There is a joke about plumbers and lawyers, which has more than a hint of truth to it.
It goes like this: A plumber arrives at lawyer’s house to fix a leaking pipe, he finishes the job and hands over his invoice.
The lawyer looks shocked.
“Wow, this is more than I charge as a lawyer!” he says. “Yes,” says the plumber. “Why do you think I gave up being a lawyer?!”
South Africa is realising that it needs many more skilled people in what used to be called “the technical trades”.
Sadly, our technical colleges no longer have a good reputation, and there is a misleading attitude that everyone is meant to go to university.
The good news, however, is that all this is changing. Government education authorities are working to revive interest in technical training, and there are moves afoot to re-energise those Further Education Training (FET) colleges that have lagged.
This is also good news for small businesses because there are many technical skills that serve as a good foundation for starting a business of your own.
Take plumbing, for example. The skill is very portable, and is needed everywhere. You need training and experience, but can deliver many basic services without too much investment in equipment.
The market has also grown significantly since 1994. Many new homes have been built with running water, sewage systems and hot water geysers – all needing plumbers to install, repair and maintain them.
So, could you become a plumber? A plumber installs, maintains and repairs water supply systems, pipes and equipment, including hot and cold water supplies, geysers and drainage systems.
As a plumber, you may also have to install bathroom and kitchen equipment (such as baths, sinks, showers and toilets) and repair burst or leaking pipes. Your work could be in homes, offices or in factories.
The jobs you will do daily as a plumber will be varied and often challenging, and you will need different techniques to solve them – at times working under pressure.
You must therefore have the ability to stay calm and clear-headed, and apply problem-solving skills.
Plumbing emergencies such as burst pipes or blocked drains can happen at any time of the day or night, so you must be prepared to be available 24-hours a day. Plumbers are often called out in the evenings and at weekends to help customers.
You are required to pass a trade test in plumbing to work on your own as a plumber.
Before you can do this test, you have to complete a two-year apprenticeship, during which you must pass all 47 practical proficiency training modules at an accredited training college.
Another option is to do a learnership and pass 23 unit standards at an accredited college; this will earn you a national certificate in construction plumbing.
The Construction Education Training Authority (Ceta) is responsible for plumbers’ training schemes in South Africa; the practical part of this training must therefore be supervised by qualified instructors at Ceta-accredited training colleges.
Visit the Institute of Plumbing’s website (www.iopsa.org.za) for information on training opportunities, and to see the list of Ceta-accredited training agencies. Or,call them on 011 477 4563.
There are various “segments” to the market that you can serve. It will depend on the type of plumbing in which you specialise.
For example, you could offer a basic domestic service – repairing and maintaining leaky taps, burst pipes and blocked drains.
Or you might offer more of a “wet” plumbing service for both domestic and commercial customers, where you specialise in installing hot and cold water pipes, basins, toilets, baths and showers.
There is always a demand for repair work to fix burst pipes, both in homes and offices. Customers normally need this service in a hurry, which often means that you can charge a premium rate.
Property renovators are potential customers, as they often need to fit new bathrooms or kitchen equipment, or replace old water pipes. They look for a plumber who works quickly and tidily, and who can give advice on which equipment is most suitable.
Property developers and building firms regularly need plumbers to install and maintain water pipes and fittings.
Landlords and residential letting agencies often get complaints from their tenants about plumbing problems; you’ll get steady work from these customers if you can solve problems at a reasonable price without involving the landlord (especially after hours).
Businesses that deal with the public, such as restaurants and pubs, cannot afford to be without running water, and will look for a plumber who is available at all hours.
- Go to www.cobwebinfo.co.za for more guides and articles by Paul Crankshaw.