Playing the numbers game

With finances already stretched for many in the plumbing and heating industry, Oil Installer spoke to some installers to see if the cost of training and assessments is becoming too much to bear.

In the last issue of Oil Installer, Watson Carlill of Gloucestershire-based Future Renewable Energy expressed concern at the estimated £8,780 cost to businesses wishing to offer customers services in oil, natural gas, LPG, solid fuel including biomass, solar thermal, solar PV, heat pumps, Part P, rainwater harvesting and plumbing & sanitation.

In addition, the figures compiled by Watson below show a further cost of over £3,000 per annum for registration to associated trade bodies. He is now calling on government to lessen the burden on existing companies and individuals entering the market.

“Gone are the days when you could complete your apprenticeship and return as a qualified professional advising customers about plumbing, heating and sanitary solutions. Someone working in the domestic market with all nine technologies would need to sit a minimum of 29 exams over 45 days.

“A certificate may state your competence but experience and good working practices are what satisfy customer requirements. The government needs to construct a cohesive strategy to promote excellent training. We do not need to over complicate an apprenticeship by enforcing a burdensome emphasis on qualifications and their associated cost.”

Andy Townsend, Cheshire Range Cooker Services, added that, combined with insurance, employee holiday pay, sickness pay and pension contributions, the expense is becoming prohibitive to those in the industry wishing to diversify.

“This has been a concern for many years. You are really looking at £15,000 before the engineer walks out of his house so he can no longer afford to do a complete service for £20.

“I have seen the day when one exam covered it all. In gas, for example, why do you need so many exams for cookers, range cookers and boiler cookers? Spending 45 days training means working long hours to pay back the cost and earn a good living.”

Andy Holding, A J Holding Heating, Oxfordshire, said: “A diverse multiple technology business would be good for customers, but it would prove to be very expensive for the business. There is also the factor that employees are legally entitled to a minimum holiday entitlement of 28 days (inc bank holidays), this would mean 74 days lost in a calendar year.

“I cannot see this being good for businesses with less than five employees.”

For Matthew Cundill, MDC Heating Services, one solution to onerous examination/registration costs could be more flexible payment options: “I had to undergo the 5-year cycle of OFTEC assessments and ACS gas assessments. At that kind of money, and with two weeks off over a couple of months, it was a serious blow to cash flow. OFTEC doesn’t help either, unfortunately, because you have to pay for five years company/technician registration over a 10 month period.

“I think that trade bodies should offer a savings scheme where you pay for assessments over three preceding years. OFTEC need to convert to a similar system to Gas Safe. “I have an employee who has just passed his OFTEC exams and, with his expenses for training, I had to extend an existing business loan as I didn’t have the money in the business to cover it.” (NB: OFTEC does offer one year registration and direct debit options).