Auckland facing new homes without running water

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A qualified accountant recently gave up his job to become a plumber. Why? Because he was tired of sitting behind a desk doing the same work, day in day out.

This says a great deal about the attraction of a plumbing career for those who really understand what the business is about.

Forget the stereotype of a plumber in dirty overalls dealing with clogged drains and blocked toilets — thanks to modern equipment, this kind of work takes up no more than 1% of a plumber’s time.

Today’s career path offers diverse opportunities, ranging from job estimating and project management to hydraulic system design.

Yet, despite the additional lure of good pay rates and job security, qualified plumbers are in desperately short supply.

In 2015, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) estimated that Auckland alone needed 600 more plumbers. We believe that number has since increased by 30%.

If the Government’s new housing targets are met, we simply don’t have enough plumbers to ensure they will all have running water when built.

The shortage of plumbers is not just a problem in the main centres, with Auckland’s housing demands, the ongoing Christchurch rebuild and post-quake work in Wellington.

It is an issue all over the country, from Northland to Invercargill. New Zealand has 8800 certified plumbers, but it needs 2000 more.

At Master Plumbers, I’ve had calls from consumers complaining about having to wait three months to get a plumber to work on their new build — and I can absolutely appreciate their frustration.

Similarly, those adding value to their existing home by refurbishing bathrooms, adding ensuites and upgrading kitchens are discovering that the shortage of plumbers has reached crisis point.

In March, World Plumbing Day celebrated and promoted the role of plumbers in providing access to a healthy and safe water supply — something most of us take for granted.

But it is timely to speak out about the demand for plumbers in New Zealand, and take action to address the critical shortage.

So, what are the solutions?

We can’t just go offshore to find skilled migrants, as some other industries do. New Zealand recognises only Australian plumbing qualifications, which means plumbers from all other countries must undergo further training before being authorised to work here.

At Master Plumbers, we believe there are two solutions. The first is to attract young people to plumbing as a viable career option.

There are currently just over 1900 people at different stages of plumbing apprenticeships, compared with more than 4000 apprentices in the electrical industry.

For the school leaver, plumbing is a future-proof career that will never be replaced by technology or robots. Apprentices earn throughout their training and don’t end up with crippling student loans.

Better still, they can be running their own business by the age of 25, with a charge-out rate of $100 an hour.

If, as a consumer, you question that, consider the six years it takes a plumber to become fully certified.

The second solution is to provide funding to assist employers that take on apprentices.

We would like to see a revitalised version of the Government’s Apprenticeship Reboot scheme, which was in place until 2014.

This provided $2000 each to the employer and the apprentice, but we want to see the full amount paid to the employer to ensure it is spent on training and tools.

Were this scheme to return, Master Plumbers would match the funding for plumbing firms taking on apprentices through our Masterlink programme to further assist them with the costs involved.