Meet the member: Matt Quelch EngTech MCIPHE RP

"Seeing apprentices work their way through their qualifications was really rewarding”

Matt Quelch’s first inroad to the plumbing industry began at the age of 21 when he secured a place as an apprentice. Initially working alongside a range of different trades, he was presented with the opportunity to work with a plumbing contractor and the rest, as they say, is history.

“The first company I worked for was traditional in its approach to the trade and therefore expected me to stay on for four years, working towards my Level 3 qualification,” recalls Matt. “During those four years and beyond I garnered a great breadth of experience and I enjoyed my job. However, following a football injury I began thinking about my long-term career, as plumbing is a very physically demanding job.”

A position for a plumbing assessor at Oaklands College in St Albans was the catalyst for a move into the education sector, where he worked with apprentices aged anywhere between 16 and 56. His role involved working with employers to ensure that apprentices worked towards and attained their Level 3 qualifications and got the right opportunities and experiences on the job.

“Working with employers and seeing apprentices work their way through their qualifications was really rewarding,” he says. “However, when the opportunity to become an external quality assurer came along I jumped at the chance as I felt I would be able to have a greater impact on the sector. This role involved travelling the UK, checking standards and supporting training providers, while helping maintain tutors’ and trainees’ enthusiasm for the subject.”

Following a brief stint at the City of London Corporation, developing apprenticeship schemes for a diverse range of trades, Matt joined the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) – an employer-led organisation, sponsored by the Department for Education, which supports employers to develop apprenticeships and technical qualifications.

“This role has given me the opportunity to make a difference in this sector on a grander scale – working with employers to develop standards and educate the next generation,” says Matt.

Industry support

Since the start of his career, when he signed up as an apprentice, Matt has appreciated the value of being a member of the CIPHE.

“I remember getting P&H Engineering magazine for the first time and it was like a window to the wider industry,” says Matt. “It was an easy way to access verifiable information. I found the workable guides particularly helpful when I started out as I could put them in the van for quick reference. In some ways the magazine was more useful than a college textbook as the topics, such as regulations, were presented in a simple format, so you could easily check compliance. As a plumber on the tools it was workable information you could use, apply and trust.”

Matt’s move into the education sector of the industry meant he took advantage of the networking opportunities that the CIPHE offered, enabling him to get involved in the wider industry.

“The CIPHE represents a good cross section of industry, with a wealth of expertise and I wanted to get involved,” he says. “I volunteered to represent the CIPHE in the CIC 2050 group and more networks opened up on the back of that, which exposed me to interesting subjects and enabled me to engage with a wider audience.”

Skills shortage

Despite the fact that plumbing offers a good wage and 86%* of plumbers would recommend the trade as a career, there is still a shortage of people entering the sector. One stumbling block for getting more people through the door to apprenticeships can be wages. Many young people can be put off by this in the short term.

“Apprenticeships are extremely valuable and need to be seen as a long-term investment by both apprentices and employers,” says Matt. “Although the pay may not be equivalent to a qualified plumber at first, apprenticeships enable students to gain a qualification and priceless experience to pursue a well-paid and interesting career while earning.

“At the City of London, for example, apprentices are paid London living wage, which helps make the course more sustainable for them. However, this is not always realistic for smaller employers. There are a range of employer incentives available and I urge potential employers who want to take on an apprentice to contact their local registered training provider.”

Matt’s role with IfATE involves working with employers to create apprenticeships that are not only attractive to students and sustainable, but are also independently assessed to assure employers that those who qualify are competent.

“A key priority now is ensuring we have the right technical resources to train for the government’s low-carbon agenda,” says Matt. “IfATE has created a green apprenticeships advisory panel that will help focus efforts to make sure the right skills are in place for the future workforce to deliver the green technology shift the UK needs.”

The panel will advise on two main areas – enhancing current apprenticeships to ensure that they meet the needs of employers within the growing green economy and creating new apprenticeships to reflect new occupations to meet the challenge to reach net zero carbon.

Matt says: “Construction needs companies to continue to offer opportunities to people with a real focus on encouraging the next generation coming through in order to raise standards over the long term. By promoting level 3 T-levels and beyond, with employers offering apprenticeships and quality work placements, newly skilled workers will rise through the ranks.”

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