Kevin Wellman, Chief Executive at the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE), explores the issues caused by rogue trainers and outlines what considerations should be made when sourcing training.

The prevalence of rogue trainers and traders is concerning, as their actions could cause serious harm. We are all vulnerable if plumbing and heating work is poorly executed, whether through failing heating systems in winter months, or cases of burns, scalding, and life-threatening legionella in water systems. 

While these issues are preventable through compliant installation and regular maintenance, if plumbing and heating professionals are not appropriately trained, the consequences could be severe. 

Starting strong

Starting a career through an apprenticeship and college-based (Approved Training Centre) learning is encouraged for both a practical career and those wanting to teach. The CIPHE advocates for learners to progress beyond the minimum academic requirement. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, on average only a third of those who studied to NVQ 2 then completed their Level 3. As a consequence, the education sector now struggles to find enough Level 3 qualified trainers available to teach.

NVQ Level 3 provides a deeper understanding of practical and theory and, once completed and accompanied by experience, can lead to membership and professional registration with organisations such as the CIPHE and Engineering Council. 

The CIPHE recommends the new plumbing and domestic heating technician apprenticeship (Trailblazer) as a high-quality apprenticeship for those starting out, especially as there is no cap on age and an increase on funding at present. 

Alternative stepping stones could be the Kick Start programme, traineeships, or the new CIPHE/industry supported pathway. Some institutions require significant investment into new technology to teach against the Trailblazer standard. From an employer’s point of view, it may be necessary for their apprentice to study at a different college if courses are not available locally. 

Staying strong

For skilled installers, CPD and ongoing development with recognised training providers is the way forward. Someone who undertook an unvented course five years ago, for example, may need to apply for refresher training. 

The CIPHE offers CPD aimed at qualified individuals with knowledge of the industry, as a key way of measuring competency. Professional development is an ongoing commitment and requires a time investment. 

Rogue training

The economic climate created by COVID-19 is ripe for rogue trainers and fast-track courses. For those made redundant, or whose priorities have changed post-pandemic, seeking to re-train in a new sector is an attractive prospect. But so-called rogue courses, often from private companies, claim to condense learning into small timeframes. 

Training providers may offer classroom-based learning or home-study courses that fit around personal commitments. Learners must be vigilant and consider whether online or in-person training is accredited and appropriate, especially if practical knowledge is not provided. Aspirant plumbing and heating installers are reminded that if a training provider is promising results too quickly, it’s probably too good to be true.

Online learning 

While travel is restricted, individuals may look online for training. There is certainly a place for remote learning during future stages of career development, but it needs to be carefully considered for an apprentice unless it is part of a wider support programme. It is perhaps more suitable for a qualified engineer seeking additional knowledge on particular procedures or legislation, rather than someone just starting their career. 

When learning theory, such as water and Building Regulations, digital resources have their own benefits. However, plumbing is a practical skill and some learning needs to be hands-on. Learning how to bend a piece of copper tube, for example, is easier in a workshop environment. Additionally, for course assessments a workshop setting helps to showcase capability.

Course checklist

Always ensure that a training centre has been recognised by an awarding organisation, such as C&G, BPEC, EAL, or LCL Awards. To stamp out rogue training, it is important for trainees to know what resources are available to them. The CIPHE has membership at every level from Trainee through to the highest category of individual membership, which is Fellow and Chartered Engineer. 

As a CIPHE member, access to support and training guidance is ongoing and means that any training concerns can be resolved, as well as advice given should a member wish to obtain training but is not sure about the legitimacy of either a trainer or a course.