How to become a Plumber

Certain household jobs are best left to the experts. The good news is that if you’re the expert in question, there’s real money to be made.


Certain household jobs are best left to the experts. The good news is that if you’re the expert in question, there’s real money to be made.

People might try to cut costs at home where they can – by repainting the spare bedroom themselves or building their own garden shed – but when it comes to plumbing, nobody in their right mind is going to try reconfiguring their bathroom pipes without the help of someone that knows what they’re doing. 

Plumbing is an essential skill, the sort of indispensable and reliably in-demand trade that you can build a lifetime’s worth of work upon. With flexible working an ever-more popular trend, a career like plumbing allows you to truly be your own boss. You can run a completely independent business with a van, the right tools and the know-how – and positive word-of-mouth and online reviews will allow you to truly flourish in your local area. With the right business model, you could expand into regional and even national coverage. 

The right training and qualifications are key to becoming a plumber, but they will only take you part of the way. Like many tradespeople, it’s your reliability, courtesy and attitude towards customers that will make you a success. If you’ve got the attributes for it, here are the steps you’ll need to take in order to get into plumbing…

What does a plumber do?

As a plumber, you’ll do much more than keep water pipes in working order. Among the tasks that you’re likely to perform on a daily basis, in the homes and businesses of customers, are:

  • Identifying and repairing faults with boilers and heating systems, replacing parts where necessary

  • Installing household appliances such as boilers, washing machines, dishwashers and showers

  • Performing routine services on radiators and central heating systems

  • Fitting drainage networks and unblocking drains

  • Cutting, shaping and joining together the correct pipes and fittings

  • Responding to emergency call-outs, and quickly diagnosing the problem from a customer’s description

  • Working efficiently and providing accurate time and cost estimates for jobs

What skills do I need to be a plumber?

As well as solid people skills and the ability to run efficiently to your own schedule, there are a number of other key attributes that will help you in a career as a plumber:

  • Strong attention to detail

  • Good maths skills

  • Commitment to lifelong learning, as technologies and practices in the industry are constantly changing

  • Understanding of building layout and construction

  • Ability to work with and repair a wide range of machines and tools

  • Ability to work intricately with your hands

  • Willingness to work outdoors and at height in a range of weather conditions

What salary can I expect to earn as a plumber?

Starting out as a plumber, you can expect to earn an annual salary of between £28,000 and £37,000. This has the potential to increase as you expand your own business or work your way up in an existing one.

What qualifications do I need to be a plumber?

Because plumbing requires a lot of specialist knowledge and carefully practised skills, it takes a significant amount of time to gain the qualifications and experience needed to become a plumber. There are two main education routes that you can take towards this career path – a college course or an apprenticeship. Both require hard work and commitment. 

College courses

There are a number of courses you can take at Oaklands College that will set you on the path to a successful career as a plumber.

Level 1 Diploma in Plumbing

This one-year qualification is designed for students who want to enter the plumbing or electrical industries. Through a wide range of modules plus written assessments and practical portfolio, you will gain core skills and knowledge and can progress onto our Level 2 and 3 plumbing courses. There are no particular qualifications required for entry.

Level 2 Diploma in Basic Plumbing Studies

As a school leaver, you can enter this one-year course without completing the Level 1 diploma if you have three GCSEs . Through wide-ranging teaching and a series of online exams, it allows you to gain the underpinning knowledge which will then be required to complete the full Level 2 diploma, putting you a step further on the road to being a fully qualified plumber being able to work in most areas of the industry.

Level 2 Diploma in Plumbing Studies

Delivered part-time over the course of a year, this diploma course gives students the chance to learn, develop and practise the skills that will be required for employment and progression in the plumbing sector. It is particularly suitable for those who want to work as plumbers in the building services engineering sector. This qualification does not make candidates fully qualified plumbers.

Level 3 Diploma in Plumbing Studies

The final step towards qualification as a plumber, the Level 3 diploma follows on from Level 2 course, providing advanced plumbing knowledge and skills which you can directly apply in the workplace. Assessment is completed via a mixture of online exams, written assessments and practical tasks. With highly experienced teaching staff and sessions focused around plumbing installation, drainage, central heating systems and more, you will come away ready to progress to a career.


An apprenticeship allows you to begin gaining on-the-job practical experience while studying for a plumbing qualification. By combining practical field training and experience with a learning plan based around supervision and mentoring, you will gain a uniquely beneficial blend of relevant paid work experience with theoretical knowledge that will set you up for a career in plumbing.

Ordinarily, plumbing apprenticeships take four years to complete and they are an excellent way to increase your chances of fast career progression. 

How can I become a plumber without an apprenticeship?

If you are looking to become a plumber without formal college training or apprenticeship, it is less common but not unheard of to build a career as a plumber by beginning as a plumber’s assistant and learning on the job. However, without formal qualifications or training you may find that opportunities for progression are restricted down the line. 

How can I change careers and retrain to be a plumber?

If you have significant experience in a closely related industry, such as heating or ventilation engineering or building services, it may be possible to apply directly to an entry-level plumbing job. However, in other circumstances the best way to retrain is to undertake a college course such as our Level 2 Diploma in Basic Plumbing Studies

How long will it take me to train to become a plumber?

Whether you choose the college course route or an apprenticeship, exact lengths will vary but you can expect to commit several years to learning before you are fully qualified – typically two to three years in case of college courses and four in the case of an apprenticeship. 

How to start your own business as a plumber

If you’re looking to become self-employed as a plumber, there are a number of important steps you’ll need to take in order to set up a business:

  • Decide whether you want to specialise in domestic or commercial plumbing

  • Choose a name and branding for your business

  • Register your business as either a sole trader or a limited company

  • Join a trade organisation like the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) and the Gas Safe Register if needed

  • Get the correct insurance for your business, including public liability insurance

  • Get the right van, tools and equipment

  • Set up a website and social media profile

How to progress in your career as a plumber

Plumbing is an ever-changing profession, and whether you’re self-employed or contracted as a plumber you’ll be keen to learn new skills and expand the types of work that you can do. You can choose to specialise in particular areas of plumbing such as heating, air conditioning or ventilation, and domestic or commercial plumbing. In order to become fully qualified in specialist areas you can apply to join the Gas Safe Register or Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC).

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