May 2, 2024

Is plumbing a good career? The benefits and challenges working in plumbing

plunger and graduation hat on a plush cushion

If you’re reading this article then you’re likely trying to decide whether or not a career as a plumber is good for you.


Well, there’s a short answer to that question and there’s a long answer.

The short answer is yes, plumbing is a great career. It has good earning potential, working hours that can fit your lifestyle and plenty of opportunities in a profession that is currently experiencing a skills shortage.

Of course, like any job, there are also some drawbacks. Your hours can be long and you will likely need to work some weekends and be on call.

Starting out can also be challenging and working on this job can be physically draining (if you’ll pardon the pun).

On balance though, if you’re happy to get your hands dirty and you’re ready to apply yourself, then this can be a good job for anyone, whether you're a man, or woman, late or early in your career.

So how about the long answer, is plumbing any good? Here are a few more details.

How much can you earn as a plumber?

Okay, let's get straight to the point, you probably want to know how much money you can make, and that’s a fair question.

Salaries as a plumber can vary quite considerably, and you're far more likely to make bigger earnings if you work for yourself or even set up your own business.

As an employed plumber in the UK, you can expect to earn around 34k a year although you can earn as much at 48k or as little as 20k.

Bear in mind that when you’re starting out, you’ll earn less. Currently, the minimum wage is £11.44 if you’re 21 or over, £8.60 for 18 - 20-year-olds and £6.40 if you’re under 18.

As an apprentice, you’re likely to be paid at the minimum wage and even if you’re over 21 you will be paid at the minimum £6.40 for the first year. This means that during your training, assuming you’re working 40 hours a week, you’ll be earning £13,312 per year.

Although this sounds pretty low, many companies will pay you more, up to around 24k.

What's the most you can earn as a plumber?

If you look at the top-end earners in the plumbing and heating industry you could be looking at well over £50,000 to £100,000 per year. If you set up your own business then earnings can get even higher with many plumbing companies turning over millions of pounds a year.

If you want a more detailed look at plumbing salaries then we’ve written an article digging into some of the numbers, we even break down earnings by city, so check it out.

What does a career as a plumber look like?

Now you know how much you could be earning, it’s time to have a look at what plumbers get up to day-to-day.

Plumbing is a varied career with the option to specialise in different areas depending on where your interests lie.

For example, you might want to focus on commercial projects, working on large construction sites and operating in a team. Or you may prefer to stick to domestic properties where you will interact directly with customers and spend time in people’s homes.

Whatever your choice, there are plenty of options available.

It’s also worth remembering that plumbing isn’t all about unplugging drains and clearing toilets. Many of those in the industry prefer to specialise as heating experts, fitting new boilers or heat pumps in people’s homes.

If you go down this line of work, then technically your title will be heating engineer, although both jobs are closely related.

clipart style image of a plumber from a youngman to a man at the end of his career

Depending on where you’re working and your level of experience your day-to-day will vary slightly.

When first starting out, be prepared to learn fast. Apprentices spend 80% of their time on site and 20% studying and learning. Much of your time will be spent shadowing other plumbers so be prepared to get stuck in and pay attention to what your mentor is doing.

If you’re working in a team (which is usual when learning the job), you can expect to engage in a bit of banter. Most organisations are very welcoming, but having a good sense of humour and a positive attitude goes a long way.

Remember a big part of plumbing is having good people skills.

As well as fixing any plumbing issues you also need to reassure the customer when they come to you with their problems. Especially if you decide to become a sole trader, having strong interpersonal skills is important and will be crucial as you build up your client base.

How long does a plumbing career last?

Most plumbers will work anywhere between 20 to 30 years, but it’s not uncommon to work as many as 40 years or more.

It’s also possible to have a short career, especially if you are very successful and set up your own business. This can allow you to take a step back early in your life.

Plumbing careers are very varied. Physically, working in a manual trade can take its toll on your body, so if you’re not careful to take care of your health, you may have to retire younger than intended. It’s important to be aware of this and prepare for this eventuality.

However, assuming you take care of yourself there is no reason you can’t have a long career.

Furthermore, as you become more experienced and move into a more senior position you may decide to move away from the more manual side of work and focus on management or developing your business.

The other advantage of working as a plumber is that there is the option to work reduced hours or shortened weeks. Those who choose to have children might, for example, reduce their time on the job to spend more time with their family.

How many hours do plumbers work?

As mentioned above the hours a plumber works can vary considerably.

While the standard 40-hour week, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, isn’t uncommon, you should also expect to work outside these days and hours. This is particularly true if you work for yourself.

It is likely you will need to be on call at least a couple of days a month to cover emergencies (although you will be paid more for this) and you should be prepared to work some of your weekends.

Particularly when you’re starting out, be prepared to work hard and to put in the hours.

What kind of work do plumbers do?

When it comes to types of work, expect a fair amount of variation.

You will spend some of your time doing the standard jobs you might expect, such as clearing a blocked toilet or fixing leaky pipes but you will also do other tasks such as replacing boilers or fitting filtration systems.

It’s also worth remembering that, although plumbing is primarily a manual job, there will be aspects of the job that are spent behind a desk.

This is particularly true if you decide to work for yourself. You will need to manage your workload: answering calls, creating proposals and invoices, ordering materials and managing your taxes.

This aspect of the job shouldn’t be underestimated and can be very time-consuming.

black and white image of an old plumber wearing a flat cap hat using some tools on a worktop in a cellar

Additionally, you will also need to fill out certain forms depending on the work you’re doing. Expect to spend time completing Job Reports, Gas Safety Certificates and Unvented Hot Water Cylinder Certificates, just to name a few.

So while plumbing is predominantly a manual job, you will certainly need to use your brain and it does involve a bit of office work.

Sorry, you can’t avoid it totally. However, you can make it a lot easier for yourself. 

With a CRM system like Payaca, you can create quotes and invoices rapidly by building combinations of items and services and dropping them into your quotes. You can also set up automations that will allow you to save hours of time.

Using a system like this will help you to avoid some of that dreaded office admin, so it's definitely worth checking out.

How to get qualified as a plumber

So you now know what plumbing is all about and you’re ready to get qualified.

Depending on when you're coming into the industry, your route to becoming qualified might vary slightly.

The most popular way to become a plumber is via an apprenticeship. Typically these positions are taken by 16 to 18-year-olds, although there are options for those who are older.


Probably the most common route into the industry, apprenticeships are a good way to become qualified.

As an apprentice, you will spend 1 to 5 years in training, learning through practical work and class-based study.

You can find apprenticeships either via the UK Government Search Portal or simply by searching online. It’s also worth speaking to local plumbing businesses in your area to see if they take on apprentices.

Usually, apprentices are on the younger side but it is not uncommon to find apprenticeships for those wanting to retrain or make a career switch.

College Courses

The other popular option is to take a college course. These courses usually take around 2 years to complete and will provide you with the skills and knowledge to become a plumber.

They combine classroom teaching with practical skills and will provide you with a recognised qualification once complete.

The two standard courses are the Level 2 Plumbing Diploma/Certificate and the Level 3 Plumbing Diploma/Certificate.

The level 2 is more of an introductory course and will require further qualification, either through the level 3 course or from an apprenticeship, to put you in a position to start working as a plumber.

The level 3 builds on level 2 and will give you a more advanced understanding of plumbing theory and practice.

Fast-track plumbing courses

These courses give you a bit of a whistle-stop tour of plumbing and heating over a 4 to 16-week period.

This option is good for those wanting to get up to speed quickly and who don’t have the time to complete a full college course or apprenticeship.

While these courses do cover a lot of information, it’s important to recognise that they will never be able to cover the profession to the same level of detail in such a short time.

Many of the skills required to be a good plumber come from years of experience on the job and there is no shortcut to this.

As a qualification, the fast track course is best used as a form of supplementary training alongside gaining real practical experience.

So is plumbing a good career for you?

The real answer to this question is that only you can know if a career as a plumber will suit you.

There is a lot to enjoy about being a plumber but the job also requires hard work and perseverance.

There are many opportunities in this line of work, with the chance to earn good money and build flexibility into your schedule.

Work out what is important to you in a job and compare that with the requirements for plumbing. If possible chat with someone who works in the profession and get a real feel for what it will be like.

If all of that matches up with what you’re after, then you're safe to assume that plumbing will be a good career for you.