Gone are the days when a class of first-year plumbing apprentices is the sole domain of fresh faces straight from school. we’re delighted to report a marked increase in diversity as apprentices sign up from an increasingly larger age pool and variety of backgrounds, taking the plunge for the career sea change they’ve always dreamed of. with great job security, flexibility to work across a number of fields and the potential to ascend the ladder fast, plumbing is becoming an increasingly attractive career path. bringing a broad range of work experience to the table as well as a mature attitude, our older students are fast becoming some of the brightest rising stars. we spoke to some not-so-new kids on the block who prove that it’s never too late to change your mind.
From cinemas to cisterns – Damien George’s story
When the world transitioned to digital, Damien George was made redundant from his position as Technical Manager in a cinema. “After 13 years in the same industry, it was time to look for a new career. I’ve always been good with my hands and I like working creatively, building and fixing things. It made sense to focus on finding an in-demand trade, so I’d have job security for the future.”
“I did the pre-apprenticeship with Master Plumbers and then started as a first year apprentice. The physical angle took a little bit of getting used to – at times there’ve been some aches and pains. But there are plenty of advantages to being a mature age student. For a start, I learn faster. I’ve mastered a variety of roles in my lifetime and can call on my experience and attack tasks with more confidence because of it.”
“One of the best things about doing my apprenticeship at P & J Hall is the group of plumbers I am working with. There are fully qualified plumbers that are much younger than me. We nd the humour in the situation – yep, I’m the old guy. But it’s definitely an advantage not having to start from scratch.”
“My plan for the future is to get qualified and registered. I’m in domestic plumbing now, learning great stuff every day.”
“My advice to an older apprentice coming in would be, don’t walk in like you know it all. Show respect to the people who have been doing it longer and are more qualified than you. Pay attention to what you are being taught. And take the time to nd your niche – be it commercial, domestic or maintenance, there is a lot to choose from.”
“Starting over like this and going back to learning a trade from scratch certainly has its ups and downs. It’s tempting to look back in hindsight and wish I’d done things differently, but honestly, I wouldn’t have changed anything. The path I’ve taken has given me the skills and knowledge I’m using now and shaped who I am. It’s a journey you take, and I’m happy with the path I’ve taken.”
Damien’s final piece of advice is typical of his committed and direct approach. “Make up your mind to do it,” he says, “And then give it a red hot go.”
Taking the plunge
Peter Hall is the proprietor of P & J Hall Plumbing. With more than 35 years’ industry experience, he has taken on and trained apprentices of all ages from all walks of life. The decision to add Damien George to the team was made easy by his positive attitude and willingness to listen, learn and apply himself to the trade.
“Damien first contacted us to ask about doing work experience when he was doing his pre-apprenticeship course with Master Plumbers. Damien was fairly proactive, he’d looked up our website and found out about the company, where we were based and the type of work we do. He showed enterprise to start with. He did work experience once a week for 8 weeks.”
“He showed good initiative and made an effort to fit in with everyone. I’ve had issues before with older apprentices who haven’t worked out. Sometimes they will say they don’t mind taking instruction from younger guys, but when it actually comes down to it, out on site they can take offence.”
It’s so crucial for a first year apprentice to listen and learn.”
“There are jobs in plumbing that aren’t as – shall we say – fun to do, and of course more experienced staffare going to give the jobs that they don’t like doing to the first year apprentices. It’s just the way it is; it has to be done, so if you’re smart you get someone else to do it. Experiencing seniority and delegation teaches my guys how to work with other people. Soon Damien will earn that responsibility and he will be the one assigning the jobs to someone who is developing their skills.”
“There are advantages to having an older apprentice. Damien is mature not just in his years but in his attitude. Although it’s not just about the age, it’s the individual. Instead of having to ask an apprentice three times, you only have to tell someone like Damien once and they pick it straight up.”
Of course compromises have to be made. “An older person entering the industry as an apprentice has to know that the starting wage is quite low, so you have to be able to sustain your lifestyle on that salary. It is higher for a mature age apprentice; they get the equivalent of around a third year standard apprentice, but it’s still on the lower side of things.”
Peter believes in treating his apprentices with respect and making them feel part of the team. “Involve them in meetings where onsite issues are discussed, have them sit in from an early stage so they get a buy-in,” he says.
And it’s not just the hands on skills that are required. “You need to be intelligent to be a plumber. There’s a lot of planning and paperwork and compliance required, as well as communicating with a range of people. Someone coming in who has worked in other careers or industries brings transferable skills, bringing a set of skills and knowledge from their previous work that can be invaluable. You know that a mature age apprentice who has committed to a career change has their mind set on trying something different, especially if they’ve completed the pre-apprenticeship course. You’ve got someone who’s determined to do really well. There’s a lot more opportunity these days to change your career”.
Keeping dreams alive
Kaelun Brown’s story
Keeping dreams alive Kaelun Brown’s story Kaelun Brown’s older brother is a successful plumber with a flourishing career. Looking for a job with security and the capability to work outside, Kaelun opted for the same route. Plumbers will always be in demand – as Kaelun points out: “everyone needs to be able to flush their toilet and get clean drinking water.”
With a partner who works full time and two small children in the family, Kaelun recognises the challenges of going back to work for a family man. But now he is beginning to reap the bene ts of his decision to make a career change.
Kaelun previously worked in men’s Aboriginal health, in the family violence sector. He worked as a case manager for men seeking support and holds a Certi cate IV in men’s behavioural change. He also worked in youth justice in Melbourne, which introduced him to a number of Aboriginal kids who’d ended up in the justice system. “It was a real eye-opener for me to see how different life could be for young people who were quite close to me in age. I’d been raised with my four brothers in a good home, Mum and Dad always worked, there was always a roof over our heads. For some of these kids, the idea of having a job was just something other people did; they were the third or fourth generation in families surviving on government support.
It definitely made me appreciate my opportunities, and it was something that has stayed in the back of my mind every since.” In his youth, Kaelun started an apprenticeship which he never completed. “I always regretted that,” he says. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to go back and do a trade now. Work can be hard to come by but if you are qualified, and have that ticket, your employment prospects are so much better.”
Other factors in his choice of plumbing as a trade include the desire to be outside and doing something physical, with his hands. Reliability and exibility were also a consideration. “You can travel and work anywhere with a quali ed trade,” he says.
One hurdle Kaelun faced was the drop in pay. “I was on more money before, and I had the higher commitments that came with a higher salary. I had to work out how to overcome this challenge, which was a big commitment for my family, too.
It was sometimes a struggle to juggle the time and money commitments while adjusting to the necessary change in lifestyle and new workload.
At the end of the day when I get home and take my boots o and sit down, knowing I’ve done real work, that’s a good feeling.” Kaelun plans to finish his apprenticeship and work in the industry. His long term goal is to develop his own business, and he’d like to eventually be able to take on young indigenous people as apprentices into the trade. “Ever since I worked with those kids in youth justice, it’s been something I’ve wanted to do, to give them the opportunities I had, to learn a trade and get into steady employment. I don’t just want to run a business; I see it as a social enterprise. Something that has a bene cial social impact.”
His advice for someone thinking about making the change is to just jump in. “Don’t overthink it,” he says, but he does offer a cautionary word. “You do have to be sure you really want to do it.” Kaelun says the Master Plumbers pre-apprenticeship or boot-camp are ideal ways to test your interest and commitment to the trade.
“There’s a lot to plumbing. It is hard physical work and it’s also very technical,” Kaelun says. “Some people think it’s just hanging o a shovel, but there are Australian standards and rules and regulations you have to abide by.”
“Open your mind to things. You have to listen. You have to want to learn.”
“You need to be switched on, committed, but still enjoy it. I think you’ve got to love it, really. I know in 25 or 30 years I will still be a plumber,” Kaelun says. “And still loving it.”
Apprentices are now coming into the plumbing industry from a range of backgrounds, with fresh perspectives, transferable skills, a passion for the trade and a commitment to learning. They are the new face of plumbing, and with so many others like them in training, the future of the industry looks in great shape. Know someone who ts the bill? Find out more about our training courses for new apprentices at www.plumber.com.au
It’s never too late
Sean Rehill’s story
Sean Rehill is in his fifties and after almost 20 years working with heavy machinery, transport and logistics, he is now a second year plumbing apprentice. He likes to joke that he’s the oldest plumbing apprentice in Victoria, but when it comes to learning the trade, Sean is all business.
Like many others coming to plumbing as a second or third career, Sean wanted a trade that would lead to reliable employment. “I got on the internet and did some research,” he says, “and I found Master Plumbers.
I applied to the pre-apprenticeship, and after an interview, I was accepted. These courses are usually subsidised, but because I’d completed an automotive apprenticeship years ago, I wasn’t eligible for the subsidy. I had to pay the fees myself, but it was worth it.”
Back in the 90s, Sean studied for an associate diploma in environmental science. His interest in technology to improve effciency in homes was a natural segue into plumbing. He would have turned to plumbing earlier, but Sean has nothing but praise for his experience as a mature aged apprentice through Master Plumbers. “They are industry leaders,” he says. They will give you extra tuition on your RDOs if you need it. We have great resources here, like a masterclass in welding with a Master Welder.”
Sean is happy to have found his niche. “I love working with the tools,” he says. “I honestly had no idea before I started how much scope there was. There are so many options in plumbing, gas fitting, roofing, drainage, mechanical. As apprentices, we are learning them all, but then you can go on and specialise.”
Sean’s ambition is to become fully qualified, licensed and registered. He’s been exposed to a variety of work with host employers, but so far the domestic work appeals to him most.
“I think I’d like to go and work for a family-owned company doing suburban domestic work and maintenance. You can get a lot of money doing the commercial work, but I do like the variety with domestic. A hot water installation one day, fixing a busted pipe the next.”
“The things we can do now thanks to technology, especially mobile, are amazing. For instance, if I’m working on a big site and I see something I have a question about, I don’t have to go and nd the foreman and bring him back down to show him, I can snap a picture on my phone and text it to him. And that doesn’t even touch on the developments in plumbing technology; there are drain cameras and pipe locators and electronic leak detecting machines.”
“One of the best things about doing my apprenticeship is going on site, fitting in with the culture and doing what’s required. When we begin to think and work together as a team, that’s great to be part of.”
Sean would certainly encourage others to consider becoming apprentices later in life. “If you’re thinking about it, go to the Master Plumbers school and have a talk to everyone and a look around. Ask your tradesman questions when they come to your house, nd out what they like about the work.”
He recommends doing the pre-apprenticeship. “That way even if you decide you don’t want to continue on in this industry, you’ll still have something to show for it. You’ll still learn valuable skills.”
“And talk to your family and friends about your ambitions, because you need support while you’re studying and this will involve your immediate family. You need to plan for the change in your financial situation, pay things off, put away some savings maybe. Adult apprentices do earn more, but it still is an apprentice wage.”
“Look after yourself and get in shape. This is physical work and it can be high risk work. You are working with energy and you have to have your wits about you.”
“I find this trade very stimulating. There’s a great deal to learn, and so many tools to do it with. You need good training, tools, skills and knowledge, and perhaps most of all, you need good judgement. If you have an interest, it’s never too late to give it a go.”
Smashing the stereotype
Kelsey Houghton’s story
At the age of 23, Kelsey Houghton has been a lifeguard, and worked in retail. The newest string to her bow comes in a completely different field where she has finally found her niche – with some great job security to boot.
“People are always going to need a plumber. A house has so many things a plumber contributes to – installing, maintaining, repairing. I find the variety of tasks involved in plumbing intriguing. You could be doing anything from installing a gas system to fixing a toilet.”
At Master Plumbers, Kelsey gets to experience the full spectrum of plumbing work. “I really like the sanitary work. All the above ground, visible fixtures like basins, toilets, sinks, taps.”
Kelsey was prompted to make the transition to plumbing after working for a number of years in retail. She’d always been a ‘hands-on’ kind of person. “My partner and I live together and we’re saving up for a house.
I wanted a career that could make this happen sooner rather than later.” Kelsey describes the cohort going through their training together as bonded. Half of them went through the pre-apprenticeship program together. “Everyone in the group is switched on. We get a task and we all get on to it. Some of the younger ones look up to the older apprentices. We are all motivated and focused.”
Changing careers is not without its challenges. “Getting back into the rhythm of studying after being out of school for ve years was hard. I live a fair distance away so I have a lot more travelling, about an hour and a half each way.”
“The best thing is learning about plumbing and putting the theory into practice. And meeting new people.”
So what’s it like for a girl in plumbing? The plumbing landscape is changing, but it’s a well known fact that men still far outweigh women on the tools. Apart from the odd challenge of physical size or strength, Kelsey is taking it all in her stride. “I’ve always been t and sporty, so despite being a bit short to reach things sometimes, I just work out a different way to tackle those jobs. I don’t feel pressured to try to lift something that’s too heavy just to prove I can do it. I’ve been told that I would have to prove I can do it as well as a guy, but everyone’s work should speak for itself. I don’t worry about it.”
For the future, Kelsey has her eye on finishing her training, becoming a qualified plumber and getting her licences and registration. “One day I’d like to run my own business. And later I do want kids so I’ll need to factor that in. I am mindful of that.”
Kelsey does have some wisdom to pass on to anyone starting an apprenticeship later in life. “The right attitude and belief are important. If you are female, don’t be put o by the idea that it’s a man’s world, or any of the stereotypes; there are good initiatives now and the future is bright.”
“I do wish I’d done it earlier, maybe after a gap year. And I wish in school they’d encourage more girls to explore the trades, and do metal work or carpentry.”
“I’d recommend this to anyone who has a can-do attitude and who wants a trade with good career prospects and job security. There are great opportunities to do different things, and it’s a trade where there is always something more or something new to learn.”
“My twin sister has worked as a carpenter, building trusses, but I’ve got her into plumbing now too. She’s just starting the pre-apprenticeship. Who knows, maybe one day we can run a plumbing business together and train more girls to work in the industry. That would be fun.”