Plumbers’ ‘thick white male’ image could derail UK net zero ambitions

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.

“Quite frankly, out there in the culture, if there’s anybody who is a tradesperson in a soap then at best they are a scally – they may even be a murderer.

“There’s not a good impression being given of the variety of the job and what a satisfying career it can be, as well as the fact that it can be quite well paid.

“Only when we have enough workers, and enough workers who properly represent the wide variety of people in the UK, will there be space for the innovation we need to meet net zero.”

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, told The Telegraph “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.

“You’re more encouraged to go on an Extinction Rebellion demonstration, which does have validity, than you are to actually start installing this stuff that is going to make a difference.”

A BEIS spokesman said: “We expect most people installing heat pumps over the next five years to be existing gas and oil boiler installers who have trained to install heat pumps, and heating engineers can complete this training in one week or less.

“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.”

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