From Pipedream to Passion: Why I Chose to be a Melbourne PlumberCat McCarthy
Becoming a Melbourne Plumber – My Story
Saturday 11th March is World Plumbing Day, The World Plumbing Council initiated World Plumbing Day to spread awareness of the importance of plumbing in protecting public health. We discuss the day and the types of things we do in our business to celebrate it in more detail here.
Plumbing is a sustainable, highly sought after trade in Victoria facing serious skill shortages (Master Plumbers Victoria, 2023). Every World Plumbing Day, plumbers are asked various questions about why they chose one of the most varied and complicated trades possible. I thought I’d try and answer this question, and discuss both my journey into plumbing and what I believe we will see in the future of plumbing.
In The Beginning
My background is actually in dairy farming so I was always used to getting my hands dirty; I worked at home on the farm in Coragulac from the day my umbilical cord was cut in 1983. In the late nighties I got my first paid job working weekends washing and detailing trucks at a local stockfeed company. I was mad about trucks and thought I was always going to drive them as soon as I was able to.
In 1999, as a year 10, I left school and commenced a Cert II traineeship in Engineering Production at the stockfeed company, this was a pilot course with on the job training.
I then worked at a second location in Lismore for the same company making calf and pig feed, and loading and unloading trucks during the annual harvest.
When I moved out of home at 18 I worked as a Tractor driver all around Victoria. I then stacked timber at a timber mill as my ‘afternoon shift’; 3pm – 12am.
In 2002, after working in a variety of roles I was ready for a new challenge that was going to set up my future. I had a chat to a recruitment agency about starting in a trade, I didn’t mind what trade and was open to any opportunity that was available. An opportunity came up with a local Plumber as a first-year apprentice; to work one on one with a local Plumber who was also a Dairy Farmers son, that my Dad knew well, seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
I was inspired by the fact a Dairy Farmers son could become a successful Plumber and I thought it would also be great common ground I would have with my potential employer. Being 19 and living away from home with mates, and on an apprentice wage, was a big income decrease for the first few years, so I supplemented it by working Friday and Saturday nights at the local pub my Uncle managed. I worked for that employer for the entire duration of my Apprenticeship.
At the end of my apprenticeship, I thanked my Employer for the opportunity and bid farewell to the country for the city lights of Perth, Western Australia. It was in Perth that I first experienced EBA sites and multi-storey builds which differed from my previous experience of plumbing maintenance and boutique new builds on the great ocean road.
After about three years working in Perth as a sub-contractor to Hanssen Construction on high-rises, I moved to London with my partner, Cat. We stayed in the UK for just under 4 years, working hard during the week and playing hard on weekends, frequenting Gatwick or Heathrow airports most months while hopping on a flight to somewhere new.
I was a Plumbing Supervisor during my time in London working for Ardmore Group, the largest privately owned construction group in the UK. I was charged with managing 60 plumbers below me; initially I felt out of my depth but the challenge and burden of responsibility shaped me as a plumber and was the catalyst of me becoming my own boss and starting my business.
A Dream Come True…Or Was It?
After moving to Melbourne in 2011 I struggled to galvanise with any one plumbing company. My time and position at Ardmore made me crave more responsibility than a small-maintenance company could give me, however the Australian union red-tape was a cause of frustration for me after my stint in the comparatively lax UK. I was struggling to adjust to being a Melbourne Plumber.
After some initial discussions with my partner about my desire to start my own business, I dipped my toe in the water by advertising in my local community for after-hours and weekend work. This angered my employer to no avail and I was given my notice. At the time, I thought he was really short-sighted and couldn’t understand why he was upset as I worked hard for him during the hours he employed me.
Now, as a business owner, I cringe at my previous actions. I was naïve and didn’t understand why he was being seemingly over the top about me doing my own work on the side. I realise now he was protecting his asset, his clientele, his reputation, his IP. Whilst I had my own insurance, work ute, license and materials I now understand exactly how he would have felt; it was a conflict of interest and I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too.
So I was flung into fulltime business ownership a lot sooner than expected. 10 years ago, getting your license didn’t include the 2 year business course that it includes now so it was all just learning as I went along and making mistakes along the way. A lot of mistakes. But I’m grateful for those early errors as they have shaped me, and our business, to be what it is today.
McCarthy Plumbing Group is 10 years old this year and we have grown from me being on the tools for those foundation years, to a team of 18 including 5 apprentice plumbers, 9 qualified plumbers, an Operations Manager, Client Relationship Manager, Accounts Manager and my wife Cat who is our Marketing/OHS/HR Manager. The business has had many highs and lows over the past decade.
The highs have included:
– Multiple Award wins
– New offices
– New team members
– Purchasing equipment
– Gaining new clients
– Our community reputation
– Project handovers for valued clients
– Industry recognition from Master Plumbers Associations
– Apprentices gaining their qualifications
The lows have comprised of:
– Working with the wrong clients
– Costly errors
– Increasing insurance premiums
– Vehicle break-ins/theft
– Accounts going on stop/ caveat
– Cashflow issues from growing too fast
– Losing jobs to competitors based on price
– Team members getting poached
– Never being able to switch off
– Lockdowns and ongoing Covid interruptions
Do I wish I never made the business mistakes I did? No, because I believe you need to go through it to grow through it.
The Future of Plumbing
Plumbing has more that 200 different streams allowing a young person to experience so many different skills within the one profession with the one employer. Plumbing has taken me to different parts of the world and experience the different way products are used.
The future of plumbing in Victoria is likely to be shaped by several factors, including advances in technology, changes in regulations and standards, and demographic shifts. One of the biggest trends in plumbing is the increasing use of smart technology.
Another factor shaping the future of plumbing in Australia is the growing focus on sustainability and eco-friendliness (rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, hydrogen etc).
I’m excited about the future of plumbing, and what the industry will have instore if my children Sadie and Harry decide to continue our legacy. Will AI and robots be our future plumbing workforce?
If given my time again, would I choose a career in plumbing? In the words of Albert Einstein in 1954 “I would rather choose to be a plumber”. Happy World Plumbing Day 2023.