Shortage of plumbers as house market is on the rise

As more houses are being built and renovated in the Netherlands, the demand for plumbers is also on the rise. House owners with leaks, clogged pipes and malfunctioning boilers are desperate looking for plumbers, but there is a great lack of good professionals available in the Netherlands. With a high demand in the housing and construction market, with many new homes being built and renovated, plumbers are scarce. A report published in 2019 by the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) also confirmed the shortage. Moreover, a lot of homes are being rebuilt, among other things because of the transition to sustainable energy. Since the number of professionals is limited, this can cause long wait times for clients in need of plumbing services.

Busy times for plumbers
The work of a plumber is becoming increasingly complex and extensive. This has an effect on the relationship between supply and demand. A plumber nowadays does much more than a dozen years ago, including laying water pipes and gas pipes, building more energy-efficient homes, working sewers control systems, and so on. If you need a plumber, it is wise to look for an expert plumber in plenty of time.

Loodgieter.nl, a company specialized in connecting clients to plumbers, deals with this problem on a daily basis. “If you need a plumber, you might just have to wait three to four weeks,” says Robert Schmidt, the owner. He adds: “We regularly hear this from clients who have contacted various companies before they find us. We ourselves try to fill all the gaps in the short term. That works well, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. Plumbers are busy. So I’m worried about the future. Especially considering the number of homes that need to be built and renovated.”

The director of Loodgieters BV, Mo Talbi, is a plumber working in North and South Holland and he is extremely busy at the moment. “It’s really weird. I get up, take a cup of coffee, and then I drive from appointment to appointment. I take on a lot of emergency calls, because people call every day asking if I can come ‘right away’. They are stressed, often because something is wrong with their house. Sometimes I tell them to call someone else and to keep me as a backup, but they say they don’t have anyone else. So I do it, and I do it with pleasure, of course, because I like to help people.”

80 euros an hour
The fee for a plumber can be high. Talbi charges 80 euros an hour for his services. “I work a total of 80 hours a week, so I make a very decent living. When I come to a client’s house, they are sometimes surprised. I recently visited a lawyer who told me he chose the wrong career, saying I earn more money than he does. I think that’s only because there is a lot of building work going on and plumbers are so scarce in the Netherlands right now.”

Before working as a self-employed plumber, Talbi worked for a while in the office of a construction company. “I prefer to be an entrepreneur. Even though this sometimes feels like I’m working for an ambulance, moving and driving fast from appointment to appointment, it does provide a good outcome and I like nice, beautiful things.”

How did this shortage start?
Not too long ago the Netherlands was in a serious economic crisis, but perhaps the crisis was felt the most in the construction industry, with more than 100,000 jobs disappearing. There was a surplus of unemployed professionals. Many projects were paused during the crisis, but now that it seems more or less over, all those paused projects are resuming. Businesses notice that the market is picking up again and there is significant growth. As a result, there is an extremely large amount of construction work to be done. The UWV’s Labour Forecast also reports the number of vacancies in the construction industry is on the rise again, but that there is a shortage of skilled workers. Many plumbers and other specialized professionals are needed.

There is also a decrease of interest from youth in learning the building trade, with the number of students in trade schools falling by no less than 40% compared to 2004. Back then, when you followed a course in construction, you were often guaranteed long-term unemployment. As a result, many students with an interest in construction dropped out, preferring to go in another direction or trying to follow a higher level of education in the Netherlands. Now, fresh blood is desperately needed.

Edition 6 March, by Raphael Perachi Vieira