this keeps changing but it is used to describe basic maths and english skills. As an employer I don’t have a problem with paying for technical plumbing training but I do have a problem with funding maths and english training as it is not relevant or particularly beneficial to a trainee plumbers job role.

As an employer I do not want them to be able to write a poem or be a whizz at quadratic equations .. I just want them to learn how to change a tap!

The response I have had in the past is that apprentices need to be equipped with basic maths and english skills as part of their plumbing apprenticeship in case they ever want to run their own plumbing business.

Hello? I am an employer.. why on earth am I paying for this with the “employers contribution”?

The employer doesn’t want this and neither does the learner!

As an apprentice plumber or trainee plumber it is extremely unlikely that they will ever produce their own customer quotes, handle customer correspondence or enquiries, handle pricing, costs, or anything other than the operational and technical aspects of a plumbing job role.

Perhaps I am old fashioned but I believe there should be every opportunity for a young person who has not left school with a certain level of educational attainment to go out and find a job, learn a trade, develop their technical skills.

It can also extremely de-motivate a youngster on an apprenticeship in the workplace.

Some youngsters want to forget about how well they did at school in maths and english and move on to something more positive and focus instead on developing their practical skills. Everyone I have spoken to absolutely hates the “functional skills” element of apprenticeships because they want to leave their educational attainment behind and not have to undergo any maths and english lessons. Their words are “do I really have to?” or “I really don’t want to do that” or “why is that relevant to plumbing” and I don’t have an answer for them.

Some training providers even have it written into contracts that if the apprentice drops out or fails to complete their “functional / key skills” element of their apprenticeship then the employer will be liable for the training costs of a maximim of £2000 approximately!  Talk about putting the employer and apprentice under pressure!

It’s not as if it is only a little bit of “functional / key skills” either, it’s actually a lot! Our apprentice unfortunately did a whole year of just this with very little practical plumbing in his first year at all. Personally I think he deserves a medal for enduring this and being patience to get on to the practical plumbing in his second year. Many would have given up I fear.

3) Organisation

Without going too much into specifics I cannot help but feel that things could be better organised. Quite often I get the impression with colleges/training providers/connexions/job centre/national apprenticeship organisation/assessors etc that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.  Ultimately it is the learner that suffers from this disorganisation.

Questions to ask if you are thinking of taking on a plumbing apprentice

Some of these questions may help you to reduce surprises throughout the duration of the plumbing apprenticeship. Feel free to add your own as a comment if you feel it would help other small employers…

* Is there a cost to me as the employer if the apprentice does not complete their course?

* How will assessor visits be organised and communicated?

* What protective clothing and equipment is needed for the entire duration of the course? (to avoid surprises)

* Is an element of gas work required if the plumbing apprentice is only working in a wet plumbing company?

* When is first aid covered? (so you can make own arrangements if you wish to)

* Will I get a refund of the employers contribution if the college fails to deliver practical plumbing in the first year?

I hope this article is of some help to anyone thinking of taking on a plumbing apprentice. It is written with the intention of helping small local plumbing businesses support young plumbing apprentices looking for work-placements.




About Tim and Max

Plastering and plumbing in cambridgeshire since 2004, bathroom refits, skim ceilings over artex, plasterboarding, fix leaks, 24hr callout, 01480 435609, contact Maxine or Tim Welford

One Response to “Plumbing Apprentices and it’s challenges for employers

  1. Colleges need to work a lot more closely with employers if apprenticeships are going to be an effective way for young people to enter the job market. Many young people will not be able to afford university so this is probably their only chance.

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