The Future of the Art of Plumbing…

Recently, Chris Flaherty (@VietecHeating on Twitter) wrote a great and heartfelt article on LinkedIn regarding the skills shortage in the plumbing industry; it’s here.

My personal summary of its 2 root causes is thus:
– pay is so poor that people do not see it as attractive enough to enter
– entry training is so poor that good pay is difficult to justify. In other words, if we pay peanuts we get monkeys!

Whilst he is without doubt correct, ‘I’ feel that ‘trades’ have historically been an easy target for a, perhaps unconscious, media witch hunt that has had serious long term consequences.

In the late 90s & early 2000s we had a plethora of programmes dedicated to the unmasking of so called rogue traders. Actually, when you review the output, plumbers featured more than any other trade. One has to ask, does that mean that shysters are more likely to set themselves up as ‘plumbers’ than another trade, or is it more to do with media deadlines, ratings and the increasingly instantaneousness of life?

Personally, I feel it’s far more to do with filmmaker laziness than anything else. An electrician’s work is generally hidden. It is also more easily rectified even though its potential to kill is far higher than mistakes with water. The way electricity kills is silent, nothing rushes the way water does so it can be dramatically captured on film. Killing electricity travels at the speed of light so makes rubbish viewing! Builders take too long to do absolutely anything so filmmakers don’t want to hang around – time is money and lost ratings…

Blundering plumber burns down £5m mansion… (2010)

Plumbers can drain away £130 an hour (2005)

In addition, during this period there were also increasingly dishonest headlines bandied about by the likes of the Daily Mail & Daily Express quoting stratospheric levels of salary as some kind of norm; this of course simply reinforced perceived stereotype of plumbers as greedy, thieving and also incompetent.

What has this to do with Chris’ point? The fact is, we (the general public) are impacted by what we see, what we hear – even unconsciously. So, when it comes to our children making their choices as to which career to follow, are we really surprised that plumbing subsequently gets put to the back of the queue simply through mis-association and/or mis-understanding and/or mis-representation?

The truth of the matter is that all ‘trades’ are full to the gunnels of honest, decent, hard working and competent people. Just like every other walk of life, just like every other profession, there are the bad apples – let’s not talk about banking and finance, but somehow they escape association or denigration to the point where parentally we actively steer our kids away from association with it. Finance, the profession that does ‘real’ damage to people are always somehow cleansed or forgiven – perhaps it is through their wading through piles of money…

So, how can things change? How can we change public perceptions? How can we elevate the engineering profession of plumbing to where it belongs, as it already is in the rest of the developed world, to being revered, to being something to aspire to?

As Chris says, we need a plan? We need a strategy and we need to gather those with long term interests in our industry to get behind a low profile but concerted campaign to slowly and irrevocable lift the public’s perception of the ancient art and skill of plumbing.

What do you think? Please comment.


4 thoughts on “The Future of the Art of Plumbing…”

  1. Well said David
    We can do our bit on social media, showing the world out there that we do good work, by posting our excellent installations, more importantly, if the regulators are really, actually, seriously concerned with those that do substandard work, then they should be kicking out fitters and installers who breech the regulations are rescinding their accreditation’s. Now this doesnt stop those same persons from trading but at least they cant purport to be (for example) “gas safe registered” (well not legally anyway). If that same person who had their card removed wants back in then they re-train and have close supervision of future work until they can be let loose again!
    It all starts with getting better from the top and getting rid at the bottom. Now of course that takes money but with a company such as a profit making Capita at the helm the real drive to effectively police the market is muted and diluted in the drive for profits
    To my mind since Capita have taken over the register the plumbing “gas” industry has been hit for six, how can you trust a sector properly if the regulator is not interested in cleaning it up?
    Each individual tradesperson has their roll and can hold themselves high by doing good work but until and unless they are free to report bad work and that their complaint (rather than the current system of complaints only being dealt with if made by a customer) is investigated and action taken if necessary then we will remain in a lower standing in the perception of the public

  2. While David’s comments resonate he is not the first to make such comments. Our industry is too fragmented and with insufficient legislation or recourse to the trade and as such rogues can and will appear. The solution lies in government insisting that plumbers are members of a single professional body such as Gas Safe where licenses can be revoked and where consumers have recourse. The qualifications need to be tough and not just presentation of NVQ2 and they need to re-examined every 3-5 years at a cost to the applicant. The harder it is to become licensed the more the value of the skill and thatbon itself will drive up the value of the skills in terms of wages.

    As I said as an industry we are too fragmented but if government does as I have suggested our industry will transform.

    1. Thank you for a very considered comment Cliff.

      Interestingly, I agree that all tradespeople should be licensed. You are spot on when you talk about the ‘value’ of the skill itself in society in general. However, I also feel that there must be additional securities…

      Firstly, the level of ones ‘qualification’ cannot, IMHO, indicate a level of competence. Most bodies responsible for issuing qualifications are ‘for profit’ and as such have zero incentive to ensure quality over bums on seats. This drives down quality. There are plenty of people operating very successfully who have zero formal qualifications but who are more competent, more considerate, more honest than some with qualifications coming out of their ears. Whatever ‘system’ gets instigated should consider these people too – just as the CIPHE do. This would drive up quality and offer options to those currently sit outside the ‘qualified’ group.

      Secondly, the employer must take some responsibility for quality. All too often poor quality is set by arbitrary figures on spend being decided long before any form of professional tradesperson becomes involved. Rarely will this group pay more than they have decided the job is ‘worth’. This attitude drives down quality because, mostly through desperation, there will always be someone willing to do the job at that price as they have no other option.

      Without doubt, there is no easy answer to this issue, but what to me is worse is that there is little stomach shown by anyone to stand up and be counted. The wringing of hands is rife but actions are rarer than truthful statements on the state of the NHS from Jeremy Hunt…


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