Is Plumbing for you?
These days, the pressure is really on for everyone to get a university education, yet statistics are starting to show that a lot of university graduates are unable to secure work in industries due to oversupply. Meanwhile, the trade industry, and plumbing in particular, is experiencing a shortage – to the point where the Australian Government is issuing special work visas to immigrants with plumbing qualifications. Even traditional tradie families often try to steer their children away from the ‘tools’ to a white collar career but is this really the right thing for the future of our industry and the younger generation?
I grew up surrounded by generations of plumbers – my grandfather, great uncle, my father and another two uncles were all plumbers, so by the time I reached year 10 it was the obvious choice for me to leave school and follow in their footsteps. Am I suited to plumbing or should I have done something else instead? Well after 25 years, I can honestly say yes, I made the right choice, but is it going to be the ‘right’ choice for my son? In the same vein, is it the right choice for you, and all the bright-eyed apprentices who walk through the door, hoping for an opportunity to work in the plumbing industry?
THE RIGHT ‘KIND’ OF PLUMBER
This article is designed to help highlight the key traits and characteristics plumbers need to enjoy plumbing as a long-term career. If you are an employer, it could help you to work out which potential employees have the right personality and drive for plumbing and which ones are going to ‘call in sick every Monday’. It might even help you understand why you should encourage younger generations of family and friends, of the ‘right personality’ to consider plumbing as a solid career choice, instead of going to university.
The Australian government has a very good website (http://joboutlook.gov.au) that breaks down the prospects and potential for many different careers, including those for plumbers in Australia. I wish I had found this when looking for new employees because it really helps you to think about why you are a plumber, and what you are looking for when recommending plumbing as a career, or when employing staff. In future, I will use the information gained from this site to help me develop interview questions for when I employ staff. While I’ve been lucky in the staff choices I’ve made, I’ve now realised that there is a science to finding the right plumber.
The relative importance of different skills, knowledge, abilities, work values and daily activities for plumbers is what makes plumbing, as a career choice, a unique fit to each individual. I have taken some of the key attributes, as mentioned above, and discussed them in more detail below.
The good news for us, as plumbers, is that for the medium to long term, the demand for plumbers in Australia will continue to outgrow supply, with unemployment consistently sitting below unemployment figures across all trade occupations. With that in mind – as a career choice – plumbing doesn’t get more secure. This is great news, especially at a time when Australia has too many IT experts, qualified teachers on waitlists and far too many lawyers. It is also considered to be a 100% ‘realistic’ career, meaning it is hands on and practical.
The bad news or the ‘misconception’ out there is that plumbing is something you choose to do, if you don’t like studying. The reality is, the coursework for plumbing takes at least three years full-time, which is the equivalent to doing a university degree. The Australian government refers to this, as a ‘long lead time’ profession, where entry into plumbing requires a substantial commitment. More than 67.3% of apprentices take more than three years to complete their qualifications because they need to combine earning a salary with studying. So, to be a plumber is not a short-cut career choice for people who can’t commit to study. My first apprentice started eight years ago, and proudly got his plumbing licence issued last month. He worked really hard that whole time to balance work and study in order to achieve this goal.
When I looked at the importance given to different skills (on the above-mentioned website) it pointed out some things that probably should have been obvious to me: customer service, active listening, complex problem solving, communication and the ability to teach all ranked as important (more than 60% and higher). What does that mean for me? I have to like helping people, teaching staff and solving ‘complex’ problems. Wow, and I thought those were all traits that only nurses and doctors required. Upon reflection though, of course it’s true for plumbers. For me, next time I interview people, I will be looking far more closely at how they communicate and interact with other people. I might even throw a complex problem in there to see how well they approach the task.
In terms of required knowledge areas, mechanical, building and construction knowledge score very high in terms of importance (more than 85%), which isn’t too surprising but when combined with a high importance for knowledge of mathematics and physics (use of chemicals etc.), plumbing really starts to become a career choice, based on exacting science. Better to understand this reality earlier rather than later.
When it comes to key abilities, there are the obvious such as arm-hand steadiness and control precision but the website also includes two highly ranked abilities that when thought about in detail are necessities when looking to employ new staff. One is ‘problem sensitivity’ which is the ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong and the other is ‘visualisation’ which is the ability to imagine how something will look after it is moved around or when its parts are moved or rearranged. They both rank higher than 65% in terms of relative importance.
There are plenty of other categories that are analysed on the website, but I wanted to finish with the relative importance of daily work activities for plumbers. Receiving information (i.e. listening, comprehending, responding appropriately etc.), handling and moving objects, making decisions, problem solving, performing physical work and keeping up to date with relevant knowledge all score very highly in terms of relevance, as opposed to other ‘office based’ professions, where activities such as writing score very high. Really, what the high importance attributed to these activities confirms is this: if you don’t like to solve problems, don’t want to talk to clients and staff on a daily basis, and don’t commit to maintain a good level of health and fitness, then plumbing is never going to work for you long-term.
So, do yourself a favour and whether it’s to get a better understanding of why you’ve chosen to become a plumber, are looking to employ an apprentice, or you’re asked to give career advice on life as a plumber; use your own experiences first and foremost but also take a look at all the information now readily available online, to ensure that whatever the scenario, you make better decisions. I know I will be from now on.
Please visit: http://joboutlook.gov.au/occupation.aspx?search=alpha&code=3341
Brad Fallon is the Director of Ivy St Plumbing – specialists in the strata management trade: www.ivystreetplumbing.com.au