Sadly employing an apprentice plumber has become an expensive luxury for many small plumbing companies throughout Australia. This is due to the complexities of the Fair Work Act, to their high wages and the length of time away from work on holidays and at TAFE training.
This has been further exasperated by the explosion in sub-contracting with 65% of all plumbing businesses being a one-person operation who employ no staff at all.
As an industry, if we don’t train for the future, then we have no future. This is why we at Whywait Plumbing have always made it a policy to employ and train at least three apprentices at any given time. Even throughout the GFC in 2008-10, we maintained employment and training for four apprentices.
If you go to university, you don’t get paid and incur a hex debt that you eventually payback for your study. However, if you become an apprentice plumber, your employer pays you for the entire four years of your training, every week, with annual increases.
Currently, the archaic document that purports to be a ‘Modern Award’, the Plumbers and Fire Sprinklers Award 2010 requires a first-year apprentice plumber who has completed year 12 to be paid $13.18 per hour. If the apprentice plumber is aged over 20, he starts on $19.07 an hour. Compare this with how much you will get paid to attend university in the first and subsequent years.
Apprenticeship numbers have been declining for the last 20 years. Much of the reason for this is due to decisions 20 years ago to focus everyone at high school on obtaining a university education. This has lead to many young people graduating with degrees and then being unable to gain employment in their chosen field of study.
The importance of well-trained plumbers to society as a whole cannot be underestimated. Plumbing as a trade will continue to exist and ensures young people taking up apprenticeships will always have a good job and a good future.
Interestingly apprenticeship completions at 64% is almost on par with university graduations of 67%. In plumbing, 80% of those who never finish their apprenticeship drop out in the first two years.
This decline in numbers of plumbers as a whole available to be employed has been brought home to us in recent months. We have been advertising for two licensed plumbers at that time, and these are fulltime jobs, not casual or sub-contract. It’s been alarming at how few plumbers applied for the job. Interviewing potential employees has been an intriguing and challenging exercise.
Dillon Lowes installing new sewer pipes at Niecon Plaza
We have employed two new employees in the last month as an apprentice plumber and welcome to Whywait Plumbing, Scott Moir and Dillon Lowes.
Unlike many of our competitors, we don’t employ sub-contractors, so everyone who works at Whywait Plumbing is a full-time employee. That means everyone working here is paid for six weeks of annual and personal leave plus two weeks of statutory holidays. Sub-contractors don’t receive those benefits plus they have to pay their own superannuation and work cover.
The combination of a reduction in plumbing businesses employing an apprentice plumber and the numbers of plumbers retiring means there is a shortfall of 13% between the number of plumbers available and the demand for plumbers.
All of these issues are increasing the cost of employing plumbers. This, in turn, increases the cost for plumbing businesses to undertake work across the board in both construction and maintenance. Ultimately it’s always a balancing act between supply and demand.
Plumbing business is a business, not a hobby
Owning any business is a challenge. Owning a plumbing business has always been a challenge. For most experienced master plumbers, the biggest challenge is other plumbers.
“You have overcharged us because I rang three other plumbers and told them what you charged us for that job and they all agree you have overcharged us and ripped us off.” This was I phone call we received at Whywait Plumbing last week.
Joe Bum-Crack Plumber
A call like this always makes us wonder about the competence and integrity of the three so-called licensed plumbers who said we overcharged. For a start, no professional plumber can or should or could give a price over the phone without inspecting the job onsite thoroughly and undertaking a complete diagnosis of what the plumbing problem is.
Joe Bum-Crack Plumbing Company
Generally, the plumbers who indulge in giving prices over the phone use it as a tactic to gain entry to clients home. Invariably their final price always ends up being much more expensive because they find all these additional problems after they start the job. These “Joe Bum-Crack Plumbers” seldom last in business beyond two years. But in the short time they exist, they cause legitimate plumbing businesses countless problems with their shoddy business ethics and lack of business acumen. Sadly every few years another generation of Joe Bum-Crack Plumbers emerge with their brand new plumbing licenses.
Every day here at Whywait Plumbing, we receive phone calls or email from plumbers looking for a job. A significant number of these plumbers fit the category of Joe Bum-Crack plumbers who have been running their own plumbing business and discover it is much harder than they thought it would be.
We have in the past employed such people, always to our detriment. The last person we employed that could be described as a Joe Bum-Crack plumber was a perfect textbook example. In fact, let us call him Joe as he came into the interview perfectly dressed in answer to our advertisement for an experienced maintenance plumber. Joe was in his 50’s and had done it all from working in construction to being an inspector to running his own business. When asked why he was giving up running his own plumbing business, he replied that his wife had told him to go and get a real job.
Joe then went onto describe what it was like running his own plumbing business which he had started with high hopes after 27 years as an employee of various large companies and a water authority. Joe described how he knew what he wanted as his own boss as he knew there was a fortune to be made running his own business plus for the first time ever he was in control of everything and best of all could work when he chose and be at home when he decided.
Plumbing business reality
The reality was much different from Joe’s perception of being the boss. Joe soon discovered that being the boss is much harder than it looks. Joe had found that running a business was more than being an excellent technical plumber.
Now he was the boss that Joe was in charge of marketing, employee relations, customer relations, credit management, bookkeeping, answering the phone, dealing with plumbers merchants and so the list went on.
All Joe wanted to be was a wealthy plumber.
Joe now knew that running a plumbing business was not a path to instant wealth. The opposite was the truth with every minute of his time being spent on running the business. Joe was shocked at the reaction of Reeces Plumbing Supplies when his account was late being paid. Joe, as an employee had used Reeces for years and the people behind the counter he considered as mates. He was shocked when his credit was suspended because after all these were longtime mates of his and he was sure they would understand that a client had not paid him so he could not pay them.
Plumbing business costs
Joe was well aware of Whywait Plumbing, and he confided that he had always believed we were ripoff merchants. Joe was aware of our sign-written Utes, websites, yellow pages advertising, radio advertising, broadcast email, diagnostic charges and letterbox drops which he had always regarded as a waste of money because everyone knows word of mouth gives you plenty of work or so he once thought. He was astounded when word of mouth did not provide a multitude of work and that to get his phone ringing he would need to spend what he believed was a “shitload of money” on advertising and marketing to get his name out there.
After 18 months of being the boss, Joe now understood why Whywait Plumbing spends what he called a “shitload” of money on advertising and was astounded when he was informed it was only 4% of our turnover. Now Joe was wanting us to give him a job because his wife had told him after 18 months of struggling to make ends meet to get a real job.
Joe did work for Whywait Plumbing for three months but in the end, was unable to adapt to a plumbing business that was upfront about the cost of the work before undertaking the work. Joe just wanted to turn on the taximeter and keep charging the client until the job was complete and then let someone else worry about who was paying. This was why Joe, the boss, had his credit stopped at Reeces. This was why Joe, the boss, had constant arguments with clients. This is why Joe, the boss, is just Joe, the disgruntled employee who still thinks he knows more than the boss.
Very simply, there is only one rule in business, and that is to make a profit and to make a profit, you must first know your costs. That is why at Whywait Plumbing we price every job in advance….no if’s, no but’s.
To experience a real plumbing business contact Whywait Plumbing anytime on (07) 5580 4311 because as we always “choose Whywait and consider it done.”