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We are excited to release the first of our WorldSkills Expert Focus series today! Introducing Paul Dodds from WorldSkills UK: Deputy Chief Expert for the Plumbing and Heating Competition at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017. Paul explains how he became involved with vocational education, training and skills competitions at national and international level (...not always plumbing-related!), and shares some further insight into the modern-day UK plumbing industry.

PAUL DODDS (UK)

I started working with my father as an apprentice and then worked for a larger employer doing historic restoration work in Yorkshire, England. In 1989 I went into teaching at Peterborough, and my boss – a gentleman named Barry Roe, a bricklayer by trade – happened to be a WorldSkills Expert. He was the person who persuaded me to get involved with the organization: since 1995 I have designed virtually every UK national and regional competition, so it's been a long time! I went to my first WorldSkills Competition in 1995 in Lyon, France, where I trained a competitor toward winning a bronze medal.

It certainly has been an interesting career! In 2008 I took on a different role with North Hertfordshire College, looking at developing apprenticeships in the workplace ... and not solely focused on plumbing! I was also assigned to aviation and cabin crew training, plus Afro-Carribean hairdressing and creative Arts – covering all kinds of cultural events such as theater and music festivals. Very interesting, and very different ... my highlight of this time was probably getting to experience the other side of flying with the engineers at Monarch Airlines.
(if you watch really closely you may see me in this video!)

In 2012 I was made redundant from my teaching position, and set up business on my own: providing consultancy to BPEC, organizer of the national SkillPLUMB events at colleges around the UK. I would say the plumbing industry has been very good to me since I became self-employed, and I've also gotten to witness firsthand the many young careers that have been impacted by skills competitions.

Today, the UK plumbing industry is regulated by both British and European standards, but because of Brexit, how much longer we will adhere to European standards is debatable. Some trade journals are suggesting that when the UK leaves the EU, standards will go up rather than down ... because it will allow us to do things that we haven't been allowed to do and give us back more control. British standards were there before EU standards, and most European countries have adopted British standards and tweaked them slightly to suit their needs over the years. So I think British standards will be around for a while yet.

To work in the UK plumbing industry you must be a competent person as defined in the Building Regulations; however, this is not controlled and in reality there are a lot of non-qualified plumbers working in the UK. On the water side, we have WRAS: the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme, while plumbing and heating engineers working with gas must also be licensed with GAS Safe (which used to be CORGI up to 2009). So in my case, I am qualification-competent for working with gas but I am not registered because I don't carry out gas works in my normal working activities. Every five years you need to be retested for existing, and new, categories. For example, a new licensing category emerging this year relates to the new "Smart Meters" which are being rolled out nationwide, commercial and domestic, to explain gas and electric usage to UK customers.

Apprenticeships are changing in this country. We are now moving to what are called Trailblazers. The plumbing one was supposed to be here around May/June 2017, but it is now being delayed by government until January 2018. Trailblazer is also going to revert back to one single awarding body for qualifications. We only used to have one certificate for qualifications: City and Guilds. In recent years, other awarding bodies have emerged, such as BPEC and EAL. There is a strong suspicion that Trailblazer will return to City and Guilds, but it could also be that a more formal consortium of all the others is arranged. As you can probably tell, at the moment there is a lot of uncertainty around apprenticeship training here in the UK.

I was in Switzerland in February, with other European plumbing and heating Experts. Together we have organized workshops for our competitors-in-training for the last four WorldSkills Competition cycles (London 2011, Leipzig 2013, Sao Paulo 2015, Abu Dhabi 2017) and it has worked really well. We will get a group together and go to another country to take part in their national final: training together, having a bit of fun, no real pressure ... taking time to talk about common things with plumbing, and learning different ways of doing things together.

In the future I would like to see our Plumbing and Heating Test Projects be recycled or reused in some way, after national or WorldSkills Competitions. All over the world, there are lots of people who might have lost their way or need some help, who maybe need somewhere to go: homeless shelters, emergency accommodation, things like that, and they could benefit from new or improved wash facilities or water supply. I think our Test Projects could be designed to feed into that, and could involve more than one skill – bricklayers building structures, carpenters putting on a roof, plumbers fitting in the kit. It's also about involving those people who need help, as well. We've got to look at more ways to transfer skills in order to raise aspirations; otherwise we're going nowhere.

© 2017 International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

 
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