It was 1903. It featured all the latest plumbing technology. It was a “Model House”, and it has piqued Master Plumbers heritage curator Peter...
A gradual gender shift in plumbing is happening thanks to the Women in Plumbing initiative and to many individual plumbers and plumbing businesses who have taken intentional action over the years. Kate Jones meets three pre-apprentice plumbers assisted by the initiative.
Master Plumbers and Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria’s $1.2 million, Women in Plumbing initiative launched in November 2021. Backed by the Victorian Government’s Apprenticeship Victoria program, the initiative aims to increase gender diversity in the trade by supporting more women to become plumbers.
Already, a wave of women of all ages and from a range of backgrounds have taken up the opportunity to do a paid Certificate II in Plumbing (pre-apprenticeship). These ‘pre-apps’ are a hands-on way for those interested in plumbing to discover for themselves what is involved in the trade. Pre-app students receive ongoing mentoring support and weekly work experience.
Three of them - Liv Torre, Alexis Ballad and Hayley Bransden - have explained why they chose to give plumbing a go and how their experience has been so far.
Finally, a career that’s just right
High-school careers advisors told Liv Torre she would be perfect for a career in sciences or law. After graduating, she studied nursing at university, but realised it wasn’t for her. Liv switched to a teaching degree, but it wasn’t the right fit. She felt at a loss.
“I got to a point where I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Liv said.
“My partner, who is an apprentice, and my dad… were both saying, ‘You love hands-on’.
“They told me to look into an apprenticeship, like a trade. And that was the first time anyone had suggested that to me.”
Liv narrowed her trade options to plumbing and started her pre-app at Swinburne Croydon in late 2021, doing one day a week of work experience at Cooke and Dowsett.
“When I first started, I was really nervous,” she said. “I was a girl going into a male-dominated industry. I wasn’t sure how people were going to react or how I would be treated.
“But I’m pretty confident… I found my groove; I loved it and still do.”
The variety of work proved to be the biggest attraction for Liv, who started her apprenticeship in May. “Plumbing is not one repetitive thing; there are so many specialisations,” she said.
“I’m very excited and very happy I found something I enjoy.”
Plans to build an empire
When Alexis Ballad started plumbing, it wasn’t at all what she expected. Plumbing wasn’t her first choice; she initially had her eye on construction. But when it got down to it, she found construction work wasn’t nearly as fun as plumbing.
“I thought I’d give plumbing a go and the next thing I know I’m starting my Cert III,” she said.
“I thought it was just like fixing toilets and stuff. But when I did my Cert II, it was so much more than that.”
Alexis studied at Victoria University Polytechnic and did work experience with Axis Maintenance Services. She said watching other plumbers at work - mainly men - had inspired her to one day set up a plumbing business of her own.
“I’m actually very proud because I can do things that guys can do, maybe even better,” Alexis said.
“One day I want to start my own business. I want to start my own empire!”
Alexis urged other women interested in the trade to try it out, because like her, they might find plumbing proves to be “a life-changer”.
When everything falls into place
Mother-of-four Hayley Bransden has successfully tackled numerous careers - hospitality, property management and even a stint as a butcher. However, none of them gave her scope to truly advance.
“I thought, ‘I need a career because the kids will get older and I need something I can grow into, not to be doing the same thing, earning the same wage’. And that is why Hayley chose plumbing.
Juggling childcare requirements meant Hayley waited six months to begin her pre-app. Finally, when everything fell into place, she started studying at Holmesglen TAFE and doing work experience at Mitchell Plumbing, based at Monash University.
“I actually thought a lot of boys had a lot more skills with tools simply because they were boys, that it was naturally their thing,” she said.
“But once I got in there, I realised I was kicking arse!”
The diversity of plumbing work at a university has showed Hayley just how variable daily plumbing tasks can be.
“They do residential properties on and off campus, big commercial buildings, plant rooms and roofing.
“It’s shown me how many different options I can take, which is really good because I’m not sure where I want to go yet. There are so many streams of plumbing, so there are opportunities everywhere.”
For information on applications, visit womeninplumbing.com.au