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Building Trades

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Building Trades

Want to turn your talents to a practical career on leaving? Together, the building trades make up one of Britain’s widest-ranging industry sectors, offering many different roles to choose from – and perhaps the firm foundation you’ve been seeking for your next career.

What’s involved?

Construction is Britain’s biggest industry and looks set to stay that way: private housing, and industrial and commercial requirements in particular, are expected to continue to be the main drivers for the sector over the next few years.

Work in this field covers an enormous variety of roles – so, if you are a practical person, interested in how things work and are put together, why not consider the building trades as a possible way to construct your ideal next career? Well-trained, competent trades people are always in demand. Read on to get an idea of just some of the main roles that make up this busy and diverse sector.

Building trades careers in brief

Some of the major skills in which people who work in the building trades are trained include:

  • electrical installation and maintenance
  • plumbing
  • bricklaying
  • plastering
  • carpentry and joinery (woodworking)
  • gas installation and maintenance
  • air conditioning and refrigeration.

We will look at each of these in turn.

Electrical installation and maintenance

Electrician working in kitchen

Electrical engineers deal with power generation and supply. Modern manufacturing techniques tend to make replacement of a faulty component more cost-effective for the consumer than mending it in situ. This means much of the traditional role of the maintenance engineer has changed, with removal and reinstallation now the norm.

The basic requirement is the 18th Edition Wiring Regulations – this latest edition was introduced in July 2018 and demonstrates that holders of the qualification know the necessary regulations and how to use them; it is virtually impossible to start in the industry without this qualification. The design of electrical installations has been required to comply with the 18th Edition since January 2019. If you have already passed your 17th edition with the 3rd amendment (usually since 1 January 2015), you can take a one-day update course. Everyone else will need to take the full three-day 18th Edition training course, which costs around £500.

The next step may be the Inspection and Testing of Electrical Installation award and, after that, further qualifications to level 4 and beyond through Energy & Utility Skills (the UK authority on professional development and employment in the energy and utilities industries, focusing in particular on power, gas, waste management, water and renewables) and other bodies.


According to Trade Skills 4U’s 2020 Trades Salary Survey, while bricklayers and plasterers saw large increases in their salaries, electricians remained in the top spot, with the average electrician earning £33,176.

Source: Trade Skills 4U blog

CITB (the industry training board for the construction industry) predicts that there will be a growing need for qualified electricians over the next couple of years, so the prospects are good. However, if you want to qualify as a civilian electrician you will find that this involves a significant amount of study/training (even if, while serving, you have been an electrical fitter or mechanic, or even an electrical artificer). Would-be electricians must pass the Electrotechnical Services NVQ at level 3, so you might want to think about allocating your ELC funding to this. You may be able to qualify through an apprenticeship scheme with an electrical contractor, but the range of apprenticeships available will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. If you are not eligible for such a scheme, you could learn the theory and some of the practical skills needed for the NVQ by taking City & Guilds Technical Certificate in Electro Technical Technology levels 2 and 3 at a college. However, to become fully qualified you must complete the work-based NVQ. Industry bodies strongly recommend that you gain a placement or employment with an electrical contractor as soon as possible after you start the Certificate, so that you can complete the NVQ.




The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) was set up to help the construction industry improve quality and reduce accidents. CSCS cards are increasingly demanded as proof of occupational competence by contractors, public and private clients and others. They cover many building trades-related occupations so there is a card suitable for all roles.

Those working in a labouring occupation can apply for the CSCS Labourer card, which is valid for five years. To do so, you will need to have passed the CITB Health, Safety and Environment Test within the last two years.

You can apply for this card if you have completed the QCF level 1/SCQF level 4 Award in Health and Safety in a Construction Environment or SCQF level 5 REHIS Elementary Health and Safety Certificate. This is a lifetime qualification that needs to be completed only once and will be accepted in five years’ time when renewing your Labourer card.

 To find out how to take this qualification, contact your local college of further education, training centre or Jobcentre Plus.

CSCS also accepts alternative courses. For a full list of these please use the card finder tool on the CSCS website.

You must also pass the CITB Operatives Health, Safety and Environment test within two years prior to applying for a new card. You can find out more about the test here. To find out more about the scheme, click here.


Plumber at work in a bathroom

Plumbers install central heating systems, controls and pipework; sanitary systems; drainage systems; guttering and rainwater systems. Heating systems may be powered using electricity, gas, oil or solid fuel. Sometimes refrigeration and water purification systems are also fitted (but see ‘Air conditioning and refrigeration’, below). Maintenance work includes routine servicing and emergency repairs. Repair work involves finding faults, replacing or repairing damaged parts, carrying out tests and making sure everything works properly. A range of hand and power tools are used to cut, bend and join metal and plastic pipes.

Most plumbers in the UK work directly for a plumbing or maintenance firm, while others, particularly in the domestic sector, are self-employed. Plumbers work in a team or alone, and, on domestic repair and maintenance, tend to deal with clients direct.

City & Guilds domestic heating and plumbing courses cover the essential knowledge and skills needed for a successful career in domestic plumbing and heating. Areas of study include:

  • domestic hot and cold water systems
  • central heating systems
  • sanitation systems
  • environmental technologies
  • gas safety.

The level 3 NVQ plumbing and heating qualification is aimed at anyone who has already completed the level 2 qualification or has some relevant experience and knowledge. You might want to consider using your ELC towards payment. If you choose gas-related units at level 3 you will achieve the Gas Safe licence to practise on successful completion of the course (see also ‘Gas installation and maintenance’, below).


Bricklayer builder worker laying bricks wall

This is the job most likely to spring to mind in connection with the building trades. And though not the be-all-and-end-all, it still has a significant part to play. Bricklayers use many different types of material to create different effects (such as ornamental walls and vaulted archways). They also use a variety of specialist tools to spread mortar, cut bricks or blocks to size, and to check that walls are perfect. If you’re considering this role, you should enjoy working outdoors and be happy at heights. You should also be physically fit, careful, accurate and able to follow detailed instructions from architects. Bricklayers often travel around the country, and sometimes abroad.

Wage rates are set annually by the Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC). Overtime and incentives are often available, and some bricklayers progress to technical, supervisory and managerial roles.


Find out about the Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC) via the Federation of Master Builders (FMB)


Man plastering a room

Most people know about plasterers applying wet finishes to walls, ceilings and floors; this is known as solid plastering. Fibrous plastering involves making ornamental plasterwork in a workshop – the kind you might see on decorative ceilings. Plasterers have to be prepared to work at heights, and will spend most of their time indoors. Again, wage rates are set annually by BATJIC.

Currently, demand for skilled labour outstrips supply so overtime and incentives are often available. Payment to subcontracted labour tends to be at an agreed price per linear metre of partition installed, so speed and accuracy can be important. The work provides a high level of job satisfaction, with plasterers often progressing to higher roles or even owning their own companies. 

Carpentry and joinery (woodworking)

Carpenter working in Woodshop

Carpenters and joiners prepare and put in place most of the wooden parts of buildings – from floorboards and roof trusses to expertly crafted windows and doors. They use very specialised woodworking tools and work with many different kinds of wood. They often work in teams and have to be able to calculate angles and dimensions to make sure everything fits. They need mathematical aptitude and generally have to be just as good with their heads as their hands.

Wage rates are set annually by BATJIC, with overtime and incentives often available. Carpenters and joiners sometimes move into other allied occupations, including formworking, shopfitting, bench joinery, maintenance work and interior systems installation; some move into management or run their own businesses.

Gas installation and maintenance

Gas engineer servicing boiler

Anyone working on gas appliances or fittings must be competent and registered with the Gas Safe Register (GSR) and competence can continue to be proven under the Accredited Certification Scheme (ACS) through a distance learning programme. ACS has a two-day core domestic gas safety assessment and a number of appliance assessments that take half a day each. A competent student should take five days to pass the full domestic suite of qualifications.

Energy & Utility Skills has developed a set of occupational standards and qualifications at levels 1 to 4. The objective is that the resulting qualifications will be as common as possible across industries to enable workers freedom of employment in the entire sector.

Air conditioning and refrigeration

Technician repairing air conditioner

The refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) industry is growing in importance: ensuring that the air in particular environments is neither too hot nor too cold calls for specialist skills. This is an environmentally friendly and highly technical industry – part of the RAC engineer’s job is to ensure people and businesses are using energy as efficiently as possible, by working with renewable technology (special types of gas that don’t damage the ozone layer) and seeing how consumers can reduce their energy consumption.

Careers in this industry may be roughly divided into two areas. Refrigeration engineers install, service and maintain refrigeration systems in establishments like supermarkets, hospitals and food-processing plants. Air conditioning engineers install, service and maintain the systems that control and preserve air quality, temperature and humidity in locations such as schools and offices. Both may also work on construction sites, depending on the type of work in which they specialise.

To start out in this sector, you will need an NVQ or SVQ at level 2 or 3, so you could plan to use your ELC for the latter. After that, there is additional training you will need to complete in order to become fully qualified. Although most people start out as an apprentice straight from school or college and train on the job, if you are 25-plus you can still take an NVQ/SVQ without doing an apprenticeship – however, to gain this qualification, you must be in a position to be assessed on site, carrying out work on real installations. As with an apprenticeship, you should be prepared to achieve the qualification over a number of years, not weeks or months – there is no quick fix to gaining the right qualifications and it is likely to take around four years.

You can find more information about working in this sector, and about relevant training providers, on the websites of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board (ACRIB).

Get qualified!

Many of the trades discussed above are learned on the job, but the construction industry also has training schemes that combine working and education to produce qualifications that you can build up over time to develop expertise in a particular area. While one person might start by learning the basics of a trade, and go on to become an expert in a particular part of it, another might build a portfolio in a number of skills to qualify them for a supervisory role then general management.

It is becoming increasingly necessary to hold registration or certification of competence and/or training in particular aspects of building skills to secure employment in the industry. Ambitious people can start by gaining vocational qualifications in any of the trades described here while working, and develop their skills through technical training, perhaps gaining certificates or diplomas, eventually becoming fully professionally qualified, perhaps even with a degree.

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.


CITB says it has been monitoring the evolving COVID-19 position carefully and, based on available advice and guidance, the National Construction College (NCC) made the decision to re-start face-to-face training in England and Scotland, while adhering to government guidelines. It continues to monitor and review its procedures to ensure that the appropriate level of safety is maintained.

Other training providers have followed suit and, while adhering to social distancing and with PPE in use where necessary, have also now reopened for in-person training (albeit necessarily with reduced numbers). In most cases this face-to-face practical training is backed up with online, theory-based classes via virtual classrooms and suchlike.

When enquiring about courses, be sure to ask providers about the enhanced measures they are putting in place, to avoid unnecessary interruptions to your studies.

What can you earn?

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry says, ‘Money talks, and when it comes to annual salaries, a career in construction trumps many university graduate roles. Pursuing a career in construction is therefore becoming an increasingly savvy move. University students graduate with an average £50,800 of debt, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, while apprentices pass the finish line completely debt free. Not only that, apprentices earn while they learn, taking home around £17,000 a year.’

To get more of an idea, take a look at this chart, which presents the latest results of a survey of average salaries, by trade:

Average salaries by trade


XS Training Ltd | Building Trades
XS Training Ltd provides Electrical Training Courses such as City & Guilds NVQ 2357 Level 3 in Electrical Installation and/or Electrical Maintenance which will enable you to apply for your contractors’ JIB grading (Gold Card).
Dorset Health and Safety Limited (Salisbury) | Building Trades
Dorset Health and Safety Limited is a training company based in Salisbury and the leading health and safety course provider in the southwest. We pride ourselves in being able to provide an unbeatable personal service from the time of booking, throughout your time spent training with us and beyond. We are accredited to deliver NEBOSH, IOSH and Qualsafe Award training courses and have delivered successful training to well over 2,500 delegates to date. As well as being and Approved ELCAS Course Provider we are also a CTP Preferred Supplier.
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University College of Estate Management | Building Trades
UCEM is the leading provider of supported online education for the Built Environment, with over 95 years’ experience of providing the highest quality learning opportunities. At any one time, we have more than 3,500 students from more than 100 countries benefiting from our qualifications taught by tutors with extensive industry experience.
Woodward SHE Ltd | Building Trades
Woodward SHE Ltd has been awarded NEBOSH Gold Learning Partner status. This is the highest possible status available in the NEBOSH Learning Partner Programme, which was launched at the start of September. We are the only NEBOSH course provider in Cumbria to achieve Gold within the Programme.
North West, Scotland, Yorkshire and Humber
Skills4Stem Ltd | Building Trades
Skills4Stem is a Global Training Provider with a focus on providing international technical qualifications in Construction, Engineering and Project Management.
International, Nationwide
Gastec Training & Assessment Centres Ltd | Building Trades
Gastec Training and Assessment Centres is the leading supplier of training and assessment services to the utilities industries. We have been providing training services at all levels for over 20 years, initially basic Corgi Gas accreditation from a single centre.
South East
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