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Government cash needed to solve plumbing apprentice crisis


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A serious shortage of plumbers and other skilled trades could be solved if the government provided more financial help for firms to train apprentices, says the chairman of the UK’s largest emergency plumbing and drain repair service. 

Freddie Mitman, chairman of the national Drain Doctor Plumbing franchise network, made his plea after the government announced £60 million plans to encourage more children to train for careers as plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters and plasterers.


The government hopes the new measures will fill an estimated shortfall of almost 30,000 plumbers, 17,000 engineers and 400,000 construction industry workers over the next five years. The Institute of Plumbing predicts that at least 29,000 more plumbers will be needed by 2007 while at present only 800 qualify as plumbers annually.

A series of enterprise days will be introduced so that trades people can tell secondary school pupils about the advantages of their work. Emphasis will be given to vocational education as ‘an exciting option’ and pupils will receive advice about starting their own businesses.

Mr Mitman said: “It’s time that the government recognised the real value of the training provided by employers and offered them a sensible reward for their investment in training apprentices.”

“At present an employer can claim a £5,500 grant – equivalent to £26 per week – to help meet the college day-release training costs of each apprentice over a four-year period. For a 24-hour service like Drain Doctor Plumbing that doesn’t cover the travel costs of a technician picking up an apprentice to attend a night-time call-out. The real costs of on-the-job training are considerably higher and once an apprentice qualifies he can just walk away and start his own business or work for someone else.”

Mr Mitman added that Drain Doctor Plumbing is playing a crucial role in ending the British ‘snobbery’ that prevents many youngsters from taking up plumbing as a career. “Our unprecedented standards of customer service and quality workmanship has raised the profile of the plumbing trade so that it commands more respect as it does in other countries, such as Germany,” he said. “We have overturned negative perceptions of ‘cowboy operators’ within the plumbing trade.

“Plumbing is certainly a rewarding career for young people to consider and it’s a recession-proof business,” he added. “Following its launch in 1994 Drain Doctor Plumbing has created scores of new plumbing and drain repair businesses some of which will achieve £1 million turnover next year.

“Many of our franchisees are overcoming the national shortage of skilled plumbers by introducing their own apprenticeship training schemes but more could be done if the government introduced adequate rewards for the training that employers provide.”

Nearly three-quarters of plumbing businesses report recruitment problems and the shortage is particularly acute in big cities such as London and Edinburgh where plumbers can reportedly earn more than newly qualified lawyers.

The new government initiatives were unveiled at the Confederation of British Industry annual conference by Education Secretary Charles Clarke. He said: “We must ensure that vocational education is an exciting option within schools and leads to worthwhile and fulfilling careers.”

Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt added: “Businesses have been telling us for some time that we need to develop a closer understanding of their needs in our schools agenda.”

December 2002

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