Justin Felix caught up with Robert Woolley, director of Woolley’s Plumbing Pty Ltd and teacher at Holmesglen institute of TAFE in Melbourne to find out what he had to say about estimating and discover some valuable tips for plumbers to take advantage of.
So you’ve worked on the tools for decades and you’re ready to sit behind a desk and make the bigger decisions. Or perhaps you’ve just knocked over your apprenticeship and have a thirst to learn more.
Either way, you’ll need to put your head down and bum up because it’s time to go back to school. One of the ﬁrst things that became clear when delving into the subject of estimating was the variation in the approach to it being taught from state to state and from institution to institution.
The delivery methods are numerous too. It can be delivered face to face in a classroom environment, via correspondence, either paper based or online, blended approach with the use of tutorials or Recognised Prior Learning (RPL). Some Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) oﬀer all options and leave it up to the students depending on their situation or preferred learning method.
The content that is delivered should be the same as it is speciﬁed in the unit of competence itself; however this is not always the case as you hear stories of estimating being covered in a few hours at some RTOs.
Lecturer of Plumbing and Building Services Rob Gilman explained that at TAFE SA, estimating was delivered face to face, 3 hours a night spanning 10 nights over a term. Alternatively, it could be delivered externally whereby students were given 10 weeks to complete all requirements and have access to lecturer support on a Thursday evening or via phone and e-mail.
In Victoria, at Holmesglen at least, a similar structure is followed. But, as Robert reiterates, stories of RTOs taking shortcuts are passed along the grapevine.
“I teach estimating in 10 weeks over 40 hours. I’ve heard that some colleges deliver it in one night though. I don’t know how that is possible but there is clearly a lack of consistency across the board.”
It seems to come down to a lack of motivation from both teachers and students.
“There are two ways to handle the course as a teacher. One way is to simply fulfill the minimum requirements while the alternative is to impart knowledge and leave a lasting impression.”
“A lot of experienced blokes don’t want to give away their secrets so it’s hard for training colleges to ﬁnd teachers to deliver the subject.”
On the ﬂip side, the attitude of plumbers toward learning about the business side isn’t always positive either as Robert explains.
“When I started teaching estimating, I was delivering it to people who had already started their own business and were wanting more information. They wanted to be there. Nowadays, the plumbers feel like they’re being forced to do something they don’t want to do. They just want to be a plumber… not run their own business. It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to learn some really sound business skills that will see them in good stead down the track should they decide to one day become a sub-contractor.
“Once you become a sub-contractor, you are running your own business. You’re a business owner, not just a plumber. You need to work out how much time you’re going to spend plumbing and how much time you’re going to work on your business. Because if you spend 100% of your time doing plumbing, your business will fail. You need to think of how you will run your business, maintain your cash ﬂ ow and collect money.”
The object of providing a quote is to win the work, otherwise, why do it? So with that in mind, how do you win the work over the next guy who walks in?
“You don’t always win the work on price, so you have to sell your business and knowledge to your client,” Robert says.
A big part of doing that successfully comes down to how well organised you are with your estimating as it will reﬂect on your business and character as a whole.
“It is important, when estimating, to understand that a big job is just made up of little tasks that need to be completed. If you know the time it takes to do the little tasks, you can add them all up and work out the cost of the total job. By doing so and making note of all the little jobs, you will also beneﬁt by having a check list of tasks that can be ticked oﬀ as you go along.”
“Sure there’s a bit of wasted time and you need to factor in set up times and breaks etc. You also need to consider whether it will be one person doing the job or multiple. Work out how much of your day you are actually going to contribute to those small tasks. As a general rule of thumb, a lot of experienced people suggest there are 6.7 hours actually dedicated to tasks. If you do service work you might only do four hours of work so you need to charge a service fee to make up for the remaining four hours.”
“If you know what sort of issues you are likely to expect, you are pricing against guys who don’t know what you know so thus you’ll never get the job. You can foresee hurdles and the other guy gets the job because he doesn’t… but in the end he ends up charging more for all the add-ons.”
Like most jobs or projects these days, software exists to make the process of estimating a lot simpler. As Robert explains though, you only get out of it what you put in.
“Software is good. And like anything, you need to spend the time to get to know how to use it which takes time. Once it has been set up though, it’s extremely valuable. Like any technology you buy these days, estimating software is an expensive purchase if you don’t use it.”
Software provides you with the ability to divide every job into smaller, individual blocks. By doing so and itemising all of the labour and materials required for each job, it becomes more of an educated estimate rather than a rough guess. To add to this, software regularly updates to accommodate for pricing changes from merchants.