Getting into Plumbing & Heating

Want to get into the plumbing and heating industry but don’t know where to start? Whether you’re leaving school or want a complete career change, and no matter how old you are, before you start exploring your training options there are two very important things to consider:

There are no quick fixes to becoming qualified:

It takes around four years to become fully qualified if you have no prior experience in the industry. You may see adverts for intensive packages where knowledge courses are condensed into a few weeks or months.

These may seem attractive, but we strongly recommend caution. Packages such as these are unlikely to allow you to properly embed the learning and knowledge and will only take you part of the way.

You’ll need to choose the right training course – not all give you the skills needed:

You cannot become a qualified plumbing and heating engineer without real work experience. Practising in a college or training centre is a lot different to working on-site, or in somebody’s home. In the real world there are a lot more variables and problems that you would never experience in a training scenario.

There are also the added pressures of time constraints and the potential of making mistakes, that can be a lot more costly when they happen in a real working environment.

So, it’s important that you work with an experienced and fully qualified tradesperson, while building your confidence and learning how to deal with problems when they arise.


To help you make an informed decision about your training path, take a look at our advice on which qualifications and training you need, and how to stay on the right track:

Step 1

Read more about the Qualifications you’ll need to become a qualified plumber

Step 2

Take a look at our tips on Choosing a Training Provider

Step 3

Beware of the Warning Signs which could take you down the wrong path

Step 1: What Qualifications or Training Do I Need?

If you want to become a qualified plumbing and heating engineer, you’ll ultimately need to gain the industry’s recognised competence-based qualification. This is:

  • Level 3 Diploma in Plumbing and Domestic Heating (in England)
  • In Scotland: Plumbing & Heating SVQ Level 3 (SCQF 7)
  • In Wales: Building Services Engineering – Plumbing & Heating Level 3 (available from Sept 2022)

The Plumbing & Domestic Heating Technician apprenticeship is the recognised route into the industry to become fully qualified. If you’re completely new to the industry it should take around four years to complete.

If you’ve already had some experience in the industry, you may be able to complete the apprenticeship in a shorter amount of time.

Other qualifications

There are some other qualifications at Levels 1-3 that don’t provide you with full Industry competence, but they will act as a good stepping stone to progress onto the full Level 3 qualification. Some examples of these qualifications are:

  • Diploma in Plumbing Foundation (Levels 1,2,3)
  • NVQ Diploma in Plumbing & Heating (Level 2)
  • NVQ Diploma in Domestic Heating (Level 2)
  • Technical Certificate in Plumbing (Level 2)
  • Advanced Technical Diploma in Plumbing (Level 3)

New qualifications called T Levels are being developed in England and are aimed at 16-19 years old full-time students who want to work within the building services industry. T Levels are new courses that will follow GCSEs and will be equivalent to three A Levels.

Workplace Learning is Essential

To become qualified you can’t rely on classroom learning alone. You’ll need a significant amount of learning in the workplace through working alongside a qualified plumbing and heating engineer.

How can you do this? If you aren’t able to secure an apprenticeship, offering free labour to a qualified plumbing and heating engineer in return for invaluable ‘real’ life work experience will provide a great long-term investment to your training journey.

How do I find an employer?

Look for members of these recognised organisations as they are great benchmarks for genuine and legitimate plumbing and heating engineers. Do not solely rely on website-based reviews.

Who offers the approved qualifications?

The only awarding organisations that offer legitimate plumbing and heating qualifications are BPEC, City and Guilds, EAL, LCL Awards and SQA. Make sure your training provider or college is approved by one of the above awarding organisations/bodies.

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Step 2: Tips for choosing a Training Provider

To help you gain the proper qualifications you’ll need a reputable training provider who can give you clear and honest advice.

Whilst there are many good training providers out there, unfortunately some may be more concerned about financial gain than helping you on the right track.

Take a look at our advice and guidance on what to look for and questions to ask when researching plumbing and heating courses:

Read the small print carefully

We often receive complaints that training does not deliver what the learner thought they were signing up for – in most cases this is a blue or gold (Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, as you need a CSCS card to work on construction sites.

Many providers offer packages including courses that are not essential for new entrants and do not meet the plumbing industry’s requirements.

Check any wording around exactly what qualification you’ll gain and what it leads to.

More guidance on plumbing CSCS cards can be found at:

  • JIB PMES – England and Wales
  • SNIJIB – Scotland and Northern Ireland

Check whether you’re eligible for any funding

Apprenticeship training in England, Scotland and Wales is now funded for people of any age, so if you find an employer, they will receive funding for the apprenticeship programme.

The Level 3 NVQ Diploma in Plumbing & Heating in England is also currently being funded by the Government under its ‘Free Courses for Jobs’ initiative – find out more about this and the eligibility criteria on the website

Check whether your existing qualifications can be recognised

You should not be asked to repeat training unless there is a valid reason, for example, if it was completed a long time ago, or a newer version is in place, for example the most common legacy qualification for the plumbing industry is the City & Guilds Craft or Advanced Craft in Plumbing.

If your goal is a plumbing CSCS card, the Plumbing JIBs in England/Wales and Scotland/Northern Ireland will have details on the historical qualifications they recognise – check this before paying out to repeat training.

Look at reviews and feedback

Any English Further Education (FE) colleges and private training providers that offer apprenticeships or publicly funded qualifications are regularly inspected by Ofsted. You can try searching for a provider on the Ofsted website as part of your decision-making process. You could also seek views from others – people often post about their experiences on Facebook, other community groups, online plumbers’ forums etc.

Look carefully at website rating tools – some offer independent feedback listing all types of reviews, others are operated by the provider themselves. If you are self-funding, you are potentially investing thousands of pounds, so do your research carefully as you would if you were making any major purchase.

Avoid hard sells

Most providers want to do the right thing and will happily answer any questions about what they offer. Be wary if you are pressured to sign up without having time to properly reflect or research their claims, especially if you are being asked to enter into a financial agreement.

Watch out for sales techniques such as ‘this is a limited time opportunity’ or ‘spaces are going fast so you need to sign up’. Implying something is scarce is a selling technique to get you to sign quickly, perhaps without fully researching the value of what is on offer, including the contractual terms.

Finding a Training Provider

In addition to looking at which training providers are approved by the industry’s awarding organisations, you can also try the following links:

Most Further Education colleges will offer plumbing apprenticeships locally, however the following apprenticeship training providers offer plumbing apprenticeships nationally:

  • JTL Training for apprenticeships in England and Wales
  • SNIPEF for apprenticeships in Scotland and Northern Ireland

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Step 3: Beware of the warning signs

There are some obvious red flags that you should be aware of before you commit to any training. If your training provider shows any signs highlighted below – think carefully before you proceed.

Red Flag 1 – Going through a Third Party

Some providers are not regulated or approved to offer qualifications but will sub-contract others to offer these on your behalf. Watch out for anything that sounds like this:

“We will put you in touch with a specialist company that provides trades training courses for individuals.”

Words such as this may also be hidden within the terms and conditions small print.

Going through a third party may cost you more and if things go wrong, it will be more difficult to take action because your contract is not actually with the training provider itself.

We recommend you contract directly with the training provider who is actually delivering the training and qualification.

Make sure they are regulated by an Awarding Organisation that offers industry-approved qualifications, such as BPEC, City & Guilds, EAL, LCL Awards or SQA – these are all bodies that have competence-based Level 2 and Level 3 regulated plumbing and heating qualifications.

Red Flag 2 – Offering a package of qualifications

Avoid packages of qualifications offered in a bundle. These are often fast track courses which promise lots but will not give you the full industry-endorsed qualification.

Short course or qualification bundles are likely to only train you for a much smaller remit of work, for instance working with copper and plastic piping systems, sheet weathering applications, installing kitchens, bathrooms, or just working on domestic hot and cold water systems. These are useful skills, but you will not become fully qualified and need be trained and assessed on the full range of subjects within the Plumbing & Heating Qualification.

Some short courses are authentic and endorsed, but are intended for Continual Professional Development once you are qualified e.g. unvented hot water systems, water regulations/byelaws, legionella awareness or energy efficiency courses.

Once you’ve qualified it’s important to commit to lifelong learning and you can continually up-skill in areas such as renewable energy (heat pumps, solar thermal and underfloor heating installations) and fuel systems (Gas, Oil, LPG, Solid Fuel/Biomass). These are all great examples of training that aren’t for new entrants, you complete these once you’ve qualified as a plumbing and heating engineer.

Red Flag 3 – Check carefully when the word ‘College’ is used

Further Education Colleges and other approved Independent Training Providers operate across the country and hold direct contracts with Government and awarding organisations.

However, some training providers use the word ‘college’ in their title to try to give a similar impression. They may simply be agencies who will contract other providers to deliver training and qualifications to you.

Legitimate college websites will generally end in ‘’, so this is another check to make during your research.

We strongly recommend always contracting directly with the actual training provider and ensuring they are accredited by an awarding organisation. You can check whether a provider is approved through the awarding bodies listed under Step 1.

The National Careers Service also has a search facility which lists approved training providers.

Red Flag 4 – Not giving sufficient information until you submit your contact details

If the website only provides limited information and encourages you to sign up to receive further details and ‘personalised advice’, be on your guard. Although this might feel like an easy option, this can lead to high pressure calls from ‘careers advisors’ who are essentially sales people tasked with getting your business.

Some of the reports we receive include:

  • Not giving details on where training centres are located
  • Being asked to carry out video or in-person interviews
  • Asking for partners to be involved in the call
  • Not providing you with further documents or information when requested.

Red Flag 5 – False accreditation claims

Some websites may look impressive with lots of official logos, but the training provider may not be authorised to use them.

Look carefully at any accreditations. The five awarding organisations that develop plumbing and heating qualifications are BPEC, City & Guilds, EAL, LCL Awards and SQA, who regulate and audit their approved centres.

If you’re unsure whether the accreditation or a claim is genuine, check it via the website of the Awarding Organisation.

Some providers may also work with recognised industry bodies who will carry out their own checks, such as the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering or SNIPEF.

Red Flag 6 – An affordability process that doesn’t add up

If you’re being asked to sign up to a finance agreement to pay for your training course, you may have to carry out an ‘affordability assessment’. Watch out for the following warning signs:

  • Being asked to submit your parent’s or partner’s details for the credit check if it’s unlikely you can pass the credit check yourself
  • Being asked to falsify figures on the affordability statement, or the salesperson telling you what to write in order to pass.
  • If the affordability paperwork shows you do not have sufficient funds for the finance agreement. There have been instances where people have secured a finance agreement even though they have been shown to be living with parents, unemployed and had insufficient money available for training.

Red Flag 7 – Contract terms and conditions with deeper consequences

Read any contract wording carefully and consider the implications of what is being laid out.

Don’t be pressured, take advice from reputable industry bodies if you are unsure. Watch out for wording in the small print of the agreement that can cause unexpected issues.

Take a look at some of these examples and our advice:

a) A time limit on completion and costs for extension:

If you are given a time limit to complete your course (for instance, 36 months) and told you may be charged extra for additional time, be wary.

To become an industry-recognised and a fully qualified plumbing and heating engineer with zero prior experience, you would need around four years of training.

There is a risk that you would not be able to complete the qualifications on offer within a 36-month time period, bearing in mind the industry recognised qualification requires work-based experience and evidence.

b) Additional costs for practical days:

Some training providers state they will charge an additional fee for extra training days. Any reputable training provider will include all necessary training without the course programme to give you the knowledge and skills needed.

Be aware that the number of practical sessions on offer may not be sufficient and you could be subject to extra costs.

c) Work experience requirements:

If you wish to complete the Plumbing & Heating Qualification you will need a considerable amount of on-site work experience to demonstrate the evidence required and be assessed on site. Some providers may include in the small print that the onus is on you to secure work experience.

Consider carefully if you are likely to secure this on your own and look at specific conditions around whether your training provider is likely to help you with this.

This may also impact on the duration of your course or your ability to complete the qualification if you cannot find work experience within the time allowed.

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We hope you found this information useful. Good luck in your training and career journey into the plumbing and heating industry!