Charlotte Roseby meets Master Plumber and Association Board Member Grant Donald, Director of Premier Plumbing Service – a commercial plumbing company based in regional Victoria, which has been a member of Master Plumbers for 62 years.
Grant Donald loves plumbing. You can tell from the twinkle in his eye and the enthusiasm in his voice. You can also tell because he’s currently on his thirty-eighth year in the business. And he’s loved almost every minute of it.
Grant’s father Neville Donald started Premier Plumbing Service, in Sebastopol (near Ballarat in Victoria), in 1951, and joined Master Plumbers the very same year. Neville had four sons and – you guessed it – all four became plumbing apprentices in their dad’s company.
Did Grant ever think he might to do something other than plumbing? “Yes,” laughs Grant. “I actually got offered an apprenticeship as a builder. Then I told my father what I was going to do, and he just said, ‘Well, where are you going to live?’. I thought about it... and thought I’d better become a plumber! And that was the end of that.”
Thirty-seven years later Grant is Director of Premier Plumbing Service working on commercial and industrial projects throughout central and western Victoria.
“Working in a family business has its challenges. But, at the end of the day, the best part about it is that you know that someone’s watching your back every minute.”
Grant’s brother Jim is also a Director of Premier Plumbing Service, as are Jim’s two sons, Michael and Tim. Now, Grant has his eye on the next generation. The kids are only primary school age, but Grant is con dent they’ll join the plumbing fold. “They’re on the way,” says Grant. “They’re all over the machines – they want to take them home with them! At age 10 they want to weld copper pipes by themselves, which is what we all did before becoming apprentices. For a young kid it’s a pretty exciting place to come and visit.”
Doing it properly – and staying ahead
The family business has grown to include 30 staff, with plumbers aged 20 to 54. “This makes for a great mix of experience and performance,” says Grant. “It’s a nurturing environment. We always team up our older people with our young apprentices, which the young ones really like. They learn how to do the job expediently, but best of all how to do it properly.”
Premier’s apprentices and plumbers all recently gained a lot of experience working on an exciting local project: the new Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre. Built by Leightons, the project involved refurbishing an existing two-storey brick building dating from the 1920s and constructing a ve-storey reinforced concrete building incorporating four radiation bunkers for radiotherapy.
The Premier Plumbing Service team completed all the hydraulic and civil works. “This enabled us to expand our knowledge of stack work, relief venting and the diffculties in supplying hot and cold water to multi-storey buildings. That was a great job – and particularly good for the young ones in the company who learned a lot.”
Grant and his team clearly don’t mind the travel. Their next project was about 250 kilometres away, in the rural town of Coleraine, near the South Australian border. Premier Plumbing was the hydraulic and civil contractor for a new hospital, medical clinic and aged care facility, built in two years over an area of two full street blocks. “The remoteness proved to be a challenge at times but has given us invaluable experience in management, logistics and organisational skills,” says Grant.
“We are a progressive company and spend a lot of time and money on safety, training and development of new skills to stay ahead of the eld. It’s good for us but also good for the principal contractor to have a plumbing company that embraces safety and embraces new technology.”
Being in a major regional centre means that the Premier team has the opportunity to experience both city and country plumbing. Plumbing in rural areas isn’t that different from the city, says Grant, “although we tend to stay at ground level”.
One of the pressing issues facing the whole plumbing industry is the inexperience and the lack of responsibility by some licenced plumbers turning out substandard work, says Grant. The particular challenge in rural areas is that the schooling and training of apprentices and the development of new skills for qualified plumbers is di cult unless you go to Melbourne.
“We don’t have the training facilities or the trainers in the country, which means our rural apprentices and plumbers are denied many opportunities to learn things like thermostatic mixing valve commissioning, back flow testing and obtaining residential re sprinkler accreditation. PICAC and Master Plumbers have manufactured remote training pods, which hopefully can be transported to different parts of the state to help with this.”
There are real lifestyle benefits to working in a regional area, says Grant. “What’s really good about living and working in the country is the difference in the driving; we can travel for an hour and be 100 kilometres away, but in the city you can drive for an hour and only get over the Westgate Bridge!”
“We always nd the people in the country areas will go out of their way to help. On projects in country areas there’s a lot of teamwork, especially between different trades. Onsite, there’s a feeling that everyone is there for the same purpose.”
Master Plumbers for 63 years, and counting
Premier Plumbing Service has been a member of Master Plumbers for 63 unbroken years – and counting. “We have found it to be an invaluable association to be part of,” says Grant. “You can get help and advice with anything, from buying vehicles to workplace relations; the OHS experts can save you a lot of time and money.”
“The network that comes with being a member of Master plumbers can take you to anywhere in Australia or abroad. We have also found that clients prefer a contractor who is a member of a professional association like Master Plumbers. If you’re not a member yet, join up and enjoy the bene ts.”
To Grant, who is well-established in his professional career and is now watching the fourth generation of his family showing real interest in becoming plumbers, the future of plumbing looks bright.
“I think plumbing has a great future. Without good plumbing, the health of the nation is at risk, better plumbing means better health. It’s so important that we protect the plumbing trade and keep the standards high. So many people in the world don’t even have clean water. We’re so lucky in this country.”