How to become a plumber in the UK: top tips from Pimlico Plumbers' Charlie Mullins

Charlie Mullins, founder of London’s largest independent plumbing company Pimlico Plumbers, gives us his top tips for how to become a plumber, and tells us why he’s so passionate about plumbing apprenticeships.

Charlie Mullins the apprentice plumber

Charlie started out as an apprentice plumber, undertaking a four year apprenticeship after leaving school as a teenager. He explains that from the tender age of nine, he knew that plumbing was the career for him, and he found inspiration close to home:

“I always wanted to be a plumber. The thing that really got me going was there was a local guy in the area who had a bike, he had a car, he had money, a nice house… and he seemed to have everything he wanted in life.”

This local hero was, of course, a plumber, and Charlie was keen to follow in his footsteps:

“I used to go and work with him, and he explained to me then: if you do an apprenticeship in plumbing, you’ll earn loads of money and never be out of work… and he’s right!”

How to become a plumber

Charlie reckons that the best route to becoming a plumber hasn’t changed much since when he was starting out back in the seventies:

“I’m a great advocate and campaigner for apprenticeships, ‘cause I know the opportunity it gave me and it’s out there for everybody.”

He firmly believes that university isn’t for everyone, and that for young people who are interested in learning a trade, the on-the-job learning provided by apprenticeships is a great way to get started:

“The most important thing is to get a job. Once you’ve got a job it’s a platform to just build from […] My advice is do as much work experience as you can and you’ll see something you’re comfortable with and like.”

Plumbing training and qualifications

Prior qualifications aren’t necessarily important when becoming a plumber, Charlie reckons. The most important basic ingredients are “your determination and how much enthusiasm you’ve got, and if you’ve picked the right thing for you.”

If you tick these boxes, then it’s about getting that all-important experience as an apprentice, and then, Charlie suggests, “get a proper qualification like an NVQ. Whatever exams are put in front of you, you need to get them. The more you learn in the trades you’re doing, the better you’re gonna be.”

The good news for anyone hoping to become a plumber is that apprenticeships offer both practical and theoretical training, with apprentices doing hands-on plumbing, and also working towards a formal plumbing qualification.

Campaigning for apprenticeships

Charlie has taken his passion for apprenticeships right to the top, working with the government to encourage vocational training for young people in trades like plumbing:

“I’ve been working quite closely with the government about apprenticeships, and they’re definitely switched-on about it now […] they’re very focused on it; they know the way forward is apprenticeships.”

The government has pledged to keep growing the number of apprenticeships on offer, aiming to create three million by 2020. And for Charlie, that means millions more young people getting the freedom, choice, and potentially lucrative returns that a trade brings: “I think an apprenticeship is equivalent to a degree: you can take it everywhere in the world, never be out of work, earn loads of money…”

Charlie’s words of wisdom for would-be plumbers

If plumbing is what you want to do, Charlie is a strong believer in giving it a go: “I always think that everybody’s good at something […] once you’ve got something in your mind, I think that’s what you should stick to.”

And, as the founder and boss of a company that now carries out around 2,000 plumbing jobs a week, it’s probably worth listening to him when he says apprenticeships bring long-term benefits:

“When you’re out there doing the job, the customers love to know you’ve done an apprenticeship, you’ve got all the right qualifications. And then you’ve just got to build up the experience. It’s a winning formation: apprenticeship, qualification, experience. You can’t go wrong.”

What route are you taking to get into a trade? Tell us in the comments.

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