Against all odds

Hey Sista plumbing was established in 2012 as one of the rst female led plumbing companies in Australia. Co-owner Kimberley Smyth has experienced more than her fair share of life’s ups and downs. but that hasn’t stopped her from taking her plumbing business to the next level. Here she shares her inspirational story of success in adversity. the trick? Hard work, family values and daring to stand up and challenge the stereotype.

“I’ve always been interested in non-traditional roles and when I was made redundant as a machine operator at The Age, I decided it was time for something new. I took advantage of my husband Mark’s many years in the industry and became the first female apprentice for Hey Sista plumbing which I now co-own. In the past I had helped on jobs so I knew I was more than capable and I’ve always been curious. A trade qualification was my opportunity to set myself up for life, on my terms.”

Identifying a gap in the market

“I also knew from my experience as a stay at home mum that there is a market for customers who for many reasons feel more comfortable with a female tradesperson in their home. I have one customer that needed plumbing works but has not left her home in the last 11 years due to her personal experiences. She can only have women in her home. Until she discovered Hey Sista, she had no plumbing repairs in her house – we gave her the means to get everything fixed. It’s instances like this that are my why.”

The future’s bright

“In ve years, I hope to be a leader within the industry, not only as a female plumber but as an employer who promotes advancement and support of other women entering the industry. As a mother of four children, I know the difficulties women with young families face in the construction industry. It’s my dream in the making to champion a company that provides other women the opportunity to begin their career in a male dominated industry. I want to be able to o er support to women in the early stages of their career who always wanted to enter the industry but felt held back. One day I would even consider taking on a teaching role within vocational training to give the support, knowledge and encouragement I received from my sta and teachers during my training at Melbourne Polytechnic Heidelberg.”

It’s time for a change

“I’m a strong believer in the motto ‘our daughters cannot be what they cannot see’. I have been in a room full of parents at school meetings and listened to a career teacher talking about the importance of their daughters completing their education and following on to university, because ‘they can’t fall back on a trade.’

It’s moments like these that make me realise how much I can make a difference with Hey Sista. Our industry would bene t from a mentoring program, working with schools and educating career advisors to shift the stereotype that a plumbing trade is only an option for our sons. I would happily drive an initiative like this.”

A true inspiration

“During the third year of my apprenticeship, I found out that I was at increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. One month after
I completed my Journeymans exam, after multiple biopsies, ultrasounds, MRIs, scans and drug studies, I underwent a nine hour surgery
for a double mastectomy, reducing my risk of breast cancer to below two per cent, increasing my chances of living a long healthy life with my four beautiful children. After a few setbacks, I’m now healthy and back on the tools again. Following my experience, I have become an ambassador for not-for- pro t charity Pink Hope Australia in my spare time.

It was tough to keep going with my apprenticeship, but also good that I had something to take my mind off things.

In 2014 I won the Rose Curtis award at the Plumbing and Fire Industry Awards and in 2016 was a finalist for the Frank Maskell General Plumbing Award. The hard work certainly paid dividends.”

Always room for expansion

“2017 and beyond is looking great for Hey Sista; we are continuing to take on a variety of smaller commercial jobs, with bigger things in the pipeline. We’ve just signed up with Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria to take on some apprentices from their Group Training Scheme and added two new vehicles to our fleet. We’re looking to recruit all-female apprentices who t in with our work ethic. While we still have guys working for us, training up more females is the main priority.”

Keeping it in the family

“Our eldest daughter Tayla did work as a commercial plumber and says she wants to come and work for us – if this does happen it will be great to keep Hey Sista in the family!

I’d be more than happy to give my daughters the opportunity if they want to join us, if just to let them know there is the opportunity there, even if they don’t choose that path. I went to a private school. It’s kind of talked about that you go to university once you graduate. They don’t talk about trades for females. They need to promote other avenues. The careers advisors at my daughters’ school said that girls should stay in school because they can’t fall back on a trade. I was devastated. If the girls are being told that, what hope have they got? For me, it’s all about changing perspectives.

I do that through outreach – I’ve already done guest speaking for the Victorian government, the Australian Education Union and quite a few schools as well.”

Why I’m a member of the Master Plumbers

Hey Sista joined Master Plumbers 18 months ago. It was important to me to have my business as a part of a reputable organisation and be a part of an established organisation. The support we get from the Master Plumbers is invaluable.