How To Become a Trade Qualified Plumber in Australia
By Daniel Green
From as far back as we can figure, humanity has needed a way to move water and waste. The earliest recorded irrigation program involved diverting water from the annual flooding of the River Nile out to nearby pastures through hand dug trenches in 6000BCE. Prior to that it is believed the humble bucket of water did the job.
Buckets aside, those early irrigation specialists did wonders with what they had. No pipe shears, no blue glue, not even Snap Chat! How did they ever get anything done!
All jokes aside the modern world is a complex one that sometimes requires complex solutions to complex problems. And when some of those problems are underground, you can thank your lucky stars that in the lucky country our plumbers are pretty well trained individuals indeed.
But before we get too excited, lets dig down into the foundations of this old school trade.
What Is Plumbing?
Plumbing is a system that uses pipes, water tanks, plumbing fixtures, valves and other equipment to transport fluids and gases for several applications such as heating and cooling, removal of waste, and potable delivery of water.
What Does A Plumber Do?
These are the licensed, qualified, trained professionals who ensure proper installation, repair and maintenance of all system components responsible for moving liquids and gases. But it’s so much more than that. Plumbers can lay new work or repair existing. They can modify, maintain or remove. They can be generalists or specialists.
In Australia there’s six main plumbing specialties.
- Roof plumbers
- Drainage plumbers
- Irrigation plumbers
- Fire Suppression plumbers
Plumbers specialise in water delivery, sanitary plumbing and sewerage. They generally do not do drainage, gas or roof plumbing. The bulk of their work consists of installing cold and hot water supply, the collection or movement of sewage & liquid trade waste. These are considered generalist plumbers who have a good overview of all manner of plumbing but do not specialise. They fit suspended drains, waste pipes and sanitary fixtures that includes washbasins, sinks, and toilets.
Roofing plumbers have expertise in the conveyance of water and waste in a roofing environment. They construct and install skylights, rainwater products, roof vents, metal roofing, downpipes, flashing, and gutters on industrial, commercial, and residential buildings.
Drainage plumbers work primarily in getting the waste, effluent or overflow of liquid into sewerage systems. They fit sewage systems, holding wells, septic tanks, absorption tracks, and sludge pits. They also clean and overhaul underground drains.
Gasfitting is the field that deals with the safe flow of flammable gasses to, from and throughout buildings. These plumbers mount and check CNG/LPG and natural gas fittings, lines, cooktops, and heaters in residential and commercial structures.
Irrigation is the installation, repair and maintenance of systems that help bring water from a source to crops to be farmed. They mount and/or restore irrigation lines, large watering systems, and ensure a reliable water program.
Fire plumbers specialise in the delivery of water and fire suppressants to key areas during a fire. They fix fire protection system that comprises fittings, water pipes, fire hose reels and fire hydrants. This also includes pumping facilities and water storage systems for extinguishing fire in and around the property.
What Does A Plumber Get Paid?
Like everything, that depends. A reputable, presentable plumbing contractor with a steady flow of clients, low cost solutions, lasting work and good communications skills can make $150k a year. A FIFO plumber on a mine site can make $180k a year. A junior in a small business can make $60k a year. Often, your pay rate will be dictated by you and your work ethic.
What Duties Are Expected of Plumbers?
It depends on their specialisation. Many of these duties are:
- The upkeep of existing plumbing systems;
- Reading and understanding contraction blueprints and component schematics;
- Keeping abreast of the regulations around plumbing standards;
- Replacing or repairing nonfunctioning system components;
- Installing gas, sewerage, drainage and supply pipes and fittings;
- Install hot and cold water systems, pressure regulating devices and gas-fed appliances;
- Install water heaters, boilers, solar water heaters, chillers, water tanks and all associated componentry;
- Installing sinks, washbasins and toilets;
- Measure, mark and cut pipes, tubes and fittings;
- Bend and manipulate pipes, tubes and fittings;
- Metal solder and weld pipes, tubes and fittings;
- Operate manual and power tools, heavy machinery and specialist equipment;
- Work to federal standards and specifications;
- Test plumbing systems and fault find;
- Design and install sanitary water supply systems, plumbing systems, sanitary fixtures, and discharge pipes;
- Construct and fit metal roofing, disposal systems, soil, rainwater goods, fire hydrants, and fire sprinkler systems.
What Personal Qualities Do Plumbers Have?
Many skills will be taught during the plumbing apprenticeship, however, already having the correct temperament can help. Here are the top qualities and traits that are highly desirable in a plumbing professional:
- Analytical mind
- Optimistic towards problem-solving
- Effective communication
- Physical strength to handle a variety of heavy equipment and machinery
- Quick and efficient at making decisions
- Great troubleshooting
- Readiness to work in a challenging environment
- A solution-oriented approach
- Strong people and client servicing skills
- Time management
- An interest in doing practical work
- Comfortable working independently, at heights, and in unpleasant weather conditions
- Good hand-eye coordination
- Able to perform well under pressure
- Good mobility
How Do I Become A Plumber?
In Australia you will need to have four years of training called an apprenticeship. This is the program whereby you work alongside qualified plumbers who pass down their knowledge to you. Finding the right business to train with will determine how much you may earn later in your career.
Alongside working on site physically doing the job of plumbing, apprentices go to TAFE once a month for pumping theory as well as periodic quality control checks. This ensures they are receiving training to a federal standard.
Throughout the training, apprentices are required to pass both theory and practical tests. If the apprentice is not successful then they cannot practice as a qualified plumber, limiting their career choices and earning potential. Apprentices who do pass the exams can go on to become trade qualified plumbers and eventually apprentice trainers themselves.
What Happens After My Apprenticeship?
First of all – congratulations! Completing an apprenticeship can be hard work with many long hours combined with the frustrations of learning. But now you’re done!
You will need to get licensed. This involves sending your apprenticeship papers to the state government so they can issue you a license similar to your driving license. Maintaining a current license is required for you to perform any type of plumbing work. Your plumbing license needs to be renewed every five years.
So there you have it! What to expect if you plan on going down the plumbing apprentice route.
We Get It Plumbed!