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Route to become a plumber

Written by: Eamonn Ryan

A career in plumbing offers an unparalleled opportunity, as well as being an equal opportunity career. Becoming a plumber requires the ‘dual system’, a blend of mostly practical work and a lesser amount of theory.

Route 1: Plumbing apprentice – minimum three years

The minimum requirements for this route are school grade 9 with mathematics. Candidates must be 16 years or older. This is also known as workplace-based learning.

IOPSA offers a direct route to its member companies that offer apprentice programmes. To find a reputable company in your province, a school leaver can visit IOPSA’s website ( Once you have signed up, you need to find a reputable training provider for the Occupational Qualification – Plumber. Your apprentice provider may prefer a specific training institute and direct you to register there, or you can otherwise apply to your preferred training provider. It is important to find a training provider nearest to where you live or work – for the sake of convenience.

You then need to register as a plumbing apprentice with the Construction Education Training Authority ( Your chosen training institute will assist you this registration.

You will be required to undertake your apprenticeship as a plumber for a minimum of three years, during which about a third of your time will be spent on theory at the training institute, and two-thirds will be practical work done on the job with your employer. At the end of that period, if you qualify you are required to take the trade test.

“There are many funded programmes,” says IOPSA executive director Brendan Reynolds, “while the actual cost of the college programme varies enormously depending on the college and other factors A three-year programme only provides the basics of plumbing. Plumbing apprenticeships in other countries are four and even five years, enabling the inclusion of many areas of specialisation which in South Africa requires additional courses.

“In some cases the employer may fund the tuition, in which case the employer would typically expect the graduate to work back that cost for a certain number of years. Alternatively, the apprentices pay the tuition themselves and are not bound at the end of the apprenticeship.”

Route 2: Artisan recognition of Prior Learning (ARPL)

The minimum requirements for this route are a minimum of four years of plumbing experience, and the candidate must be 19 years or older.

To pursue this route you must register with an ARPL Ready Training Provider, private college or a public TVET college once again at You will need to compile a Proof of Evidence (POE) file containing the following information:

  • Qualification documents
  • External Assessment Specifications Occupational document
  • Curriculum document

This pack of documents will have to be submitted to your chosen ARPL training institute for evaluation. Thereafter you will be assessed to see if you are ready for the trade test, in which case you will be provided by the institute with a serial number for your trade test. Alternatively, you may require additional training. The employer will then provide that additional training to fill the gaps in your knowledge, after which you will be re-assessed until eventually you’re ready.

The trade test is performed at the trade test centre over two days. You will be required to pass all set practical tasks in order to qualify. Once qualified, you must register as a qualified plumber with the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (

Many plumbers or other trades work for municipalities, and their route to qualification is exactly the same, albeit the type of work is quite different. “What happens in municipalities – which used to be the greatest breeding ground of tradespeople in the country – is that people who work as plumbers don’t bother to get the qualification any longer.

“The current plumbing curriculum for a plumber meets the basic need but does not cover everything that an employer is looking for. In this format it is not meeting industry requirements. What the industry is looking at, through PIRB, is registering different qualification designations which will denote that a plumber is competent in certain of those elements. For instance, at the moment we are making a submission to get a specialist designation for greywater harvesting and for rainwater harvesting.

“These would enable a person to prove they are competent in those particular areas. A newly-qualified plumber might never have seen or touched a greywater harvesting system – but legally they would be allowed to install it,” says Reynolds.


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