So you want to be a plumber.....?

Firstly, forget the traditional way...... getting taken on by a firm and getting taught, paid and given a job after....... it will not happen, and if my experience is anything to go by, if you do get a position like this you will lose it.

Why should you be a plumber? ok, i know this isnt usualy mentioned, but being a plumber means your NEVER out of work, you can go and do something else for 5 years and still get a plumbing job..... (if your any good)

Ok, the only thing you have to offer to anyone as an unskilled plumber is a gofer....... so you will have to play to that......... most engineers dont rate other qualified engineers work, let alone yours......

You can try enrolling on a plumbing course at your local college - usualy free - and then call round to see who wants an apprentice...... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Your only chance is to offer your services to a firm for free. No large company will take you - they cant take unpaid workers. Small companies may. Its certainly better than asking for paid employment.... who wants YOU in this economy? The way to put it to the company is 'I'd like to help so I can learn - And you get a free laborer' ........ do not use the word apprentice EVER. Ask anyone and everyone, stress that its free and you just want to see what the job is about. Keep trying and dont get discouraged, phone all local plumbers. Note - you are in a much better position than any other apprentice.... its actualy there loss if they say no. Idealy you will need to live with your mum to do this, but working it round a job is possible.

When you get a position, turn up 20 minutes early every day for the first week, so you know the routine, you will realy piss them off if they have to wait for you. Bring your own lunch and a drink. The food should be sandwiches, plain, no egg or smelly stuff, the drink flat not fizzy. Wear neutral clothing you dont mind getting dirty, avoid wording / slogans on the clothes if possible. Footwear should be steel toecaps, and a light waterproof coat should be brought along.

Dont talk too much, ESPECIALY to the client. DO NOT discuss yourself / your interests, only speak when spoken to by client, and always stop talking if the plumber talks.

Watch your enviroment - you must always be making sure your not in the way - this is the usual issue with an apprentice - standing in the way. Never get between the plumber and the client, or plumber and his work. If he moves fast, step out of his way. Be aware, always be watching where you are.

What to do - anything your asked, plus, learn the van, learn where things are, and when asked to do something, if your not sure, ask - ie 'go get the burner from the van'......... ok, if your not sure, ask like this 'you mean the yellow burner in the shelving?' - short quick and to the point. If you cant find it - return quickly and say 'cant find tell me where?' dont spend ages looking - otherwise the plumber will be waiting, cursing that your slow, why does he need you, he could do it quicker himself.

Cleaning - this is your job. clean up, not just at the end but as you go - never underestimate the power of cleaning - the number of referals i have had because the client considers me 'neat and tidy' speaks for itself..... This is part of your training - embrace it, clean, clean clean, clean the tools, sweep the van, this will all build value in your position. Oh, and if your interested, there is no such thing as 'finished' when cleaning......... it can always be cleaner..... ALWAYS. So your jobs never done!

Carrying things - be very careful - you can cause a lot of damage to a property by carrying a 3 meter section of pipe badly............ carry things carefully.

Making tea - this is where you become valuable to the plumber - learn what he likes, make sure you can read when he needs a cuppa too..... if your in a clients property and you notice the client noticing him becoming frustrated, you can always say (so long as the plumber is not listening) 'dont worry about him, he just hasnt had his cup of tea this morning'............ this should work....... the other options are 'ooooooo thats a good looking kettle' (dont forget the 'ooooo' and always smile while using this) or 'its thirsty work this' (not the best). The other things are, if he wants a cuppa but cant park to go get one from the cafe - have a few pounds ready, tell him you will run across the road for him while he stays in the van. He will give you the money back when you get back - if he doesnt - see 'how to know when to quit', lower down)

At the cafe - if your offered food, take it - its disrespectful to say no - but if you havent got much money, mention it now - it should go like this; him - 'come on i'll buy you a bacon roll', you -' that would be lovely, but im too skint to get the next one'......... he should after that only offer you one when its for free - and you can guage how well your doing by how often you get fed. Note - always order something of equal or lesser value than him, idealy, the same. (your thereby validating his choice)

At the plumbers merchant - shut your mouth and laugh along with the jokes - especialy if there aimed at you - they will be - never answer back - its a kinda matcho world, behave subservient. Spend your time reading the handouts on the counter. Never take any with you, the plumber has enough of those in his van already, dont add to them.

Watching - watch what the plumber does - and anticipate it - if he always wipes solder joints with a damp cloth a moment after heating, anticipate it - make sure the cloth is ready and hand it to him. Watch how simple things are done, so you can do them yourself.

What not to do - ask to many questions, get in the way, be late, hold up the job in any way.

Sounds bad doesnt it?- not realy - your building trust with your employer, once he trusts you, he will help you.

Once your established - and you have bonded with your plumber, and he actualy values you - you will know this because he will ask you to do things, clean this, get me this, etc (6-8 weeks?), you can introduce the possibility of going on a course - still dont EVER use the 'A' word.............

Advanced skills, only to be used when 'established'

Interaction with employer - never disclose your hopes and dreams - the plumber probably had those when he was your age too....... so dont, your ambition is to 'see if your good enough to try to become a plumber' see that? good enough, to TRY to become a plumber. Remember, he is what you want to be, if this is your second choice in life, for god sake dont let him know. Ask questions, but remember the answers - if he tells you something twice, he will know it and he will remember it. If you know hes about to fit a certain thing, google it and learn - but never show him you know more than him - if you see a cock up, try this - 'i saw one of these a while ago - a friend of mine fitted one and he had the same problem - it took ages to work out but he discovered it had to be fitted the other way up' the idea being, your not saying YOU think its wrong. Your looking to be useful to your employer, if you can do that, he will reward you. My last apprentice joined me as a mechanic, for free. After 7 weeks i took him on full time, paid him properly, and now 3 years later he has a decent business as a fully qualified gas engineer. Your employer needs to notice your valuable - a tidy van, the hosepipe coiled up, the scrap copper in a bag, dashboard tidy, happy clients due to tidy jobs, dust sheet shaken out and folded. However dont be too keen, just do these things like there natural......

Client interaction - its your job to keep the client out of the plumbers hair - especialy the irritating interactive client. Again, never talk about yourself - only answer questions asked. Like when talking to a girl/boy you like - discuss THEM ........ not yourself......... but ... and heres where it gets complicated....... sometimes you have to engage the client and form a bond....... tricky. Heres an easy method - look for things around the house you can relate to - snooker trophy..... special type of golf club..... you get the idea..... always make out your below the client - if its a good golf club and its expensive, and you have one.... discuss how you want one...... because there great etc..... then pause and let him/her tell you about it - engage and withdraw, .......... BUT....... and heres a bit of pop psychology for you...... consider the following........ client has ferrari in the garage, football trophys on the mantlepiece......... what/ what not to talk about? ............ Never discuss the ferrari - the car is in the garage - hidden away, the trophy's are proudly on display...... make sense? .......

Taking the blame - if your ever blamed, dont defend yourself if the client is present - often you will be used as the fall guy, and this is part of your job. Dont bitch and whine, and make excuses - just apologise and say it wont happen again, and move on. If your not in front of the client, defend yourself if your in the right.

Religion - be aware you are in another persons domain. learn the religious signs - usualy screwed to the door frame or above it. As a rule of thumb, never look at anyones wife, daughter etc - keep your eyes down, look out for small mats as standing on someones prayer mat is frowned upon, if the kitchen has two sinks, dont move plates from one to the other. If someone doesnt answer a phone, or motions you to open a door, or asks you to wait so he can close a door, make no remark. There are lots of other details to this - if you find yourself with a lot of clients of a certain religion, you need a full list of do's and dont's - google it. Heres a heads up for you - if your not willing to behave in a fitting manner in another persons home, and act as they want, do not become a plumber. You will not succed..........

Animals - even if you dont like animals, a quick tickle to the dog wont hurt you. Usualy, most animals will stop pestering you once they have investigated you, so introduce yourself, get it over with. If an animal continues to pester you, ask the client to put it somewhere safe ...... as you 'dont want it to get hurt'........explain about flux being poisonous....... or blowlamps etc - you get the idea...... never say its causing you a problem, even if it is. Other animal stuff - be aware and dont let the cat out, sounds stupid, but cats often are upset by someone on there territory, and may want out........ and theres nothing as annoying as 3 hours trying to catch it. If an animal seems upset, give it space, move to the side of a room to let it past you. Its the animals house not yours, respect that. Its a good idea to work up a bit of a knowledge of the current 'in' breed...... and an admiring, cogent intelligent comment about the animal will indear you to the owner, but never overplay your hand - remember be on a level with the client - not above.

Actual work - (yeah this is in the advanced section) - heres a guide - 'thats good enough' will not do. If you consider your work perfect, its adequate, just. Remember, the plumber will hang you out to dry if your work fails, check, check, check again, be sure its right, especialy if its going to be hidden.

Van stock - its your job to remind the plumber of whats running out when your at the stockist, only the simple stuff, solder, flux, cutting wheels for the pipeslices, cleaning wipes, silicone. Approach it for the first time by waiting till the guy at the counter says 'is there anything else?' and piping up with 'your almost out of........'

Attitude - you have to develop the ability to keep your chin up, a whine from you will bring down your plumbers mood, which will get reflected back on you, which will produce a vicious downward spiral of negative attitude. Its your job to keep the mood light and positive - this is good training for being in front of a client...... its also your job to make the client happy when the job is going sideways....... thats under 'super advanced'.... but as a hint 'stay positive'. Its worth remembering a good joke to lighten the mood - but dont bring it out too soon - and make sure its a decent one....... consider it your lifesaver!

Stop cock - start to learn where they are - its useful if you can be left to isolate the water - while they plumber cracks on...... and heres your first practical tip - learn how to turn the water on - dont just open the valve - open it a bit - you will hear the hiss as it fills, then when it quietens, open fully, this is in case the plumber has left an open end or something fails - remember - slightly open till you hear the flow stop, then full open.


How to tell if your with a bad employer and its time to get out - this is usualy fairly obvious - if your plumber has a bad attitude to clients, if he constantly has callbacks, if he doesnt clean up, if his work is untidy,he makes mistakes, if he never gives you any responsibility, if he constantly takes the piss out of you, GET OUT - if you have been able to do as i have said in the rest of the page, your easily good enough to become a decent apprentice, so move on. 50% of plumbers are bloody awfull - be aware, dont learn bad ways.



Apprentice tips
  • The most powerful statement you can use to get you out of a hole ' what can I do to make it right?'
  • Ive been a proffessional plumbing and heating engineer for 15 years. I learn as much in a week now, as I did 15 years ago. You never know it all.
  • This job is actualy worth doing....... realy ...... its never boring.