Tapping into a new career
Belinda Imhof completed an apprenticeship in her 40s, ditching office admin work for a hands-on plumbing career.
I had been in office admin work since I left school over 15 years ago, so I was keen on a career change from an indoor environment to something more hands-on outdoors. Plumbing is not new to me; I have a twin brother who is a plumber and my husband is also a plumber. It was not unusual for me to help out on work sites labouring here and there, and when the opportunity to become an apprentice plumber came along, I signed up. I am pleased I became an apprentice as I have really enjoyed learning this trade.
My favourite aspect of my trade is definitely the variety of work that a plumber is responsible for every day. There is no typical day for me in plumbing as I undertake such a large variety of jobs. One day I might be on the vacuum truck locating services, another day I can be replacing old sluice valves on water mains which means I get to do a little digging with a small excavator. Some days I'm busy with maintenance plumbing such as servicing taps, unblocking house drains and replacing cisterns and toilet pans. Occasionally, I will have an underfloor to install or hot and cold services to install in new housing. Recently, I have been involved in installing irrigation systems for both domestic and commercial premises.
The plumbing industry provides a great deal of job satisfaction. I enjoy the hands-on skill required to do the work, I like the appreciation expressed by customers, and I like the feeling at the end of the day of doing an honest day's work. I also like the independence my trade skills have given me to be able to fix things or make improvements to my own home.
This industry also offers opportunities to specialise in particular areas. For example, you may choose to specialise in gas fitting or you can get into hydraulic design or specialise in plumbing inspection and compliances. A plumbing trade certificate can definitely open up doors and opportunities, such as working on drill rigs and cruise ships or even in Antarctica on a research or weather station. Basically, anywhere there are people, plumbers will be required.
My TAFE Queensland training was a valuable experience. I live in Cloncurry which is around eight hours drive one way from the training campus in Townsville, so it was important that I could learn remotely. I was fortunate to complete the theory component of most of my training from home. This flexibility meant I could undertake online training during the day and still perform my mum duties with my two sons in the evening. It was also a benefit from a cost-saving perspective, as I didn't have to constantly travel to campus and pay for accommodation and other expenses.
During my training blocks on campus, I was able to socialise with other plumbing apprentices. Living in a remote area, this was my only opportunity to mingle with these like-minded people. Having a social connection with other apprentices was a really important part of my training as we were all able to share stories about plumbing and bring different knowledge and experience to the table.
My teachers at TAFE Queensland were fantastic. They were approachable, friendly and professional right from the start and I developed a good teacher-student relationship with them. Given I was completing part of my blocks online from home, my teachers were only a phone call away and I would ring them if I was stuck on something or needed clarification. I found my teachers to be very knowledgeable and they often shared their own experiences in plumbing to provide an all-round positive learning experience. As a female learning a trade, the classroom was obviously dominated by males - and not too many in my age bracket either - but I never felt any different. I was there to learn plumbing and my teachers were there to teach me. I felt as supported as anybody else in the room.
My advice to a girl or woman considering a trade career is to go for it. The support is there, it’s possible. Don’t be your worst enemy by putting obstacles in your way. A trade is a choice that allows you to keep earning while you are learning. A trade certificate is four years of your life that results in a lifetime qualification that can take you in any direction or place you choose. There really are benefits in a trade career and you will get out of it what you are willing to put into it. So go for it!