Chris Malcolmson from Reliable Plumbing Services tells Kathryn Kernohan about his journey from plumber to running a business.

While many of Chris Malcolmson’s childhood friends were spending their school holidays playing sport or watching movies, Chris was learning the tools of the plumbing trade from his father Noel.

Noel founded Melbourne’s Reliable Plumbing Services in 1976 and Chris vividly recalls learning from his father on the job as he was growing. Despite that, as he got closer to completing school, he began thinking about alternative career paths.

“I didn’t always want to be a plumber but I knew that I always loved working with my hands,” he says.

“After I finished school, I worked in retail for a while and then an opportunity came up to go back and give dad a hand. After a week with him I decided to do an apprenticeship and 20 years later, here I am!”

Plumbing took Chris to live and work in the UK and Germany for several years and he returned to Melbourne in 2008 with a view to one day take over the business as Noel began to contemplate retirement.

A decade later, Chris became owner and manager of the business, and cites the new-found responsibility that came with the career shift as his biggest professional challenge.

“As a plumber, we do a four year apprenticeship to learn the technical skills we need to succeed but when you start running a business you have to care about all areas from sales, to HR, to marketing, to finance and all without qualifications in those areas,” he says.

“I’ve experienced the evolution from working on the tools every day to managing a business. It’s potentially not for everyone but I love constantly learning and developing and I certainly learn something new every day.”

Reliable Plumbing Services, based in North Melbourne, is one of the city’s premier commercial plumbing companies specialising in working with universities, schools and businesses. Chris oversees a team of 25 service field technicians and an additional 10 customer service and operations staff members at head office.

He is a passionate embracer of technological advancements, which he says have revolutionised the industry.

“From the plumbing products we install to the cloud-based management system we use to handle everything from service bookings to finances to OH&S requirements – there is so much innovation happening which benefits both us and the customer.”

Chris is also proud that his team includes three female plumbers – and that, broadly, more women are entering the industry.

“We’ve been actively trying to boost our female workforce. It’s a great thing that there are more and more female role models out there so young women can see this as a viable career path.”

Considering how the industry may evolve in coming years, Chris says businesses need to invest in ‘people skills’ as much as technical skills.

“I think the role of the plumber has changed in the last couple of years and will continue to do so. The stereotype of the plumber with his butt crack hanging out and arriving to a job late has changed!”

“Our clients expect us to deliver instant and efficient services but also highly professional services and quality customer service, and I think that’s pretty consistent across the industry.”