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We recently caught up with a group of apprentices at Worcester Bosh HQ to ask them about why they decided to enter the heating and plumbing industry, what it is like to undertake an apprenticeship today, and how positive they feel about the future.
Do you think school leavers have a better chance of getting on in life by taking an apprenticeship rather than going to university?
Michael: “Yes, definitely. This is a skilled job for life and you can’t guarantee that kind of assurance at university most of the time.”
James: “It’s more relevant as well, it is far more specific. There is far more chance of you ending up with an actual job at the end of it, because you’re already working with a company and have that practical experience.”
Max: “You have an income too with an apprenticeship, and you don’t have to worry about being left with a lot of student debt afterwards either.”
Tom: “Out of my friends, none of us decided to go to university. They’ve all gone into jobs or apprenticeships. This is my reality, it’d be strange if I wasn’t doing this.”
Do you think the balance between work experience and coursework is about right?
Michael: “You learn things in the classroom obviously, but you also learn things outside, on site. Especially with the skilled jobs. We’ve all been to college, but there’s a considerable difference in what it is like in college and what it is like on site.”
Matthew: “I think if it was any more than one day a week at college then it might get a bit boring. I like the work/learning balance.”
Brett: “I think you’ve got to have that time at college though. You don’t get taught everything from the people that you work with. There are some things you need from college. Also, at my college we’ve got people that are full-timers, and you wouldn’t want to get them working in someone’s house. So, I think it is good – getting one day at college and then having the rest working and gaining more practical experience.”
What do you all enjoy most about training and the work you do?
Max: “It is something different every day – you’re not doing the same things. It’s not repetitive.”
Brett: “Meeting new customers, just getting out there and meeting new people. You’re not stuck in a workshop or a yard – you’re always out, which is good.”
James: “It’s not repetitive. It’s not as rigid as ‘I’m going on to do this today’ – I might be fitting radiators, I might be fitting a boiler. It is always different.”
Matthew: “It’s the freedom of the job I like most. I can be flexible and we can take things like lunch whenever we want.”
What do you least enjoy about being an apprentice and the work that you do?
James: “I think that would be coring holes for flues.”
Matthew: “Going into lofts, or tight places. I don’t like the enclosed spaces that much.”
If you could, is there anything that you would change with your apprenticeship?
Michael: “The wage. It would be good to get a bit more money, but at least it is something.”
Matthew: “I agree on the wage point, but, no, I don’t think I’d change much else. I’ve got a nice job to be fair.”
James: “Here we have job security too, so I am really happy with doing this apprenticeship. There will never be a machine that can go out and do plumbing and heating jobs. You need people and I can’t see that changing.”
Would you like to run your own business one day, and if so, what is the main attraction for that?
Michael: “Looking at my gaffer and his lifestyle, yeah, I definitely would like to have my own business one day.”
Matthew: “I think I’d like to have my own business one day and then I’d specialise in heating. Where I am at the moment, we do a bit on the bathroom installation side of things, but I don’t really enjoy doing that as much as the heating.”
James: “You can’t come up against DIY plumbers either. When you’re doing things like gas heating, you have to be licensed to go and do that. Not just anyone can take a case off of a boiler – well they shouldn’t be anyway.”
If you all stayed in the industry, do you think that the work you will do will change?
Matthew: “It will probably get more technical and digital going forward.”
Tom: “I think the majority of manual work will stay the same. Servicing and repair work might become a bit more computerised, like fault-finding especially. In the future you’ll being going out to find out what’s wrong with this boiler and you’ll go out to fix it but with the help of software.”
Brett: “I’m sure there will be more regulation, but I don’t really see much of that side of things yet, so I couldn’t really say.”
Do you read magazines or newspapers, or do you prefer to get information online?
Brett: “Online, yeah. Just online.”
Matthew: “I mainly use Twitter to catch up on news.”
Brett: “I don’t really use social media. It might not be the best source, but neither are the newspapers now. I’d much rather read an article on my phone.”
Max: “I use Instagram quite a lot, where you can see pictures of other installers’ work. It’s another way of seeing how other people do it.”
Are you optimistic about your prospects and the demand for your services in the future?
Matthew: “Everyone’s going to need a plumber, that’s never going to change, is it? You just have to look for the work and get yourself out there.”
Brett: “The area I live in, there’s a lot of one-man bands, there aren’t really many firms that we’re competing with, so people are realising that, we do Worcester boilers and stuff like that, and people aren’t having many or any problems with them, so we’re getting a lot of work through that, so we haven’t really got much competition.”
James: “I’m a lot older than these guys, so I decided to retrain, and the skills gap was one of the reasons for me deciding to do that. I’ve had a lot of rubbish jobs and I wanted a job that would see me through. I’ve still got 35 years left to work so my drive is to just retrain and build up a career doing something that is always going to be needed.”