Train to be a Plumber


Government funded plumbing courses

If you’ve been reading up on the UK plumbing certification process, you have probably run into terms like city & guilds, NVQ, and technical certificate (if you haven’t, don’t worry, we will define these terms below). The UK’s plumbing requirements can be quite difficult to understand, and are made even more so by many disreputable sources of information online. In this article, we will lay out in plain and simple English the requirements for becoming a plumber in the UK, and why the NVQ 6189 is the course that will give you the proper qualifications.

Why the NVQ 6189?

Traditionally, plumbers have demonstrated their qualifications by their possession of an NVQ level 2, an diploma awarded by an accredited body for vocational qualifications in the UK. Many such awarding bodies exist, such as the EAL, but the City & Guilds is the most popular and widely recognized. Contrary to popular belief, the City & Guilds does not directly assess a prospective plumber’s qualifications, but rather sets the requirements that licensed centres must adhere to. In years past, an NVQ 2 could only be awarded after a potential plumber had demonstrated several years of experience working as a plumber (usually as an apprentice, which is still an excellent option), and was assessed onsite by a licensed C&G examiner.

To speed up the process, the C&G then began offering the NVQ 2 as a combination of two awards, the classroom-based Technical Certificate 6129 and the NVQ 2 6089 practical on-site examinations. However, many colleges began advertising quick 4-6 week 6129 courses, claiming that these would certify someone to become a plumber. The reality is that the 6129 is not sufficient to qualify you as a plumber, and, if this is your goal, these courses are not the ones that you want to take. In order to be qualified as plumber in the eyes of the C&G and potential employers, you must be assessed onsite and compile a portfolio of completed jobs.

The problem has become so bad that the C&G has actually eliminated this route of qualification. The 6089 and 6129 will be phased out by late 2012. The successor to these courses is the NVQ 6189, which is now the preferred qualification for plumbers in the UK. Even though many colleges and plumbing centres still offer the 6089 and 6129 courses, your best bet for getting the proper plumbing qualification is to take the NVQ 6189. Most plumbing companies now look for this qualification when hiring new plumbers.

Course content

The NVQ 6189 level 2 is a combination of the 6129 classroom-based component and the NVQ 6089 on-site assessment. It comes in two variants, the NVQ 6089-11 and the NVQ 6089-21, which are identical except that the 6189-21 does not qualify you to work on bathrooms. The NVQ 6189 also contains an updated curriculum for modern plumbing systems, and is the preferred diploma for a plumber in the UK. The classroom component can be completed in as little as 6 weeks when working full time, or completed on nights and weekends if you are concurrently doing a plumbing apprenticeship or working a full-time job. Topics that will be covered include:

Safe working practises
Installation/commission of bathroom suites, taps, toilets, etc. (6189-11 only)
Installation/commission of domestic heating systems
Installation/commission of hot water cylinders and cold water cisterns
Installation/replacement of immersion heaters
Maintenance of above systems and more

The on-site assessment component of the NVQ 6189 includes 3-6 workplace visits by a licensed C&G assessor. As the name suggests, these workplace visits must be completed while on-the-job, which means that you must be doing work as a plumber in order to become qualified as a plumber! Fortunately, this paradox is relatively easy to resolve, as you can obtain sites at which to complete an on-site assessment either through a plumbing apprenticeship, a work placement by your plumbing college or centre, or by working as a self-employed plumber. During these on-site assessments, your examiner will watch you complete several tasks which you were taught how to do in the classroom component and compile a portfolio of photographic proof of the completion of these tasks. Here are a few things you may be asked to do:

Maintenance of various plumbing systems
Installation of bathroom and/or heating components
Demonstrate knowledge of safe working practices
Many C&G qualified assessors charge a few hundred pounds for each workplace visit, so it is beneficial for you to get a qualified plumber to watch and document a few of your assessments in order to build your portfolio without requiring the presence of these assessors. Fortunately, there are many ways to obtain funding for plumbing courses, so it is very possible for you to obtain your NVQ 6189 for free!

If you wish to gain further credentials as a plumber beyond the NVQ 6189 level 2, there are many options. After working several years as a plumber, you may wish to obtain an NVQ 6189 level 3 certification, which qualifies you to take on more specialized plumbing jobs. There are also many secondary certifications which qualify you to work on more specialized plumbing systems, such as the BPEC Water Regulations Certificate, CSCS Onsite Health and Safety Certification and the ACS Gas Installation and Maintenance. These qualifications are often looked upon very favorably by employers, and will raise your salary as a plumber. Further still, you can obtain an advanced NVQ level 4 certification, which will allow you take on even more high-paying jobs, such as managing the construction of plumbing systems.

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