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How to become a tradesperson

Hoping to become a plumber or carpenter? We explain what you’ll need to get started. If you’re looking for a new career, or you’re keen to start your own business, learning a trade may be a good option for you.

An electrician installing wires

We cover what qualifications you’ll need, the costs to consider and the daily tasks you’ll be likely to carry out in each trade:

But before you start investing in your new venture, there are some things you should think about so you know what to expect, including the chances of your chosen trade surviving

It’s important that you draw up a plan – even if it’s just a general plan rather than specifics. It’ll give you an indication of what money and resources you’ll need to make it a success. When you start earning money it’ll give you a way of measuring how things are going.


What qualifications do I need to become a tradesperson?

There are some trades that don’t have any formal requirements, but extra training can give you the edge over other candidates. According to the National Careers Service, to qualify for a trade job you can:

  • Take part in an apprenticeship.
  • Learn through a college course – specifically NVQs Levels 2 and 3, or SVQs in Scotland.
  • Train ‘on the job’.
  • Apply directly if you have relevant experience.

To get intermediate or advanced qualifications in a certain trade, you’ll need at least five GCSEs ranging from A* to D (or from Grade 9 to 3).

There’s no quick route to becoming a qualified tradesperson, and you should be wary of any fast-track or independent course providers.

Always enquire about a course before enrolling to see if it’ll provide you with the full qualifications you need for your desired trade.

Once qualified, it’s advisable to get a Construction Skills Certificate Scheme card or equivalent.

Although it’s not a legislative requirement, it'll prove you have the qualifications to work on a construction site.


How much does it cost to get started as a tradesperson?

If you’re hoping to get up and running independently, you’ll need to consider the cost of tools, the type of van you need and insurance.

Some tools can be hired, but if you’re using the same tools regularly it may be more cost- effective to buy them outright.

It’s worth doing an inventory of every tool you have already and work out your costs from there.

Remember to consider tool insurance too.

When it comes to buying a vehicle, you might be looking for a second-hand van to get you started. If you want a new van, you can check to see if you can get a good finance deal.

Many people hire a tradesperson because of local reputation – which can take a while to build up – so you may find you have to subsidise your income to begin with.


What insurance does a tradesperson need?

It’s worth considering insurance for everything required to do your job.

For starters, there’s van insurance. The cost of insurance for each trade varies but for most you could be looking at premiums ranging from £800 to £1,430 to insure your vehicle. Comparing providers is one of the ways that could help you save on your van insurance

Make sure you understand what vans your van licence allows you to drive, too.

Another thing to consider is tool insurance in case of loss or theft. Replacinga complete set of tools can lead to a financial headache. As well as impacting on your ability to do your job.

You should also think about taking out insurance cover for goods in transit. Improving your van security is is important for this.

If you’re thinking of becoming self-employed, you’ll might also need public liability insurance to cover you or your business if damage is caused to someone’s home. This ranges from £90 to £280.


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How to become a plumber

Starting wage: £15,000

Potential wage: £40,000

You can train on the job by becoming a plumber’s assistant or mate. For more information on this, visit the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering website.

Your work will typically involve:

  • Measuring, planning and giving costs and timescales for work.
  • Cutting, bending and joining pipes and fittings.
  • Installing water, drainage and heating systems.
  • Finding faults and fixing them.
  • Servicing oil-fired and gas central heating systems and radiators.
  • Installing and fixing appliances such as washing machines.
  • Dealing with emergency call-outs, such as leaks or broken boilers.
  • Fitting weather-proof materials, joints and flashings to roofs, chimneys and walls.

To legally work on gas appliances or installations you’ll need to be on the Gas Safe Register. This costs £362 for an application, and any additional engineers will cost about £26.


How to become an electrician

Starting wage: £18,000

Potential wage: £42,000

According to Electrical Careers, the preferred way in to becoming an electrician is an apprenticeship, but if there is none running in your area you can always take a college course.

Day-to-day tasks will depend on what type of electrician you are:

  • An installation electrician will install power systems, lighting and fire protection.
  • Maintenance electricians check systems to make sure they’re working efficiently and safely.
  • An electrotechnical panel builder will construct and install control panels to operate electrical systems inside buildings.
  • Machine repair and rewind electricians fix and maintain electrical motors.
  • Highways systems electricians install and maintain street lighting and traffic management systems.


How to become a roofer

Starting wage: £13,000

Potential wage: £32,000

There are a few types of roofer, so before you start studying it’s worth researching what sort of roofing you want to do.

For example, some roofers specialise in restoring the roofs of heritage buildings.

A full list of the different types of roofer can be found on the Go Construct website.

An average day might include:

  • Repairing or removing broken tiles or slates.
  • Measuring material and cutting it to measurement.
  • Checking timbers in the roof.
  • Fitting felt sheets, tiles or cladding.
  • Sealing roof joints with mortar.


How to become a plasterer

Starting wage: £14,000

Potential wage: £30,000

The most common way into plastering is through apprenticeships with a plastering firm. But if there aren’t any in your area, you can learn through a college course.

The work of a plasterer includes:

  • Solid plastering – applying a wet finish to surfaces or putting on a protective covering on exterior walls, such as pebble-dashing.
  • Fibrous plastering – more ornamental work, such as ceiling roses, cornices and architraves.
  • Dry lining – fixing everything inside the walls, such as internal plasterboard or wallboard partitions.


How to become a carpenter

Starting wage: £16,000

Potential wage: £40,000

As a carpenter, you’ll usually make and install wooden fixtures and fittings as part of broader construction projects, including on new-build houses.

Your day-to-day tasks could include:

  • Cutting and shaping timber for various purposes, including floorboards, doors, skirting boards and window frames.
  • Making and fitting wooden structures, such as staircases, door frames, roof timbers and partition walls.
  • Assembling or creating fitted or free-standing furniture.
  • Installing kitchens, cupboards and shelving.
  • Building temporary wooden supports to hold concrete in place.
  • Making and fitting interiors in a variety of places.
  • Constructing sets or stages for theatre, TV and film productions.


How to become a painter and decorator

Starting wage: £15,000

Potential wage: £30,000

As a painter and decorator, it’s more than likely you’ll be working at height, usually up ladders.

The job includes:

  • Measuring walls and ceilings to see how much paint or wall covering is required.
  • Preparing materials for the job.
  • Stripping away wallpaper or layers of paint.
  • Preparing the surface: filling in holes and cracks then covering it with a primer and undercoat.
  • Mixing paint to the right shade, sometimes using software.
  • Applying coats of paint, including special finishes such as glazes or marbling.


How to become a landscape or general gardener

Starting wage: £16,000

Potential wage: £30,000

Unlike the other professions, there aren’t any formal requirements to be a landscaper, although most employers will expect some level of knowledge and experience.

The Royal Horticultural Society has a good selection of courses that’ll help towards a qualification.

An average day as a landscape gardener could include:

  • Carrying out plans made by garden designers or landscape architects.
  • Preparing the ground or space.
  • Turfing and seeding lawns, planting, pruning trees and shrubs.
  • Installing paving paths, rock gardens or water features.
  • Giving advice on how to look after the space and providing ongoing maintenance.

Similar qualifications apply to general gardeners except there’s less involvement with structural installations, such as paving or water features.

Your work will mainly be raising plants from seeds, digging and using machinery including lawnmowers and hedge-trimmers.

You will need a certificate of competence if you’re carrying out hazardous tasks such as using chainsaws or handling pesticides.


How to become a double-glazing installer

Starting wage: £12,000

Potential wage: £27,000

For this role you can take part in an apprenticeship or start as a glazier’s assistant.

You could be working at a construction site or at someone’s home, removing old windows and doors as well as installing new ones, making sure they are level, secure and weathertight.