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Chris Flaherty, owner of Vietec Heating, believes that until the plumbing and heating industry is held in higher public regard and is properly licensed, skills will suffer, wages will continue to be suppressed, and new talent will not be encouraged to enter the trade.
We keep hearing there is a skills shortage. Well, in my opinion, there is a lack of skills in installers; but are we short of installers in the UK?
Usually when demand outstrips supply, the cost for said item tends to rise. But in my opinion wages, salaries – whatever you want to call them – have remained very low in this industry. Who is keeping our money low? Why are we not paid more? Who is controlling what plumbing & heating installers get paid? I see plenty of adverts for plumbing and heating installers for annual salaries of £25,000 – £30,000. Hardly big money for a highly skilled trade. I hear lots of companies saying they struggle to get high calibre installers. Well, if you are not paying high calibre money, then you wont get high calibre installers. It’s as simple as that.
In the USA plumbers are very well paid; they are also highly respected. What is the difference from there to here? That’s simple: you have to be licensed to be a plumber in the USA. You can’t simply call yourself a plumber out there and start working, whereas in the UK any Tom, Dick or Harry can call himself a plumber. Our industry is a joke. Instead of trade bodies fighting for all installers to be licensed, to cut out the cowboys, they actively work with the companies who I see as one of the problems within our industry. People seem to think you can push some pipes together and then call yourself a plumber.
When it comes to attracting new blood to this industry, I think it should always be an apprenticeship, three years minimum, but as a young person looking for a career for the rest of their life, our industry hardly is a big draw when it comes to the financial reward. Until money is better across our industry, it will always struggle to attract new young apprentices.
I want to know why earning potential for plumbing & heating installers has not really gone up in over 20 years. I want to know where the public perception came that plumbers are two a penny and why they seem to think we should charge nearly minimum wage for our skill and knowledge. I try and work in high class properties. Believe me, it’s not as profitable as you would imagine and it’s quite hard to deal with when I have 35 years experience in this industry. I have worked around the world, I have trained installers in the UK and abroad in solar thermal. My industry knowledge is quite high in my opinion, only to be told by a multi millionaire that I am too expensive.
I fear for this industry and I don’t think the future looks good. All these quick training courses allowing inexperienced people loose on the public damages this industry. Low money means it will always be hard to attract new people to the industry and often means very good installers leave the industry to pursue better paying careers.
This post was originally published on the blog for Vietec Heating.