Emma Conroy, Proposition Development Director, Wolseley Plumb and Parts

The plumbing and heating sector is currently facing a shortfall in new talent, with just one in five applicable students having taken up apprenticeships last year.

But we believe that a big part of tackling that is the ability to demonstrate to young people what careers in the trade are like, and where specialist merchants like Wolseley fit in. To bring that to life, we’re launching a partnership with HIP magazine – including sponsoring HIP’s Learner of the Year and Female Skills competitions.

HIP is a leading trade publication distributing into over 180 colleges every term, supporting the learning journey of those students with relevant content and brand partnerships for plumbing and heating students and apprentices, and the team there understands the challenges that young people new to the industry are facing.

The HIP partnership will focus on sharing information with students on how best to establish a career in the industry, how to run their own plumbing and heating business, how to source products and manage budgets, and how to drive job opportunities with customers, whilst demonstrating the value a local merchant can add

Wolseley will also offer college accounts, supporting the colleges with product to be used throughout the course, whilst also providing online learning tools and resources to help them understand how to build and price a job and build quotations, as well as providing opportunities for hands-on experience in our branches as part of work experience placement.

Our partnership launched in January and will run across 2023.

There are around 11,500 young people currently studying for plumbing and heating qualifications in colleges across the UK, and the role of merchants is invaluable in providing industry expertise to new trade customers, supplying not only products and expertise, but service and tools to help them in running a business efficiently whilst supporting them with what they will need on a daily basis, what their future jobs will look like, and where they may want to specialise.

To an extent, this is about joining the dots to bridge an inevitable knowledge gap - it can be difficult to imagine what it is like to work in the trade until you actually do it, and specialist merchants can seem like an intimidating ‘closed shop’ given the communities of local tradespeople who rely on them. Bridging this gap is one of the key things that we need to do to ensure that we stay relevant in the sector and reaffirm how much value a merchant can add to a business.

It’s likely that young people could also find the idea of running their own business in the trade daunting. While this is an issue of knowledge it is also one of confidence. We, as a sector, need to translate the enthusiasm to undertake qualifications in the first place into eagerness to embrace the trade and the career it brings.

The plumbing and heating trade is currently undergoing some very significant changes as we move further toward a zero-carbon future. New technologies and regulations are deepening the level of specialist expertise our potential young apprentices need. These sorts of broader shifts might well appear intimidating, but in actuality, they present our young apprentices with enormous opportunities, offering them the chance to spearhead the move towards a more sustainable, eco-friendly plumbing and heating sector.

Our industry needs the young people who are honing their skills in colleges and apprenticeships across the country to have the confidence and support they need to build their own plumbing and heating businesses so that they are ready to face a changing industry. And Wolseley will be there to offer this new generation of tradespeople our expertise and experience every step of the way.