Gas Distribution Worker

The Job and What's Involved

Gas distribution workers help to distribute gas to more than 20 million homes, factories, shops, offices and other buildings throughout the country.

The gas is supplied using an integrated gas transportation system, which consists of 275,000 kilometres of iron, steel and polyethylene mains pipeline.

Gas distribution workers are responsible for laying and renewing these pipes and connecting the mains gas supplies to customers' premises. They usually work in teams of two or three people, often with an apprentice working with more experienced employees.

They use computer-generated plans and blueprints to find where the underground pipes are located.

The main areas of work are:

Laying or Renewing Mains - to access the pipes workers must dig a hole in the road or pavement using mechanical excavators, pneumatic drills and hand tools such as shovels. They must then connect the new pipes so that all the sections fit tightly together and there are no leaks.

Gas distribution workers may also repair pipes and install equipment to control the pressure of gas.

Laying Services - this involves laying pipes from the mains to individual customers' homes or premises. Again they must dig holes, one by the gas main, and one where the gas meter will be. They then use a piece of equipment called an impact mole which moves through the ground, leaving a perfect hole through which plastic piping can be pushed and connected.

Emergency Work - gas distribution workers may also be sent to deal with emergency gas leaks.

Gas distribution workers must follow set safety procedures and ensure that they are not endangering the public. They cordon off the area where they are working and put up signs to warn passers-by.

Once the job has been finished, it is important to clear away any rubble and make sure gardens and pavements are clean and tidy.

When visiting a customer's home to explain the distribution process and how long the job will take, workers must provide proof of their identity. They must also fill out forms detailing the work they have carried out, which are handed in at their depot.

The average working week is between 37 hours for apprentices and 40 hours for fully qualified staff. Employees are also expected to work paid overtime if it is required to complete a job.

Some of the work may be carried out during the night or at weekends and most gas distribution workers take part in a standby rota scheme for emergency work outside of normal working hours. This could mean working weekends or bank holidays.

Although a small proportion of maintenance work may be done in workshops, gas distribution workers spend most of their working day outdoors. Much of the work is physical, and they are expected to work in cramped spaces and in all weather conditions.

Workers may sometimes be exposed to dangerous materials and have to use hazardous equipment. The correct safety procedures need to be followed and the work can be messy. Appropriate protective clothing is provided, such as high-visibility vests, gloves, kneepads, fireproof trousers and steel toe-capped boots.

A full clean driving licence is desirable but not essential.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Jobs are widespread as gas is distributed throughout the UK, although there are likely to be more vacancies in built-up and industrial areas.

Overall, the sector is growing, and over the next 30 years a major pipeline replacement programme is planned, which may require more new apprentice gas distribution workers.

National Grid is one of the major employers, but the work is often sub-contracted to other companies. Many distribution workers are employed by contractors, and such organisations could be large or small.

Jobs are advertised on the National Grid website, in the local press, Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres.

Education and Training

It is possible to start work as a direct entrant for local training or as an apprentice, often on an Advanced Apprenticeship. National Grid operates a comprehensive apprenticeship programme in the UKD (Gas Distribution) area of their business. Apprentices are provided with training specialising in gas emergencies and network maintenance.

Although there are no specific academic requirements, employers will look for some formal qualifications. The usual entry requirements for an Advanced Apprenticeship are four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) including maths and English.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Trainees learn from experienced distribution workers, and attend courses at training schools. They may also study on day or block release for qualifications such as NVQ/SVQ Levels 1, 2 and 3 in Gas Network Operations (Mains Laying and Service Laying) and City & Guilds New Roads and Street Works.

Training includes:

- Health and safety
- Technical engineering skills
- What to do in case of a fire or an explosion
- The importance of wearing the right clothing.

All schemes are flexible and training programmes are adapted to individual needs.

The National Grid Advanced Apprenticeship takes 36 months to complete, with 50 per cent of time off the job. During the first year, eight months is spent at training centres. The rest of the time is spent on the job and involves work at sites across a wide geographical network. At the end apprentices will achieve:

  • Key Skills Level 2 Certificate.
  • A foundation NVQ Level 2.
  • A technical certificate and an NVQ Level 3 relevant to the area the apprentice will be working in.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Gas distribution workers need to be:

  • Physically fit.
  • Happy to work outdoors.
  • Able to work alone or in a team.
  • Safety conscious and tidy.
  • Skilled at engineering-related tasks.
  • Able to read technical instructions and follow diagrams.
  • Numerate, so they can check meters and instruments.
  • Versatile and able to adapt to changes in the energy industry.
  • Able to communicate well with members of the public when necessary.
  • Willing to spend time away from home while training.
  • Able to follow safety procedures and have a responsible attitude, as gas can be hazardous.

Your Long Term Prospects

The gas industry is constantly changing to meet new customer needs and to respond to changes in technology and environmental controls. As a result, there are increasing opportunities in the industry.

Distribution workers can be promoted to technician-level and supervisory positions by completing further training.

NVQ/SVQ Level 4 in Gas Networks Engineering Management is also available, and this qualification can lead to managerial positions.

Get Further Information

Energy & Utility Skills, Friars Gate Two,
1011 Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull B90 4BN
Tel: 0845 077 9922
Website: www.euskills.co.uk

Energy Institute,
61 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 7AR
Tel: 020 7467 7100
Website: www.energyinst.org.uk

Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers (IGEM),
IGEM House, High Street, Kegworth,
Derbyshire DE74 2DA
Tel: 0844 375 4436
Website: www.igem.org.uk

National Grid, National Grid House,
Warwick Technology Park, Gallows Hill,
Warwick CV34 6DA
Tel: 0845 605 6677
Website: www.nationalgrid.com

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