Friday, 28 August 2015

Set yourself up for life with a plumbing apprenticeship

For many young people, the days and weeks after collecting GCSE results can be a confusing time, requiring them to think seriously about the future for the first time and make some difficult decisions. Often the question at the forefront of people's minds is whether to continue into Higher Education, or take the plunge into the world of work. While A Levels and University can be a good option for school leavers who enjoy academia and perhaps want to pursue their passion for a particular subject, it certainly isn't for everyone. If you would prefer to earn while you learn in a stimulating and rewarding trade with excellent job security, a plumbing apprenticeship can prove a great alternative to Higher Education which could well set you up for life.

Naturally, one of the first things on people's minds when it comes to what step to take after GCSEs is money! With apprenticeship rates for 16-18 year olds set at £3.30 per hour, plumbing and heating apprenticeships offer you the chance to earn more money than would ever have been possible with weekend or after school jobs. What's more, with highly experienced plumbers earning very attractive salaries (an amount often equal to or sometimes higher than many graduates ever earn), apprenticeships also offer great future earning potential without the course fees involved in attending university.

Another advantage of completing an apprenticeship in plumbing is that it offers far greater job security than many other careers; plumbers will always be in demand, their skills cannot be digitalised and plumbing jobs cannot be outsourced for cheaper labour overseas. It is also a hugely varied trade, allowing you to carve out your own career path. For example, plumbers work for the construction industry as well as for commercial and domestic clients and can choose whether to work for a plumbing company, undertake contract work or set up their own business.

The plumbing trade is a vital part of the UK's construction industry and employs skilled craftspeople and technicians who work with a wide range of materials and technologies, from domestic boilers to advanced welding techniques and computerised systems. As an apprentice, you'll be required to work under minimal supervision to complete the installation and maintenance of plumbing systems and components including domestic hot water, cold water, sanitation, drainage rainwater systems and central heating. The apprenticeship will allow you to develop your skills and enter the profession at a higher level, equipping you with the skills to install, service and maintain systems such as gas fired water and central heating appliances and gas fired warm air appliances.

The plumbing and heating industry is at the forefront of technological changes both in its traditional systems and new technologies, for example, environmental systems such as heat pumps and solar water heating. Whilst working in the trade you’ll need to ensure that these systems are designed and installed to meet strict legislation as well as very accurate design criteria. As such, in order to be successful in the apprenticeship it is recommended that entrants have at least GCSE grade C in maths, English and a science or technology subject.

It's worth bearing in mind that many plumbing and heating companies treat apprenticeships as an investment, with a mind to taking suitable candidates on as permanent employees on successful completion of the training and allowing growth and development of the business. As well as requiring a certain level of maturity to learn about and complete work across a range of different areas, plumbing can be a physically demanding job, requiring a basic level of fitness for jobs such as crawling underneath flooring to fit pipework and operating certain tools. For a 16 year old not long out of education, this transition into the workplace can prove a bit of a culture shock, and anyone choosing an apprenticeship on the basis of it being a "soft option" will soon find out otherwise. However, with all the advantages a career in plumbing can offer, it makes sense to give it some serious thought.

Young people interested in enrolling on an apprenticeship can find out more information at or by contacting their local college.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Drinkable Book: A novel approach to drinking water treatment

Developments across the world of publishing in recent years have transformed the way we think about books, with many of us now opting for audiobook or Kindle versions of our favourite titles rather than purchasing a traditional paperback. However, one US scientist has taken the transformation of the humble book even further, creating one with pages that not only contain information on how and why drinking water should be filtered, but which can also be torn out to actually filter drinking water. 

he invention, which has been termed the “Drinkable Book” has been proven effective at filtering drinking water in initial field trials. Containing tiny particles of silver or copper, the pages kill bacteria in water as it passes through in order to make it safe to drink. The book successfully removed more than 99% of bacteria in trials at 25 contaminated water sources across South Africa, Ghana and Bangladesh, resulting in a level of contamination similar to US tapwater, researchers say. Although trace amounts of silver and copper leached into the water, these were well below safe limits.

Dr Teri Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon University, who has developed and tested the technology for the book over several years, presented her research at the 250th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, USA. “It’s directed towards communities in developing countries”, Dr Danovich said, adding that 663 million people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. According to the results of her tests, just one page of the book can clean up to 100 litres of water and one book could filter one person’s water supply for up to 4 years.

Dr Danovich's initial testing of the book was conducted in a lab using artificially contaminated water. Its success led to field trials which she has conducted over the last two years, working with charities Water Is Life and iDE. In most samples, the bacteria count in the water samples dropped to zero.

Dr Danovitch and her team are now hoping to step up the production of the paper and progress onto trials in which residents use the filters themselves. Having passed two key stages, the Drinkable Book has been shown to work both in the lab and on real water sources. Dr Lantagne, a colleague of Dr Danovitch, said that the next stage of the project will be creating "a commercialisable, scalable product design" for a device that the pages slot into. It is also currently unclear whether the book is able to kill other disease-killing micro-organisms in addition to bacteria.

Dr Kyle Doudrick commented, "Overall, out of all the technologies that are available, ceramic filters, UV sterilisation and so on - this is a promising one because it's cheap, and it's a catchy idea that people can get hold of and understand." Yet while the Drinking Book is certainly a clever solution to the problem of point-of-use water sterilisation, we should remember that it is only a sticking plaster over a much bigger problem. The real end goal should be a situation where everyone around the world has access to water which is clean and safe to drink at the source.

Friday, 14 August 2015

A change of tack: a shift in the UK's energy policy

Government’s announcement yesterday that they plan to introduce a dedicated planning process for the fast-tracking of shale gas planning applications supports the shift in the UK’s energy policy indicated by this year’s Energy Bill. The Bill, which formed part of the first ever Conservative majority Queen's Speech, placed an emphasis on ensuring the supply of energy to families and businesses over reducing carbon emissions.

The announcement follows a series of controversial measures from Chancellor George Osborne including the scrapping of subsidies for onshore wind farms and commercial solar (the two cheapest forms of clean energy), the slashing of the energy efficiency budget and ending of the tax break for clean cars, prompting environmental organisation Friends of the Earth to accuse Mr Osborne of “sticking up two fingers” to nations at the French climate summit. Mr Osborne's other moves were abolishing rules on zero carbon housing, lowering taxes on polluting firms and introducing a tax on clean energy.
On the other hand, figures such as the Climate Blogger Andrew Montford have welcomed the Government's policy changes, stating "This rare glimpse of energy policy sanity in Westminster should be followed by a long hard look at serious low-carbon solutions like modular nuclear reactors."

In a recent speech on Climate Change, the Energy Secretary carefully defended Mr Osborne’s decisions on an economic basis, arguing “We have to control public subsidies, taking tough decisions on what schemes and projects are supported.” She also spoke of the need to remain aware of the financial impact of decarbonisation on both households and businesses, arguing that shale gas offers a means of keeping energy bills affordable whilst supporting the UK’s aim of “decarbonising at the least cost”. Ms Rudd has insisted that the development of shale gas can provide a bridge while we develop renewable energy, as part of the long-term effort to combat climate change:“The Government remains fully committed to the development and deployment of renewable technologies for heat and electricity generation and to driving up energy efficiency, but we need gas – the cleanest of all fossil fuels – to support our climate change target by providing flexibility while we do that and help us to reduce the use of high carbon coal.”
Other advantages of shale gas development quoted by the Secretary include increased energy security, the creation of jobs and economic growth.
Will the Government's shift away renewable technologies in favour of homegrown energy supplies such as shale gas prove to be for the better? For now, the jury is out on that question. However, what must continue to be a focus for the Government regardless of their other policies is the need to reach a decisive global climate change target, both in the run up to the Paris Climate Summit in December and beyond.