A campaign about the importance of the qualifications and standards associated with training for plumbing and other equally important practically-orientated occupations is urgently needed. The title above is not empty sloganising; after all the mantra ‘water is dangerous’ has significant meaning bearing in mind the deaths and serious accidents each year from scalding, legionnaire’s disease etc. A plumber is now confronted with an array of complicated factors that go well beyond connecting pipes. Sadly the majority of people seem to imagine it is an occupation that requires little knowledge and skill. Plumbing systems include computer controlled devices in electrical and gas boilers and other components. There are also wider issues associated with water safety and the need to factor in serious green issues. Safety issues include the recent concerns about possible water supply contamination from brass and copper fittings as well as residual issues with lead pipes. The dangers of brass and copper fittings was first identified in 1998 by the EU stating that contamination levels had to be reduced by 2013 – as usual the directives was largely ignored. Surely society must recognise that plumbing is an essential and challenging profession where the required skills and knowledge are becoming increasingly more complex and contribute to the safety and health of the population.
At present the landscape is still populated by a number of rogue trainers and traders , a situation not helped by governments’ apparent unwillingness to tighten regulatory bodies oversight in order to rectify this highly unsatisfactory situation; this is in spite of occasional alarmed coverage in the media. The campaign to raise the status of plumbing must address and action all the issues identified above. Equally important are the issues related to training and the standards that underpin the qualifications. The minimum required qualification must be at level 3 for a person to become a practitioner. Other occupational areas e.g. gas and electrical are set at level 3 so it is absolutely essential that plumbing follows suite. Equally important is the removal of the age limit for entitlement to funding to undertake and achieve the full qualification; the country urgently needs highly qualified practitioners. The training programmes wherever delivered must also include effective and realistic programmes of work based training and experience. The qualification and its content must be up to date and reflect the complexity of the activity. Once successfully completely the person will have gained a credible qualification that will be fit for purpose to operate. The icing on the cake would be a licence to work (see previous edition of ETM). – we can but hope!
For the campaign to be successful all interested parties must be involved otherwise parochial and vested interest will come into play. Divide and rule tactics are ever present in this country; governments capitalises on it. Professional bodies, subject interest groups, industry members, colleges and training providers, awarding bodies and employers must present a unified front to the government and its relevant departments and lobby strongly to get positive and lasting results. The CIPHE CEO and professional staff are committed to campaigning and lobbying about these strategically important issues in a variety of ways including press releases, its website and this journal. Colleges and lecturers also have a key role to play in these endeavours as too often they have been marginalised by college management. It is surely an opportune time during this recession and its resultant high levels of unemployment especially amongst young people to instigate the campaign and so raise the qualification level and status of plumbing.
- Launch a wide ranging campaign to raise the profile of plumbing involving all the key stakeholders
- Publicise the critical importance of water safety and the need to recognise and tackle green issues
- Engage more fully with the industry – not just the employers, as the industry is far wider than just the employers
- Comprehensively review and reform the curriculum for plumbing to include a minimum of level 3 qualification dispensing with the level 2 qualification
- Introduce a licence to work.
- Continue to lobby for higher level qualifications i.e. >4
- Remove rogue traders and trainers from the scene
- Once and for all strengthen and create more effective regulation and inspection bodies that are more publicly accountable
- Provide adequate funding for colleges and training providers
- Abolish the age criteria for funding to encourage and maximise the number of committed learners
- Support the creation of effective apprenticeship programmes
- Make CPD programmes compulsory for practitioners and lecturers/trainers
I am confident that the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) will continue to campaign for this strategically important profession!
First published in Winter 2013 in the Education and Training Matters Journal.