Recruitment: Ready to trip the pilot light fantastic?

It's hard graft, but working with gas boilers can be life-saving as well as lucrative, finds Nick Jackson
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The Independent Online

If you are independent- minded, enjoy hands-on problem-solving and are looking for a career where you will always be in demand, then reading this article could save someone's life.

From January 2006 to April 2007, 50 people died and 218 were injured in the UK from carbon-monoxide poisoning. All of these deaths could have been prevented if they had been visited by a properly qualified gas and heating engineer.

There are 110,000 registered engineers in the UK, working in 55,000 businesses. Too few. Corgi, the national gas-safety watchdog, reckons we need 20,000 more. Nearly a third of engineers have to turn down jobs each week because they are too busy. The result is that work is taken on by engineers without proper training. And in heating and gas engineering, cowboys kill.

Since 1991, all gas work must be done by engineers and installers registered with Corgi, by law. The reason is simple. Unregistered gas engineers are estimated to be 32 times more likely to cause a carbon-monoxide incident than a Corgi-registered installer.

Gas work is part of the job of many plumbers, bathroom and kitchen fitters, gas and heating installers and engineers, all of whom have to pass qualifications such as the Accredited Certification Scheme before they can practice.

It is hardly the most glamorous career in the world, but flexible hours and the chance to be your own boss is drawing people from all walks of life, from investment bankers to the recently redundant, and even now women.

Laura Dixon is one of the new wave of women doing gas work. "My friends think it's a bit weird a girl doing a man's job," she says. "And every day someone mentions it, but not in a bad way."

For Dixon, 18, the job has become something of a passion. "I really enjoy it now," she says. "Every day is different. You're always moving around, meeting people. And as there are loads of different boilers out there, you never get the same problem twice."

As an apprentice, Dixon has been earning 4.45 an hour. With a bit of experience under her belt, she should expect 18,000 a year, and if she stays with a company, that should rise to between 20,000 and 30,000. Moving to London would increase her wages considerably, but the real money is in going it alone and setting up your own company. Sole traders can earn 50,000 a year. Get in apprentices and hire other engineers and the sky is the limit.

While most gas engineers, such as Dixon, start their career after leaving school, that is beginning to change. In 2002, Matthew Brumwell, looking to become his own boss, quit his job as a banker at Morgan Stanley to train first as a plumber and then as a gas engineer.

Brumwell works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. "It's all-consuming," he says. "It's physically very demanding and you need to be strong to carry heavy weights as well as doing the work, taking the calls, booking them in and completing quotes and paperwork."

The work demands put on heating and gas engineers is a draw in itself to some. In June 2005, Adam Malkin, 39, was made redundant from Rover MG. He decided he never wanted that to happen to him again. After a six-month full-time City & Guilds NVQ course at Dudley College, Malkin worked unpaid for the Dodds Group in Birmingham to get the practical experience he needed to register with Corgi.

"It was hard to find anyone to give me this break," says Malkin. "It was hard work, especially coming home at the end of the day with no money, but it was good of them to pass on their knowledge and expertise." The work experience paid off. Malkin applied to Corgi and took the Accredited Certification Scheme exams. Registered as a gas installer, he started his own company, Glazewarmth, in November 2006. "I'm getting regular work," he says. "And as long as I maintain the high standards of Corgi, I'm confident that I'll never be out of work again."

Starting up

If you are starting from scratch, you need a National/Scottish Vocational Qualification (N/SVQ) in gas installation and maintenance at level two or three or City & Guilds award N/SVQ 6012.

Experienced builders will need a City & Guilds space heater pathway route National/Scottish Vocational Qualification (N/SVQ) 6012. Qualified plumbers can register with Corgi without another N/SVQ. All heating and gas engineers need considerable work experience with a Corgi-registered business. Finally, you need to pass Corgi's Accredited Certification Scheme in gas-pipe work and the areas in which you want to work, for example boilers or gas fires.