The issue has arisen because, while an undersupply of Level-3 qualified plumbers is anticipated in Northern Ireland, the DfE argues that the shortfall must be balanced against the need for pathways for “those who have not reached their potential” in school.
The professional body for the plumbing and heating sector in Northern Ireland has hit out at proposals for traineeships as a route to entry to the sector, saying they are likely to create first- and second-class qualifications which will be detrimental to skills and quality.
The Scotland and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF) has made its concerns clear in meetings with the Department for the Economy (DfE) in Northern Ireland but, despite this, the Traineeships are to go ahead this Autumn.
It is now urging its members to contact their Member for the Legislative Assembly to reiterate industry concerns about dilution of skill sets and the potential for confusion about who holds the relevant qualifications in an age when plumbing and heating is becoming increasingly complex.
The industry-recognised route into plumbing and heating is a four-year apprenticeship in full-time employment leading to Level-3. In contrast, the proposed Traineeships comprise two years at college with one day a week of work experience, leading to a Level-2 Certificate – which is different to the Apprenticeship Level-2.
Fiona Hodgson, Chief Executive of SNIPEF, said: “SNIPEF is very supportive of encouraging young people into the industry, but it believes this proposal is misguided and that the Traineeship as it stands is not the way forward.
“With the Building Services Engineering sector, we have made alternative proposals which would provide a broader traineeship as a taster of the different trades and professions, but this argument has not, at this stage, been accepted.
“There will effectively be two categories of apprenticeships, and the danger is that one set will have served four years in employment with a plumbing company and will be recognised by industry while the other, having served only two years predominantly at college only, may not.”