Options for Practical Training


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Practical Training

In the UK there are a number of possible ways that you can get practical skills training and qualification assessments, for example: Further Education Colleges, Private Training Providers, Manufacturers Training Courses, Working in the Industry, and Personal Development i.e. developing one’s existing skills over time.

There are also a number of qualifications that can be achieved too, however note that not all are designed to enable a person to prove their competency. Also, in the case of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) most of the evidence of a person’s competence must be provided from real work, done in the workplace, to the correct standards, for a customer, and only a small proportion of the evidence of competence can be provided by simulation in a workshop situation. This is not the case with ‘certificate’ type qualifications where all the assessment is carried out by simulations in a workshop environment.

Further Education Colleges

You could enrol on a further education college course for both training and assessment. However most UK colleges, it seems, often have long waiting lists and tend not to cater for people’s individual needs both in terms of speed of learning and making allowance for previous experience or transferable skills. Consequently they tend to tell people that it will take 3 or 4 years to achieve a level 3 NVQ regardless of their previous experience and willingness to study even though this need not be the case. FE colleges also tend to have rigid attendance patterns that often do not fit in with a mature learner’s other commitments. Also, there can sometimes be shortages of tools and consumable materials, such as copper pipe and fittings, due to lack of funds. On the plus side though; an accredited FE college will have usually have a good range of facilities, and both these and the staff will have been vetted by the qualification awarding body (City & Guilds of London Institute) to try to ensure that standards of assessment are being met. The teaching staff should also be well qualified in their plumbing skills and they will often have a teaching and assessment qualification, furthermore, their teaching will be vetted by the Adult Learning Inspectorate from time to time too.

Private Training Providers

There are many different types of private training providers. Some will be of the highest standard and be accredited by City & Guilds to offer both certificated qualifications and NVQ competency based qualifications. At the other extreme, some are not accredited by C&G at all and offer a generalised ‘fast track’ plumbing course without any assessment towards a qualification. Some will offer only very specialized training, either with or without a qualification at the end. For example: unvented domestic hot water storage systems installation, central heating control systems, combination boiler repair and faultfinding.

One thing that all private training providers should all have in common is that the training will be quite intense and over a relatively short period, (because time is money to them). Note: if the private training provider advertises that their courses enable you to achieve a qualification take care to check with the awarding body (C&G) that the training provider has accreditation for the qualification and that the accreditation is not suspended or withdrawn before paying for the course!

Manufacturers Training Courses

Many manufacturers of plumbing and heating components offer specialised training covering their products. For example: boilers, showers, central heating controls, piping and fittings are just a few of the courses available. The training is often free, and if not free then only a small charge is usually made to try to ensure that people who book onto the courses actually turn up on the day. Occasionally the ‘training’ will actually be more of a sales pitch designed to familiarise people with the perceived benefits of the product, but usually the training will be top quality and delivered by a person who has expert knowledge of the company’s product.

Working in the Industry and Personal Development

An FE college or private training provider is not the only way you can get started with the practical side of training and assessment, and remember that it isn’t actually possible to achieve an NVQ in any subject simply by attending and passing a workshop based course. For instance, you may have some practical skills already (perhaps achieved by having done DIY jobs in your home). If so it may be that you will be able to cope with simple straightforward installation and repair jobs once you have completed our Installation Theory Course. You will then understand the theory, and this knowledge, together with your existing skills, and the back-up from the tutor support that is included with our courses may give you sufficient confidence to start doing simple jobs, perhaps for friends and family first, gradually increasing your skills as your confidence grows. This is a viable way to develop both skills, and the portfolio of evidence that is required for the NVQ qualification, and if this is your aspiration over a period of time you can develop a small business too.

A good (and some people would argue the best) and in my experience usually by far the quickest way to get the practical skills and on-site experience that is essential to achieve an NVQ is for people to find a ‘friendly plumber’ to give them experience. The best way for a person to do this seems to be for them to ask around their circle of friends, family, work colleagues, their church, or social club or even people ‘in the pub’ to find out if anyone they know knows a plumber who might be willing to help? Experience shows that it doesn’t seem to matter if the link between the person and the plumber is tenuous. On the one hand simply asking a plumber who is a total stranger to help by providing experience will often just result in the plumber saying no out of hand without even thinking about the possibility. However, when there is a link between the person and the plumber (through friends or family etc), and a friend or family member initially asks on their behalf, then it is much more likely that the plumber will think about this and may be willing to give them some experience and the opportunity to get the on-site experience and evidence that is needed in return for the persons help, perhaps on an ad-hoc basis at first to fit in with both their and the plumbers other commitments…

How long should training and assessment take?

The actual time required to train and gather the evidence of practical ability varies depending both upon the range of jobs you are able to do, and how quickly you can develop the skills required, and perhaps 9 to 12 months is a reasonable target for a mature person who is keen and willing to work hard to put a portfolio of evidence together and get it assessed. The portfolio of evidence towards the NVQ has to be assessed by a qualified C&G assessor, this is to see whether it meets the requirements of the qualification and so is valid and covers the range of evidence needed. The more evidence that can be collected before registering with C&G then the less the assessment process is likely to cost. Also, the assessor will usually need to question the candidate about the evidence they present to verify that it is their work. The assessor also has to visit the candidate whilst he or she is working on the job (on-site-assessment) to check and see if the candidate is competent, so it is useful to select a fairly large job for this, and a replacement bathroom installation, particularly one that involves moving or installing a new radiator is ideal. The assessor should write a report detailing what they observe – this too provides further evidence for the portfolio.

It is necessary to register with an accredited C&G assessment centre in order to get the correct C&G documentation, and a centre that knows about and can operate APL (Accreditation of Prior Learning, which is sometimes also known as OSAT, or On Site Assessment and Testing) is best to get the portfolio documentation because they should be able to evaluate whether you have existing skills and qualifications that may have some value towards an NVQ.