Charlotte Roseby meets Master plumber and National Council Member Dusten Haass, who – not that long ago – was a Master plumbers’ apprentice. Now he’s the founder, Co-owner and Managing Director of Applied Installations.
Dusten nearly managed to avoid becoming a plumber altogether. “My dad had an excavation business so I was always around plumbers,” says Dusten. “I knew the industry, I grew up around it, and I had no interest in it,” he laughs.
Dusten finished year 12 not really knowing where he was going. “My schooling wasn’t so great,” he says, admitting that “he’s a bit of a Dick Smith” – the entrepreneur, adventurer and defender of Australian-made products who, after receiving Queens Birthday Honours this year, admitted that he did so badly at school that his parents wondered what would become of him.
“I was a young fella who just needed to be challenged all the time,” says Dusten. His dad dragged him along to an employment information night at Victoria University, where Master Plumbers happened to have a display stand. “I was a bit cheeky to [Master Plumbers] Alan Salter and David McNamara. They just threw it back at me and said, ‘if you think you know it all, come along to a brie ng at Plumbing Industry House’. And with nothing better to do at the time, I went along.”
The Master Plumbers could see their diamond in the rough. Dusten was one of 20 apprentices – out of 300 applicants – taken on that year by the Master Plumbers Group Training Scheme (now Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria). The rest is history, says Dusten. He had found just the right career to challenge him. “I learned a wide range of skills, I loved being outdoors, and I loved meeting different people. I thrived in that environment, in that industry.”
Applying his plumbing skills
After his apprenticeship, and after working as a registered plumber on the tools for six years, Dusten established Applied Plumbing Solutions, with a fellow apprentice. Dusten readily admits that starting out was hard. “Being new to business we didn’t have it all down pat: we made a few mistakes. We were on a steep learning curve.” After six years, and on the back of some financial hardship for the business, Dusten and his partner decided to amicably part ways.
It’s still a hard time to run a plumbing business, says Dusten. “A friend went broke recently and six plumbers lost their jobs. It is so sad when that happens because there’s so much heart and e ort involved. Now, being diverse, we can shift the risk.”
Applied expands into concrete
Dusten decided to diversify Applied Plumbing’s portfolio.
He had previously dipped his toe into concreting after taking 12 months o after his apprenticeship, “just to see what was out there” – plumbing hadn’t quite completely taken hold of his heart at that stage. What he discovered was the civil industry, working in bulk earthworks, site development, road, pavement and car park construction and reconstruction.
Weaving his civil experience with his plumbing business turned out to be the perfect game-changer. Dusten amalgamated Applied Plumbing with a civil business to create Applied Installations.
What looks like bold expansion was just a natural evolution, he says. “Plumbers are good problem-solvers – in fact, most of what we do is solving problems,” says Dusten. “You do what you do well, and then customers will inevitably ask you, ‘Well ... can you do this then?’ which is sometimes out of your trade, but you find yourself saying ‘Of course I can help you out with that’. That’s how you evolve.”
Keeping it all in the business
Applied Installations now o ers a full range of commercial construction services including plumbing, building, concreting, earthmoving, steel fabrication and roofing.
“Now we have the skills to tackle just about any construction project.” Unlike many construction companies, Dusten’s company uses very few outside contractors. “This means that the buck stops with us. We can guarantee that the job will be done the way our client wants it by the deadline. It also means that when a client needs to get in touch with us, there is only one point of contact.”
It’s a business approach that is really working, says Dusten. “It maximises productivity and really alleviates the problem of the lack of ownership a project suffers from when it has multiple contractors. Working in this way also helps us keep costs down for our clients.”
The resumes of the thirty staff in Applied Installations include specialist skills like high voltage entry, working at heights, confined space entry, traffic management and licenced equipment operators – so they don’t need to call in the experts, says Dusten; they already have them.
To the Delatite River and back
One recent project called upon nearly the full range of their skills. Applied Installations was asked to install a new water feed from a weir on the Delatite River (which flows between the ski resort mountains of Mount Stirling and Mount Buller). The river supplies water to the town of Mans eld and the water feed mains were splitting, and had become obsolete.
Dusten’s team put in a new 400 ml water feed main for about 400 metres. To do this they had to completely rebuild the weir wall, then lay new 400 ml polyethylene pipeline down across under the river. It definitely had its challenges,” says Dusten. “It was quite daunting dealing with a river that can swell in the space of an hour. So we needed to build a co er dam to divert the water.”
“It wasn’t a big job, but a real challenge, stepping out of our comfort zone. It was all about problem solving and methodology; we had to really nut it out – and be prepared to change on a whim because of the weather.”
They’ve done bigger projects, says Dusten, but this came with high risk – and is big on pride.
Recent larger-scale projects included a joint venture to put temporary accommodation for refugees in the Broadmeadows Immigration Centre. They also worked for Melbourne City Council to bring an existing fire system at the Kensington Waste Transfer Station up to Australian standards. Dusten’s team replaced the water mains, then back- filled and resurfaced the road. They upgraded all meters branching out from the main, capped the area with surface concrete and installed the central fire cabinet. You can see how much fun a plumber/excavator/ concreter gets to have.
Master Plumbers: support, role models and inspiration
Dusten says his company is still emerging, growing and finding its place. He’s working hard to make real his vision for a strong, stable second-generation business. “We have such great people, such a great team; I want it to be an enjoyable and supportive place to work.”
While Dusten grows his business, he’s also working hard to grow his industry. Dusten has now joined the Master Plumbers National Council so he can give back to the industry that, he says, has given so much to him.
“The support network is important in everything we do, and Master Plumbers o ers that. There are such strong role models in Master Plumbers – with all the passion they exude. I encourage anybody to become a part of the Association in whatever way they can.”
He’s keen to keep the quality of people coming up through the trade that he loves so much. There are problems facing young people, says Dusten. “We need to make sure the young guys have the support and the training they need to become astute men and women – and I’m a big supporter of women in the industry.”
Dusten considers his role in the National Council an important responsibility but also an honour to be involved. And it’s a joy, says Dusten.
“Plumbing is an important part of keeping people healthy. As a health profession, we do this for the public service and the public good. It’s a serious responsibility. And I take that on as a pleasure. I love it and I always will.”