Painting & Decorating

If you enjoy a bit of DIY, you may have considered turning your hobby into a source of income. Painting and decorating is a popular choice as a second career, and you could do a lot worse than get a trade under your belt.

Do you like the satisfaction of seeing a job well done? Are you happy working independently? Do you have good attention to detail? Are you attracted to the prospect of rarely working in the same place from one week to the next?

Painting and decorating is about more than just papering walls. This is a skilled profession that gives practitioners the opportunity to work in a wide variety of settings. From offices and houses to bridges and oil rigs, the variety of properties and structures that need painting or decorating is wide. And if you like the idea of knuckling down to a day’s work without a boss breathing down your neck, the independence offered by many jobs in this sector can be a major bonus.

Of course, the precise nature of your job will depend on the type of employer you work for or, indeed, whether you choose to work for yourself. According to David Powis of the Painting and Decorating Association (PDA), around 800 of his organisation’s 2,500 members are sole traders – self-employed decorators who run their own businesses. A large number of the others are small businesses employing two to five people. The larger-scale jobs – painting factories, bridges, aeroplanes, hospitals, etc – tend to be handled by larger contractors employing as many as 600 or 700 people. Some local authorities, hospitals and other large developments also have their own in-house maintenance teams.

Accurate colour vision, a steady hand and an ability to work at height are all important if you want to pursue a career as a decorator. You’ll also need to have good attention to detail and sound numeracy skills in order to measure up areas and calculate how much paint or paper you’ll need for particular jobs.

If you’re scared of heights then painting and decorating really isn’t the job for you, and some people don’t like working with chemicals either. But David Powis suggests that most people who enter the profession as an adult will already have a feel for the job and whether it’s right for them: “They know themselves if they do home decorating whether they like working with paints and varnishes. Some people get on with it; others can’t stand it,” he says.

As a painter and decorator, you should be prepared to work independently and on your own for long stretches of time (particularly if you’re self-employed) but if you work for a large contractor, you’ll also be expected to work as part of a team – and that’s where your military experience will come in useful. But teamworking abilities are not the only skills that you’ll bring from the Forces into a career as a painter and decorator. Barry Punter is section leader for painting and decorating and plastering at City College in Plymouth. He has taught several ex-Forces painting and decorating students over the past few years and believes that the self-discipline and good presentation of former military personnel can be a genuine asset: “When you’re working in private houses, there’s a dress code and you’ve got to watch your Ps and Qs. You’ve also got to be punctual and trustworthy.”

It’s possible to set up your own business as a painter or decorator with relatively little experience, and various providers offer short courses, some of which cover basic business skills as well as practical techniques. However, the PDA recommends that anyone seeking a career in decorating should undertake in-depth training, ideally attaining a National/Scottish Vocational Qualification (N/SVQ) at Level 2 or preferably Level 3 – or the equivalent.

For younger entrants (aged under 25) the recommended training route is an apprenticeship, which gives them the opportunity to complete vocational training on the job leading to an N/SVQ, usually over a period of three to four years. The apprenticeship will teach them to use tools like blow torches and steamers to remove old paint or wall coverings; fill holes and cracks; apply paint with brushes, rollers and spray equipment; and measure, cut and apply wallpaper. Apprentices spend part of their time at college on day release and the rest of their week doing paid work for an employer; their training is funded by the Learning and SkillsCouncil in England and the equivalent body elsewhere in the UK.

The apprenticeship scheme is aimed specifically at young people and, if you wanted to follow a similar route over the age of 25, you’d probably need to fund the college training yourself and find an employer willing to take you on in order to complete the on-the-job training required. But you can reach the standard of an N/SVQ through other courses which are purely college-based. At City College Plymouth’s Camels Head Training Centre, for example, courses are offered from a basic level upwards. For beginners, they run a Foundation Construction Award which covers storing materials and equipment, getting work areas ready for operations, preparing surfaces for decorating, applying paint materials by brush and roller, and wallpapering. The Foundation can then be followed by Intermediate and Advanced Construction Awards, both of which are assessed solely on college work and provide certification for people who are not (yet) working in the industry.

City College’s Barry Punter thoroughly recommends that people leaving the Forces should sample the career they want to follow early in the resettlement process. “I’m quite happy for people to come along, have a pleasant chat with me and talk about their experience, or to spend one or two days seeing what we do,” he says. “We’d do the same for our plastering course.”

The job of a painter and decorator could see you working inside or out, on your own or in a team, and using a wide range of materials. As well as the obvious aspects to the job – preparing surfaces, applying paint and paper, etc – you will also be expected to liaise with clients and offer advice, estimate the costs of jobs, and clear up when it’s all over! You will probably work around a 39-hour week, but may also have to put in overtime when a job needs to be completed to deadline.

According to Learn Direct, painters and decorators at the start of their careers can expect to earn between £13,500 and £15,500, while the average decorator earns £16,000 to £20,000 and those with supervisory duties or specialist skills can earn £21,000 or more. As a self-employed decorator, the amount you earn will obviously depend upon the hours you work, and you’ll also need to develop basic business skills – learning how to market the business and manage your books – plus you’ll have to arrange adequate insurance. But there can be many advantages to being self-employed, particularly if you enjoy your independence, and you will also be able to work for larger contractors on a sub-contract basis.

Whether you work for yourself or for an employer, painting and decorating gives you the opportunity to get out and about and meet different clients from week to week, and that can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of this profession. Sometimes you’ll have to work away from home for periods of time, and you may even have the opportunity to spend time abroad, as David Powis explains: “If you work for a wealthy client who’s got a villa in Spain but doesn’t want to have Spanish workmen there, he’ll fly a decorator over to do the job for him.” And the variety doesn’t stop there: “if you’re working for very well-to-do clients, you can have the opportunity to undertake very interesting work involving decorative techniques, gilding and restoration. There’s a lot more to it than just putting up paint and paper. If you’re working on a heritage property, there’s a lot of technical knowledge you need to absorb and a lot of satisfaction at the end of it as well.” City College Plymouth’s Barry Punter spent 26 years as a painter and decorator; for him one of the most exciting aspects of the job was celebrity clients, but he was lucky – that’s certainly not a guaranteed part of the job!

From houses to hospitals and from stately homes to schools – painters and decorators work everywhere. So if you enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job well done and have good practical skills, you could find yourself up a ladder with a pot of paint in the not too distant future.


01485 577577

Painting and Decorating Association
024 7635 3776

Scottish Decorators Federation
0131 343 3300


In the first of a new series of articles on the Emergency S ervices, we outline the career opportunities open to former military personnel in the UK’s p olice forces, highlighting the similarities and differences between working for the poli ce and the military.

He’s not afraid of authority, doesn’t care what other people think of him and currently ranks amongst the most popular fictional police officers in the UK. Detective Inspector John Rebus has just returned to stalk the streets of Edinburgh in the 17th novel by Ian Rankin, who sometimes considers Rebus to be his alter-ego – sharing his origins in Fife, but with a life that has followed a very different route. Whereas Rankin left Fife to go to Edinburgh University, the fictional Rebus instead joined the Army, and even tried out for the SAS.

Rebus’s subsequent move from the Services to the police is not an uncommon career path in real life. That said, the character’s lifestyle of booze, cigarettes and anger is far from being obligatory!

Although we tend to think of “the police” as one uniformed force, there are in fact 60 different police forces in the UK; 43 covering specific geographical areas in England and Wales, eight in Scotland, the single Police Service of Northern Ireland and an additional eight non-geographic-based forces including the British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Whether ‘on the beat’ or in other roles, the job of the police is to combat crime and protect the public, using a mixture of cutting-edge technology and time proven traditional methods. Daily duties for a police officer are likely to include assisting the public and attending ‘incidents’, preparing crime reports and other paperwork, interviewing witnesses and suspects and taking statements, making enquiries into crimes and offences, conducting searches, arresting people, and giving evidence at court.

Other career options in most forces include police community support officers (PCSOs) – who assist officers in areas such as victim support, house-to-house enquiries and dealing with the likes of truants, graffiti and abandoned vehicles – and Special Constables (aka ‘Specials’), unpaid volunteers who provide additional personnel for forces.

Although becoming a PCSO or Special Constable is a useful way to experience police work first hand, neither of them is a short-cut to becoming a full-time police officer. Nor can anyone jump rank; everyone must begin their police career as a constable.

Many Service leavers choose to enter the police because they are looking for a working environment that’s similar to the one they’re leaving: a world where there’s the shared camaraderie that comes from being a part of a close team; the structure from working within a uniformed, disciplined and hierarchical organization; and a job where each day can offer unexpected challenges. Indeed, like Services personnel, police officers are officially servants of the Crown; they must swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch, in whose name and legal authority they act. In that sense, it’s definitely not ‘just’ a job.

That said, there are many differences; as a police officer, you are far more likely to be dealing with members of the public than during your time in the Forces, and will invariably be living in the community where you work. Also, more of your colleagues will be female; women now make up around 21% of the UK’s police forces, compared to less than 10% of the Services. You will also have more say when it comes to you r pay and conditions; while it remains illegal for police officers to take any kind of industrial action or to engage i n trade union activity (thanks most recently to the Police Act 1996), local and national police federations exist to represent all ranks on matters of pay and welfare.

Not everyone from the Services will be eligible to join the police; you will have to be able to give evidence of your good conduct during your military service. That said, police forces are always on the lookout for people who thrive on challenge, and are willing to work hard; people who have the physical fitness, flexibility, self-confidence, attention to detail and people skills honed by time in the Forces. Although by no means the same, the two professions are certainly close relatives.

Individual police forces are responsible for their own recruitment, so selection and training procedures do vary across the UK – for instance, some forces will require you to wait a year between applications, others only six months – so it is important to get as much information as possible before you proceed. (Recruitment information will be on each force’s website.) Broadly, though, eligibility criteria are the same across the UK; there are no upper age limits for appointments and no formal educational requirements, beyond having a reasonable educational background or ‘other relevant life experience’ – and Service leavers are certainly likely to have that! It’s worth noting that, while police forces normally insist that all candidates have three years’ continuous residency in the UK, they accept that Service leavers are likely to have been overseas.

The whole recruitment process can be quite a lengthy business – lasting up to six or seven months – but if you already know your discharge date, police forces will accept your application up to six months before you leave the Forces – potentially allowing you to move seamlessly from one career to the other.

The recruitment process is essentially as follows:

· You confirm that the police force operating in the area you want to work is recruiting, then request, complete and submit an application form. Remember that you can only apply to one force at a time.

· Your application form is checked to ensure your eligibility, and the competency questions are marked.

· If your application is successful you will be invited to an assessment centre or other venue, whe re you will complete a day-long Police Initial Recruitment Test (Police Standard Entrance Test in Scotland); this covers wr itten and oral English skills, verbal reasoning and number skills in a series of interviews, role-play situations a nd written tests. Although the Police Initial Recruitment Test is not excessively difficult, many people fail to pass due to lack of preparation; exampl es of the PIRT can be accessed through mo st police forces’ websites, or from commercial training companies.

· Assuming you pass the PIRT, you will then attend separate medical and fitness t ests – these are to ensure you meet the minimum standards needed to work effectively as a police officer, and will be repeated throughout your career. They should not be problematic to Service leavers.

· Subject to references and security checks, you will then be offered a position by your chosen force and begin your two years of training in earnest. This will usually include 15 weeks at a traini ng centre on a National Police Training Course during the first year, followed by a mixture of classroom learni ng and ‘on the job’ experience putting the theory into practice under the watchful eye of a tutor constable.

After successfully completing two years as a student officer, you will have the option to remain ‘on the beat’ or to apply for specialist areas; these can range from traffic control and doghandling to police diving and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID); such ro les may well require additional qualifications , but you will be supported by the force during your training.

Exact rates can vary from one force to the next, but police constables generally star t on an annual salary of £20k, rising to almost £23k after completion of initial training. Subsequent salaries depend upon both rank and time of service; for constables, pay rises to £32k after 10 years’ service, while sergeants sta rt on £32k and will earn up to £36k after four years. The pay scale for inspectors ranges from £41k to £43k after three years.

Since April 2006 it has become easier to transfer part or all of your Services pe nsion into a subsequent police pension; however, you should always seek out independent financial advice before making any such decision.

Recruitment requirements do vary from one force to another, depending on the local employment situation, so it’s important to check beforehand. That said, the next five years are likely to be a goo d time to apply; many forces – particularly in Scotland – undertook a massive recruitment drive 30 years ago; in the next five years, many of those officers will become eligible for retirement. Strathclyde Police, for example, could potentially lose almost 30% of its officers before 2010, and is therefore looking to recruit around 400 officers this year alone to help maint ain its skills base. “If you wanted to turn the police into a career opportunity, this is the time to do it,” says Sergeant John Perry of Strathclyde Police. “For people that obviously show aptitude for the job, the sky’s the limit.”

999 – POLICE
The police can offer Service leavers a working environment that has much in commo n with their previous career – the camaraderie that comes from teamwork, the structured organisation and the opportunity of serving the community. While there are practical difference s between the two professions, the UK’s pol ice forces can certainly offer an immensely varied, challenging and rewarding career.


Could You? Police (Home Office website)

UK Police Service (Central portal to all UK police force websites)


We’ve probably all thought about it at some point, while having a drink down the ‘local’ – wouldn’t it be great to actually run a pub? We examine how the UK’s Licensed Trade could indeed be the new career for you.

The British have strong feelings about the pub. Public houses continue to be a feature in many of our lives. Indeed, after new licensing laws came into force this November – allowing round-the-clock retail of alcohol in England and Wales – you could be forgiven for thinking that our love affair with ‘the local’ could become an obsession.

That said, our drinking establishments have changed significantly in recent years; according to the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, the licensed trade “has developed very significantly with the development of the pub as a place offering entertainment and food, as well as alcohol”. Increasingly cosmopolitan tastes have also led to a growth in ‘themed’ venues (such as O’Neill’s Irish bars), venues focusing on real ale, wine and/or cocktails, and continental-style cafes.

According to BII, the professional body for this industry, the licensed retail sector currently employs around 900,000 people in some 64,000 licensed premises across the UK – contributing the best part of £23 billion to the nation’s economy. As a result – be it in a relaxing country pub frequented primarily by ‘the locals’ or the most stylish, ultra-modern city bar or internationally famous nightclub – the UK’s choice of venues ensures that the Licensed Trade continues to offer real career opportunities.

Bars in the UK are either owned by breweries (such as Scottish Courage), commercial companies (for example, J D Wetherspoon’s) or by individuals (Freehouses). While some pubs and bars owned by national companies are managed by salaried staff ultimately responsible to the company’s head office, many others are run by individuals who have taken out a lease, tenancy or franchise agreement. Indeed, even though this brand of publican isn’t technically a freeholder (someone who owns the whole business and is not tied to any one supplier), the fact is that they could be effectively running the business as if they owned it – their duties including the recruitment of staff, ordering supplies, the maintenance of the building, promotion of the business, and bookkeeping, as well as also serving behind the bar!

Salaried staff: it’s becoming more common for people with HND or degree level qualifications to join some companies as a management trainee; this is an excellent way to gain practical experience and training in areas ranging from basic health and safety to food hygiene, stock management and cash control.

Tenancies and leases are commercial arrangements where the business – including the building and the land – are let to an individual or partnership. The letting agreement will include trading arrangements, designating who has responsibility for structural repairs and decoration, and outlining any other legal requirements for both parties.

A tenancy is normally offered for between three and five years (with an option to renew the tenancy at the end), offering both security during the period of the tenancy but also the freedom to move on elsewhere after the end of the agreement. While internal decoration is likely to be the responsibility of the tenant, there is the potential reassurance of knowing that any major repairs remain the responsibility of the company. Tenancy rents also tend to be lower than those given to lessees, since a tenant is still tied to the products of the pub owner.

Leases are the preferred option of those wishing to commit to the business in the longer term, usually lasting between ten and twenty years (although if you wish to move on it is possible to ‘assign’ the agreement to someone else during the period of the lease). Buying a lease also requires you to have a relatively large amount of capital: this varies from business to business, but can be calculated from the value of the property’s trade fixtures and fittings, along with stock and glassware, working capital, rent (one months rent in advance), training, and security bond. As a lessee, you will have responsibility for not only decoration and minor maintenance of the pub, but also the main structure of the building, including roof and wall repairs. Tenancies and Leases can cost between £20,00-£45,000 depending on location and duration.

A growing number of companies also now offer franchise agreements which allow you to trade under a distinctive brand identity, and enjoy the stability that comes from financial and legal support – a Charles Wells franchise, for instance, includes support with accounts and payroll, as well as menu planning, stocktaking and interior design. Franchises can start from £20,000-£100,000 depending on the venue and location.

A final option is to simply run your own business as a freeholder, who owns the premises and is free to choose which suppliers provide their drinks, food and entertainment.

The law insists that anyone authorising the retail sale of alcohol – be it in a public house, night club or restaurant – must possess a personal licence to do so, which is issued by a local licensing authority / board. A premises licence is also required for the venue. Under the most recent legislation (in England, the Licensing Act 2003; in Scotland, a new Licensing _regime is expected to come into force in 2008), in order to qualify for this licence, an individual must hold an appropriate qualification. The Level 2 National Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (NCPLH) has been developed by the BII’s _own awarding body, BIIAB, to meet this particular need, and replaces their previous National Certificate for Licensees (NCL).

The NCPLH enables candidates to understand the law in relation to areas such as the role and legal responsibilities of a personal licence holder, permitted activities, a specific prohibitions and the responsible retail sale of alcohol. Successful completion of this particular qualification – which has been designed to be completed in a day, although longer tuition or self study options are available – means that you become eligible to join the BII, the professional body for the UK’s licensed retail sector (which has some 17,000 individual members). Some companies will also insist that tenants or licensees will have successfully sat a 3 or 5 day BII Induction Certificate, and agree to further training.

As a result, many people – even if they aim to become wholly independent freeholders owning their own business at some point – will build up their experience through working for, or initially taking on a lease or franchise with, a major company.

Pay varies enormously in the Licensed Sector, with income usually dependent upon the size and scale of the venue. Successful managers can earn anything between £20,000 to £50,000 a year. Extra money is not usually paid for working unsociable hours.

The Licensed trade requires flexibility, hard work and enthusiasm. While running a pub can be very rewarding, it’s also very demanding and comes with real responsibility, 365 days a year. People wanting to enter this profession must enjoy working long, often unsociable hours, and be able to work under stress! Sound familiar?


Tel: 01276 684 449

Tel: 01276 684 449

Merchant Navy

The Merchant Navy offers a host of opportunities for skilled service leavers. We look at what it takes to become involved in one of the world’s biggest industries.

Britain has a proud maritime history. From the Battle of Trafalgar to the heroic efforts of seafarers during the Falklands conflict, the importance of the sea to our island nation can’t be underestimated. Our security and way of life have depended on the efforts of those who have lived, fought, worked and even given their lives at sea. But we’re not just talking about the Royal Navy. The Merchant Navy is the collective name for the thousands of ships that carry commercial goods and raw materials across the world, and it still plays a significant role in the life of the nation. Shipping is a massive industry and will continue to be so – ships currently carry over 90% of the world’s trade, and the amount of goods carried is set to double within the next 15 years. Being an island nation, 96% of the UK’s imports are carried by sea. From oil to chemicals, grain to cars, the industry deals with a massive range of products, equipment and goods, shipping across the world.

There are some 16,000 Officers and 11,500 ratings currently working in the UKÕs Merchant Navy, and you could become part of this exciting and adventurous industry. There has never been a better time to get involved – this year has seen a year-long celebration of all things sea-related – SeaBritain2005 – which incorporated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the International Festival of the Sea and many other important events.

Hundreds of ships are operated worldwide by a large number of UK-based companies, including BP Shipping, Cunard Line, P&O and Shell Ship Management, to name a few. There are many private companies who own or manage large shipping fleets, carrying a massive variety of goods and performing a wide range of tasks at sea. Personnel are needed onboard ship – both above and below decks – and ashore in a range of clerical, managerial and organisational posts. From a deck officer, to a cartographic draughtsman; from a shipbroker to a vessel financier – the Merchant Navy offers a large range of employment opportunities.

Life on board operates in shifts, known as watches.”You’ll normally work four hours on watch and eight hours off, although at busy times this could change to six hours on and six hours off. The Merchant Navy offers a 24/7 lifestyle and you must be dedicated to the task in hand. If you’re considering joining the Merchant Navy for travel and adventure, think again. You will travel, docking at many different ports across the world, but you might not have enough time to disembark and explore these new places. However, you will be rewarded with generous paid leave – for example, four months on board ship may allow for two months” leave, letting you have more time to explore these distant countries!

The Merchant Navy is not just for ex-Royal Navy personnel, however. Regardless of which branch of the Services you’re coming from, you’ll have the kind of transferable skills that shipping companies are bound to find attractive. You’ll be organised, self-disciplined, multi-skilled and a good team member – already well-equipped to enter the Merchant Navy, and usually at a higher rank than someone walking off the street. If you have experience in fields such as communications, catering, engineering and navigation, your skills and qualifications will also allow you to become a valuable member of the Merchant Navy workforce. Your current qualifications will have to be checked by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), and they will decide if you’ll require further training.

A wide variety of institutions and groups are involved in ensuring that seafarers are trained to the highest standard. Since 1937, the Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) has been the shipping industry body responsible for promoting the training of seafarers. It often has a presence at careers fairs and nautical college open days, so it’s worth checking out how the Board can help introduce you to life on the ocean wave. The MNTB also helps to co-ordinate and regulate the numerous training courses offered at nautical colleges across the country, as well as those offered on board ship – the ‘University of the Sea’.

The Marine Society & Sea Cadets is the UK’s largest maritime charity and is responsible for promoting the training and development of seafarers, as well as overseeing the activities of the Sea Cadet Corps. The Marine Society is also an approved learning provider for the MoD’s Enhanced Learning Credit Scheme, so any further training you undertake should be financially supported by the Scheme. You will also find that some shipping companies will pay to put you through training to further develop your skills and enhance your employability within the shipping industry. If, after speaking to the MCA you find you need further training to convert or improve your qualifications and experience, the MCA, MNTB or Marine Society will be able to point you in the right direction towards a conversion course or HND, for example.

There are many aspects of the maritime industry that you can choose to become involved in. Young people leaving school will usually join the Merchant Navy as ratings or trainee cadets. They will normally be sponsored through college by a shipping company, and gradually work their way through the ranks to become Deck Officers or Engineers for example. Since people leaving the Forces are more experienced and adaptable, you can undergo a conversion course to convert the skills and qualifications you’ve picked up during your time in the military. You may have the technical expertise to become an Engineer Superintendent, for example. 25 year old Matt Read works as an Engineer Cadet with BP Shipping. He was previously a Marine Engineer First Class with the Royal Navy, and, with support from BP, attended the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies for a three month conversion course to adapt the skills he developed in the Navy to suit his new civilian role.

From his first moments after boarding ship with BP at Cherry Point, Seattle, Matt began to notice big differences between life in the Merchant Navy and life in the Royal Navy. “As I arrived onboard after midnight, the first thing I really saw was my cabin, which is where the differences start. Compared to the other Officer’s cabins mine is tiny; however, when you’ve spent four years of your life cooped up in a room no bigger than the size of our control room with forty other men all sharing toilets and showers (with no curtains), my cabin seems enormous and luxurious. With its own en-suite, sofa, desk, and more storage space than I’ve ever had, it has more room than I ever hoped for.”

Apart from the luxury of a little more space, Matt quickly recognised a difference in the equipment he was dealing with. The main difference was size – working on boilers of 20 or 30 feet in height, rather than 10 feet high as he’d worked on in the Navy, as well as maintaining a massive two stroke engine. Matt confesses to being somewhat in awe of the machinery on board his new floating home. He was also appreciative of the new working environment, finding that his new colleagues mixed more easily across ranks than they had in the Royal Navy. “I was very impressed with the professionalism of the engineers, with everybody knowing their jobs extremely well,” explains Matt. “Now I’m onboard a different ship, in a different navy, with different people, I feel at home.”

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) exists to supply the ships of the Royal Navy with food, ammunition, fuel and mechanical spares. Its 22 ships are owned by the MOD, but they are manned by civilians, members of the Merchant Navy. The RFA allows the RN to work successfully whilst on operations, and the RFA seeks people to work in sectors such as navigation, communication, supplies, engineering and medicine. The RFA accepts qualified and experienced seafarers up to the age of 55. Again, you’ll need to get your current qualifications checked by the MCA and undergo further training if necessary. RFA ships can also often carry RN helicopters and weaponry, because they sometimes operate in war zones and precarious situations, having previously travelled to the Falklands and former Yugoslavia for example.

Of course, the British shipping industry isn’t just involved in transporting trade and supporting the RN – there are also passenger ferries, research ships, cruise ships, mining ships and cable-laying vessels, for example. Not forgetting the many onshore jobs that can be carried out – from harbour management to organising ship insurance and negotiating fuel prices. Because of the range of opportunities available, the British shipping industry employs some 25,000 people.

Remember that there’s no central recruitment agency for careers in the Merchant Navy, so you’ll have to do some leg work and approach nautical colleges, shipping companies and industry training boards for advice and opportunities within the industry. In order to enter this kind of career you will of course have to pass medical, eyesight and colour vision tests, and you’ll certainly have to have the right aptitude for a life at sea.

The shipping companies and other institutions that make up the Merchant Navy are always seeking skilled seafarers and capable individuals to join their ranks and become vital members of this large and successful industry. If you think you’ve got what it takes to work in this exciting world-class sector, get in touch with the Merchant Navy Training Board or Marine Society to see how you can get involved.


Merchant Navy Training Board
020 7417 2800

Marine Society & Sea Cadets
020 7261 9535

Royal Fleet Auxiliary
023 9272 5923

The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology
020 7382 2600


Heard the stories of city slickers giving up their six-figure salaries to become plumbers? Civvy Street unblocks the hype to uncover the real opportunities offered by this vital trade.

Six years ago Bruce Greig worked in the City of London. He needed a new sink fitted in his kitchen, and so naturally called on the services of a plumber. Little did he realize that the experience would inspire him to change career.

“I literally spent three days waiting for various plumbers to come,” he says. “The only one who eventually turned up (late) wanted to charge an extortionate amount and insisted on replacing the existing (brand new) pipework.” Eventually, Bruce ended up doing the job himself, and realized that there were probably similar jobs around the house that could be done by a smart, flexible handyman. “So I resolved to set up a business which would offer better service, and lower prices, than I had experienced.”

Bruce’s company, 0800handyman, has since gone on to win several business awards and, for the last two years, has been expanding its geographical reach through franchise operations across the UK. His success demonstrates that skilled trades such as plumbing can be the basis of a good and worthwhile career.

Around the time Bruce was getting started, newspapers were full of stories of a growing shortage of qualified plumbers – particularly in London and the south-east of England. In a classic example of the effect of market forces, this shortage was pushing up plumbers’ hourly rates to almost unbelievable levels. As a result people were swapping their suits for overalls and allegedly earning in excess of £70k a year.

Things aren’t quite that simple, though. “We know that a lot of professional people changed their careers to become plumbers,” says Carol Cannavan of The Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (IPHE), “but I would be surprised if many of them are still working in the industry. To be a successful plumber you have to be a problem solver and enjoy the hands-on aspect of the work. Although the media gave the impression that a fortune can be made by being a plumber, this is not the case generally.”

It’s going to be even less likely in the future, again thanks to the vagaries of supply and demand. “During the early 2000s the industry experienced a shortage of plumbers,” says Clive Dickin, Chief Executive Officer at the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC). “Such has been the explosion of interest since then that there are now far more new entrants than can ever gain full employment.” However, that doesn’t automatically mean that plumbing’s career potential is going down the drain. “There is now a skills gap,” Carol Cannavan tells us, “which isn’t quite the same thing as a skills shortage. There are thousands of people working as plumbers, but not all of them are qualified or have the right skills for the job.”

Currently, anyone can call themselves a plumber and set up in business, regardless of the skills and qualifications they may – or may not – have. However, organisations such as the IPHE and SummitSkills – the sector skills council for the building services industry – repeatedly emphasise the importance of proper training and gaining the appropriate National/Scottish Vocational Qualifications (N/SVQs).

Decent qualifications are increasingly important at a time when a proliferation of so-called ‘fast track’ training establishments are claiming to turn out ‘qualified’ plumbers in as little as a fortnight. The APHC is understandably concerned about the trade’s reputation. “No way can anyone become a skilled plumber in two weeks,” says Clive Dickin. “The usual duration of an N/SVQ Level 2 course is two years, and this should also include on-site training at a reputable plumbing company. It’s not just about completing a training course; work experience in a company is also a fundamental requirement in becoming competent.”

An N/SVQ Level 2 in Plumbing requires you to have practical work experience in all aspects of plumbing – sanitation, hot and cold water installation, and central heating – while Level 3 also covers gas installation. “The N/SVQ Level 2 qualification is the bare minimum,” adds Clive Dickin. “At the Association we are committed to plumbers achieving NVQ Level 3 as a more realistic basis on which to serve public and commercial interests, given the technical complexity of today’s plumbing systems. Despite popular perception, plumbing requires considerable skill and a broad range of technical knowledge to ensure public health and safety. There’s an awful lot more to it than changing washers or unblocking drains.”

These qualifications are far from being the end in themselves; you can continue training to reach N/SVQ Level 4 or Level 5, or earn qualifications in related subjects such as welding or electrical installation; which can be useful if you want to transfer into another industry later. Continuing professional development is important because technology moves so fast, which is why the IPHE runs a range of technical evenings and seminars allowing its members to keep up to date with the latest developments in the industry.

According to the IPHE, to be a good plumber you need to be “a practical sort of person that gets satisfaction from doing a job to the best of your ability.” You also need the skills “to work out complex equations, the flexibility to install different systems, the knowledge to understand how and why different systems work, the ability and initiative to problem solve, a thirst for knowledge of new technology, a creative mind, sound judgement and – most importantly – professionalism and honesty.” Other useful attributes, according to SummitSkills, include being able to work both “on your own initiative as well as in a team,” an ability “to follow all safety instructions given by persons in authority” and being “a good communicator.”

It’s also important to remember that being a plumber is a very physical job; this is the kind of trade where you can expect to get your hands dirty – literally! – and will need to be able to carry and use a range of different tools and other equipment. Much of the work will be on-site, quite possibly in locations ranging from the small and cramped to those high above ground.

It’s a fact of life that wherever people settle down, plumbers are sure to follow. 21st century buildings require sanitation, heating, plus hot and cold water systems; it follows that we need people to install and maintain these often highly complex systems to ensure our overall health and safety.

Plumbers can work for plumbing or mechanical engineering services contractors, or directly for private companies or public sector bodies such as local councils. A significant number choose self-employment (often after a few years experience in the trade), either from scratch or buying into an existing franchise scheme. Whichever option you choose, there is the potential to go far if you have the skills. “Many plumbers,” insists the IPHE, “progress to design, consultancy, teaching and management, making the plumbing and heating industry a career with a future.”

Although many more people have entered the profession in recent years, the IPHE’s Carol Cannavan believes “there will always be opportunities for the multi-skilled person.” However, it is best to forget the stories of earning £70k-£120k a year. According to the IPHE, self-employed plumbers will earn £30k-£40k (depending upon how much time and effort they put in) while those employed by a company will earn “in the region of £25k” after a couple of years experience. It’s worth bearing in mind that you won’t necessarily have to work Monday to Friday, 9 to 5; it is possible to fit a lot of plumbing work around other commitments such as childcare.

Plumbing is not – despite what you might have heard – a fast way to get rich; indeed, like any trade, it’s something that takes time to learn – there are no short cuts when it comes to picking up experience. Gaining such skills, however, is well worth the effort; good plumbers are always in demand, it’s a trade with a future, and it can even lead to running your own business.

Singer and reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne’s first job, aged 15, was as a plumber’s assistant.

Not only was Michael ‘Lord of the Dance’ Flatley’s dad a plumber, but Flatley originally followed his dad into the profession – he even established his own company, Dynasty Plumbing.

Holywood tough guy Lee Marvin was a plumber’s apprentice before he started acting.


The Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering (IPHE)
01708 472791

Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC)
024 7647 0626

SummitSkills Ltd
08000 688 336

Learning & Skills Council
0870 900 6800