Qualifications in the plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying industries cater for a wide range of people with a wide range of ambitions. There are a number of pathways to achieve these qualifications and licences (see Qualifications).
In addition to actual qualifications ( National Certificate in Plumbing and Gasfitting - held for life and transferable to other countries), workers in these industries must be licensed. New Zealand qualifications, and the licensing scheme, combine to ensure the public can be confident in a skilled and knowledgeable registered workforce, which delivers safe and reliable service.
All certifying, licensed, limited certificate holders & exempt workers must carry their license card and produce it on demand to demonstrate that work is being carried out by a competent and registered professional.
You can prepare for an apprenticeship by undertaking a 'pre-trade' course at an approved tertiary provider. A number of polytechs and private providers throughout New Zealand offer pre-trade courses in various trades and at various levels. These courses can vary greatly in both duration and quality so it would be wise to check the industry opinion of such courses with local plumbing/gasfitting/drainlaying businesses, and industry groups like Certified Plumbers and Master Plumbers.
A quality pre-trade course will introduce you to many aspects of trade practice. You will gain some practical skills along with some theoretical knowledge and develop an understanding of basic trade systems and processes. Depending on the course and the provider, you may also gain unit standards toward a relevant National Certificate.
With reasonable effort you will graduate from these courses 'work ready', and therefore more attractive to a potential employer than someone straight off the street. Apprenticeships are generally competency based which means that rather than do a time-served apprenticeship of 8000 hours, as has been in the case in the past, you are signed off when you demonstrate competence. Therefore, if you are conscientious in your pre-trade course you will be gaining valuable skills and experience which will almost certainly shorten the time you will need to spend in your apprenticeship.
Please note: A pre-trade course will not provide you with the skills or experience to work alone in the trade or gain any form of licence.
The following institutions offer approved pre-trade courses of varying duration.
To obtain National Certificate you must achieve a series of unit standards across a broad range of topics, while at the same time doing a practical apprenticeship of about 4 years; how long it takes is based on your competency rather than an actual preset time. During the apprenticeship you will be supervised by a qualified and experience tradesperson called a Certifying plumber/gasfitter/drainlayer (see Qualifications). In addition you will probably work with a number of other tradespeople.
One of the great advantages of an apprenticeship is that, while you won't earn much money immediately, you will 'earn while you learn'. However, your income will steadily increase as you gain experience, and a good income awaits those who complete their apprenticeships. Many top tradespeople, who go into business for themselves and employ other tradespeople, are able to generate truly exceptional incomes and enjoy enviable lifestyles.
Responsibility for your training and education will be shared between your employer and an approved tertiary education provider, and will be coordinated by one of a number of different industry groups (see 'Apprenticeship Coordination' below). You will get the majority of your practical training on-site with your employer, but some practical skills will be 'topped up' when you attend block courses at an approved polytech. You will also be asked to undertake some study to supplement the theory knowledge you will be exposed to on a daily basis at work. Some of your formal theory requirement will be covered during face-to-face sessions with other apprentices on block courses (study blocks at a polytech - usually 1 -2 weeks duration), but other aspects will be expected to be undertaken in your own time online, or by correspondence.
You will have to satisfy a number of theory and practical assessments over the period of your apprenticeship in order to achieve National Certificate.
You can then sit the first Licensing exam (3 hours), and when successful, apply to the Registration Board for your licence.
There will be fees associated with your apprenticeship, which can vary considerably, so be sure to ask around, and determine exactly what you are getting for your money. If you enrol in approved polytech courses, you will qualify for a student loan in most circumstances.
These industries provide opportunity for everyone, including women, interested in both domestic (house) plumbing and larger commercial and industrial work.
National Certificate is at NZQA Level 4, which can be quite demanding - but in an apprenticeship setting, you work towards this level over time. Still, you will need to have a reasonable standard of education to succeed.
Many plumbers/gasfitters and drainlayers become self employed - some growing very successful businesses which employ many other tradespeople. So if you are keen on business and have a very good level of education, an apprenticeship in these trades can also be very attractive, with opportunity to study at an advanced level to gain Certifying status . Some tradespeople also go on to study at degree level - Construction Management, Project Management, Quantity Surveying, and so on.
There is good opportunity for women too - particularly women who would like to be in business for themselves. Many sectors of the community would be more comfortable with a female tradesperson in their home, office or factory, than a male tradesperson
In most cases you will need to find an apprenticeship yourself. You may have a tradesperson in the family, or as a family friend. Plumbing companies sometimes contact schools and polytechs when they are looking for apprentices, so if you are in secondary or tertiary system find out who liaises with industry. Some high schools also offer work experience opportunities which can lead to apprenticeships.
If you qualify for a Modern Apprenticeship, you can use their website to contact a coordinator who may be able to help.
You could also try 'cold calling' - dropping in on plumbers at their work. This is not an easy thing for many people, but can be productive. If you are thinking of cold calling - be prepared - tradespeople are busy. If a plumber/gasfitter/drainlayer is considering taking on an apprentice he will be very interested in your attitude, so be confident, well prepared, and genuine. Plan (and practice) what you are going to say, and have something to leave with them - contact details and a brief outline of who you are and why you want to be a plumber/gasfitter/drainlayer. Your outline should be brief - half a page to a page. If you play sport, or are some sort of champion, include it in your bio - it won't hurt for him/her to know you are fit and capable.
A number of organisations coordinate apprenticeships. These include some polytechs (e.g. Unitec and CPIT), training trusts offering group training schemes (e.g. The Apprenticeship Training Trust, Masterlink - see below), industry training organisations (ITOs) and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) via Modern Apprenticeships (see below).
The role of a coordinator is basically to support you in your apprenticeship. Your coordinator will visit you several times a year and assist you with any issues which may arise. They will also be available to you by phone and email at other times if you require their help.
A group training scheme is one where apprentices are employed by an organisation which oversees their training, but on a daily basis the apprentice works for a Host Employer to learn the trade. The apprentice's employment agreement (incorporating a training agreement) is administered by the training organisation. The training organisation pays the wages and is responsible for all the legal obligations of the employee, including holiday pay, sick pay and safety issues. This leaves the host employer to concentrate on teaching you the trade. Apprentices employed under training agreements also attend several block courses each year at polytechs like Unitec where they undertake off-site training and are assessed for practical competence and trade knowledge.
You may qualify for a Modern Apprenticeship if you are aged 16-21, qualify to study at NZQA level 3 or 4, and can meet the entry requirements for the trade at which you wish to work. Modern apprenticeships are administered by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), which provide coordinators to assist you.
At Unitec, we can help you along a seamless path to all levels of the industry.
The following diagram shows potential pathways to satisfy all your ambitions.