Water off a plumber's back
Andrew Evans reflects on a career of unexpected bends in the pipe and the positive outcomes he’s had by learning to go with the flow.
After 25 years of owning his own plumbing business, a spontaneous move from the trade into teaching was easy for Andrew Evans – he just said yes.
“I’d been approached to come and teach but I’d written it off because I didn’t have the qualifications. Actually, I didn’t even know what the qualifications were to be a TAFE teacher!”
With some guidance, Andrew put his head down for 12 months to gain his Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116). He then began teaching his trade at night.
“I ran my business during the day and taught classes at night. Then after about a year I started going out to sites during the day and checking results and competencies.”
“I sort of fell into it and ended up selling my business to one of the blokes I was teaching.”
After 10 years, Andrew says it’s his passion for his students that’s kept him in the job. He reflects that it’s also been a surprise in realising his own skills.
“I used to sit in a room full of plumbers and look around and go, ‘I’m probably the most inexperienced here’. But one of the most surprising things for me to realise is what I have to offer.”
“My experience is broad and substantial; I never specialised into one specific part of plumbing. I think that translates into being able to offer my students a great foundation for their future careers.”
“I was just showing the boys a sand bend the other day and they ask me, ‘what’s a sand bend?’” he grins, “I showed them: you get yourself a packed pipe full of sand, with paper at either end, and you heat it up and bend the pipe and the sand holds its form.”
Why, you might be asking, do apprentice plumbers in North Queensland need to know how to do a sand bend?
“Because out bush you gotta do what you gotta do.” Andrew smiles like he’s got a secret. “If you haven’t got an elbow and you have to get around a corner, what are you going to do?”
“One of the guys said, ‘I’d probably just order one’. But you can’t order one, not out there.” He laughs at the memory. “I’m having fun teaching them how to innovate.”
Andrew himself knows all too well what being an apprentice is like, having completed his training at TAFE Queensland Cairns, the same campus he now teaches at.
“The buildings are all different now, they’ve been upgraded and are just beautiful. But the funny thing is, there’s still a drill press I used as an apprentice, and some of the benders are the same. I walk past them and give ‘em a little rub.”
It’s that little bit of nostalgia that reminds Andrew of why he does what he does.
“I think when you know what it’s like to be an apprentice it sets you up to know how to teach them. I do my absolute best to communicate well with them and explain what’s going on. When they’re out on the job I want them to be able to prove to their bosses that they know what they’re talking about.”
So, does he regret moving from the trade to teaching?
“Not a bit. Of course, there’s challenging days, but you just got to move forward. Like water off a plumber’s back.” He grins again.
“When you teach someone and you see the light come on because they get it, that to me is very, very rewarding. When one of the guys come in and shakes my hand and says ‘thanks, mate, I just got signed off. I couldn’t have done it without you. Now, can you show me how to apply for my licenses?’ That’s my absolute pleasure. I’m really bloody proud of them.”
“At the end of the day, to get to see these guys so keen and excited to get on the job is pretty awesome.”