Award-winning plumbing apprentice Breanna Szitarity is putting her mark on the plumbing industry and has the full support of her host employer, Lawson Plumbing. Story: Alison Dean

Breanna Szitarity is a qualified beauty therapist. She knows everything there is to know about facials, nails and hair. Two years into her new profession she just “wasn’t feeling it”. So she returned to Box Hill Institute.

With very few female plumbers as role models and very few people providing young women with options in trades, Szitarity didn’t buck the trend… at least at the start.

“I suppose I always wanted to do a trade but I didn’t have the balls to do it when I was younger,” she said.

At 21, Szitarity got the gumption, enrolled in plumbing and plunged herself into every facet of learning.

Recognised for her skill and dedication in her first year, she was awarded Apprentice of the Year and by her third year she was six months ahead of schedule.

“So many of the guys were just mucking around and on their phones but I just got right in. I made sure I learnt everything there was to learn to ensure my options were open.”

Box Hill Institute’s Manager of Plumbing and Timber Trades Rob Gardiner said Szitarity was a dedicated student who shared her learnings with classmates.

“Szitarity is one of those remarkable people who was focused and driven,” Gardiner said.

“While at Box Hill Institute, Szitarity successfully completed all six streams of the journeyman’s exam run by the VBA on her first attempt. This exam is a nervous time for most of our students but Szitarity remained calm and completed all of the required tasks with ease.”

Currently completing a Certificate III in Plumbing and employed by the Master Plumbers’ Association’s Group Training Scheme – Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria – Szitarity said her journey was not without complications. She described numerous occasions where she copped criticism based on gender and other times when employees have treated her and other apprentices poorly.

“It’s sticks and stones really,” she said breezily.

Szitarity is currently working with Lawson Plumbing, a host employer that hires apprentices through Master Plumbers.

Tom Lawson agreed it was harder for woman in the plumbing industry.

“Some of the more traditional blokes on site are just looking for Bree to do the wrong thing, looking to criticise her, rather than looking at all the things she does well.”

But, he said, things were changing. Lawson put his first apprentice, hired through Master Plumbers host scheme, on full time once he qualified. He then contacted Master Plumbers to organise his second apprentice.

“I had spoken to another plumber who had a female apprentice,” Lawson explained.

“They were a father and son company, and they were the crankiest looking fellas you’d ever meet but they said having a woman on the team was a breath of fresh air for them and for the industry, so I thought I’d give it a crack.”

Master Plumbers came back with Szitarity. “It has gone really well,” he said. “She was green at the start but to her credit she just knuckled down and took on board everything we could throw at her; even roofing and she is scared of heights!”

Szitarity said she conquered her fear of roofing by learning more about that part of the trade but she said she still needed to fine tune her organisational skills. 

Tom vehemently disagreed: “She is the first apprentice I have ever met on site who has written a list and ticks every box as she goes through the day.

“Reading her timesheet is like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace.”

Lawson and Szitarity both talk about her continuing her employment in the high-end, domestic sector with Lawson when she finishes her Apprenticeship.

Szitarity said she also wanted to mentor women thinking about plumbing as a profession. “I can’t help it. I bang on about plumbing every chance I get. I just love the trade.”

Fuss-free apprentices The paperwork and administration is taken care of Becoming a host employer with Master Plumbers means you don’t have to cater and clean up too.

Tom Lawson had always hired his own apprentices and taken on the responsibility for their education, maintaining their training records, ensuring their rotations and paying for them when they were not on the tools.

But all that changed four years ago when he discovered Master Plumbers, Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria

“I had a stay-all staff for six years and then I had two guys leave in a six month period to travel overseas,” Lawson explained.

“I was in strife so I talked to Peter Hall (Master Plumbers Member since 1999 and National Council Member). He said ‘give Master Plumbers a call’. So I did.”

Lawson has now hired two apprentices through the scheme. “It is convenient,” he said.

“You just get a bill every week.”

And the quality? Lawson said like every apprentice coming into a business they required on-the-job training but he said their commitment and reliability was undeniable.

“At the start the cost impact is hard to wear but once you break it down it makes sense.” “You don’t pay for them when they are at school or on annual leave or sick leave, so if you stagger it properly and they take leave then you balance it out easily.”

“The paperwork and administration is also taken care of.” Lawson also remarks on the reduction of risk for any business taking on an apprentice through the scheme.

“You can give them back and Master Plumbers will find them another host,” he said.

“I don’t want to do that, my goal is to keep them all the way through as long as the relationship is good. These apprentices are the future and they are the future employers.”

To become a host call (03) 9321 0721. To become an apprentice, visit plumber.com.au or call (03) 9329 9622.

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