Over 95% of plumbers are males in the USA and the UK; more than two-thirds are over 45 years old; two in five want to leave the industry in the next decade, according to a new report.
With high energy prices here to stay there is unprecedented demand for renewable heating and cooling installers
Image problems in plumbing could stop recruitment of people needed to install heat pumps
Replacing gas boilers and switching to heat pumps is a central tenet of the Inflation Reduction Act in the USA, and the UK Government’s ambitions to be carbon neutral by 2050
The installation will largely be done by upskilling current gas and oil boiler installers.
But almost all plumbers are middle-aged white men close to retirement, a report has found, raising concerns that there will not be enough competent installers to reach the UK Government’s goal of 600,000 heat pumps being installed every year by 2028.
In the USA there are thought to be approximately 120,000 plumbers and 50,000 certified heating engineers, but onlu 10% of them are thought to be trained in renewables.
A UK study by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found that plumbers think recruiting young people is important but that “if the same recruitment practices and promotional activities continue within the sector, the pool of potential employees recruited to grow the sector may be restricted and the lack of diversity may persist”.
Mica May, co-director of Stopcocks Women Plumbers, told The Telegraph that the industry “is not presenting an attractive face” for prospective plumbers.
“If everyone goes to university the country will fall on its face,” she said. “You’ve got people saying ‘only thickos go into trades’ and young people don’t see the skilled aspect of it.
Majority of plumbers eye retirement
The BEIS report found that the plumbing workforce is 95 per cent white and at least 95 per cent male; more than two-thirds are over 45 years of age; and two in five want to leave the industry in the next decade, with the majority eyeing retirement.
“How can this sector become diverse and representative when it’s perceived as a well-paid dead-end?” Ms May added. “How can it attract enough quality workers to meet the need? This needs not only training, but real funding and a huge cultural shift.”
Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering says “it’s going to be a massive stretch” to reach net zero goals with the current state of the workforce.
He said there are diversity initiatives in place, but that much more needs to be done to make plumbing an attractive proposition for young people from all backgrounds.
“We need to diversify, as well as recruit more of the currently dominant demographic,” he said. “The main challenge is to reach out to career officers to promote the benefits of the industry to everyone.”
Industry experts also hope that plumbing might appeal to the eco-minded youth of today not only for its financial benefits, but also to help the environment.
“We need to be telling young people that you can actually help save the planet by joining the plumbing and heating industry,” he continued. “You can actually make a big difference.”
‘Vital to green outcomes’
Ms May added that good plumbers “are absolutely vital to green outcomes” but are not being included in conversations about saving the planet.
The UK government provides no reassurance at all in the following statement:
“Government is working closely with industry to encourage new apprentices to join the sector, and access the high-paid, high-skilled jobs that will be vital to reducing emissions from the UK’s buildings.”