Real Lives - A prized perfectionist

Wednesday 20th of March 2019
apprenticeships plumbing gasfitting drainlaying

Patrick Smith’s plumbing career began with a chance conversation and is now earning him accolades.

While in his final year at school, Patrick Smith got chatting to the plumber during a kitchen renovation at the family home. After a few conversations, he realised he’d stumbled across something that really interested him. “I knew nothing about the industry, but I had always wanted to do something ‘hands-on’, so I decided to give it a go,” he says.

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After finishing college, Patrick began a plumbing pre-trade certificate at Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) and, as part of his study requirements, began unpaid work at CF Reese Plumbing in Hamilton one day a week, increasing to two days a week as his studies progressed.

A disciplined student with a good study ethic, Patrick enjoyed learning on the job. “Wintec balances the study with practical experience, so you aren’t snowed under. The workbooks were pretty straightforward, and it was just a matter of doing them as they came out so as not to get behind. I did the coursework in bulk lots by studying with friends on the course. That helped to keep motivation up.”

Scholarship win

Patrick had almost finished his pre-trade course when he won the 2012 Colin Reese Memorial Scholarship from CF Reese Plumbing at the Gallagher Industry Awards. The scholarship gave him a Masterlink plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying apprenticeship, with all his training fees covered along with a starter set of tools worth $1,000.

Patrick is grateful to have his foot in the door at CF Reese. “It’s a really exciting company to work for because no two days are the same. I’ll be sorting a leaking roof one day, then the next job might be an issue with a septic tank or a freshwater pump, and the day after that I’ll be involved in a bathroom renovation.”

Taking on responsibilities

CF Reese General Manager Dave Morgan says Patrick has always shown a very high level of commitment to his apprenticeship and quickly stood out from his peers due to his openness to learn both in the field and on his block courses. “Patrick demonstrates maturity in his work that is well beyond his years. As a result, he now manages some of our key customers and people always request him. He is also our health and safety staff representative and leads the way with his dedication towards our health and safety programme.”

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Patrick won the Waikato Master Plumbers Association Personal Growth & Development Award in 2017

Patrick has worked on a few large projects in Hamilton, including a contract to do a block of shops, food stores and six apartments, which took around 12 months to complete. “That was my first time doing all the work on my own. It was awesome to see the craftsmanship of the different tradies involved and the progression of the building from start to finish.” He also manages some of CF Reese’s large commercial clients. “For one large client, I look after all plumbing, roofing, drainage and wastewater treatment on-site. I was the only one working on that account for a few years, so that honed my relationship-building skills.”

Passion for the trade

Patrick loves the fact that plumbing is technical and hands-on. “It’s a bit of everything. You’ll do an honest day’s physical labour, but it requires a lot of product and general knowledge, along with the ability to problem solve on your feet.”

He finds it rewarding to reflect on how much he’s learned since he started. “At first I didn’t know how things worked at all, but now I can understand what’s causing issues.”

It hasn’t always been easy; he’s had to learn to manage his time effectively, which was initially challenging for his perfectionist personality. “It’s a fine line between being able to do a good job for the customer and not taking too long.” But, ultimately, he believes his attention to detail makes him good at what he does. “Even if you think people won’t see your work, always do it to a tidy, high standard and clean up after yourself.”

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Dave Morgan, General Manager of CF Reese, and Patrick holding his 2018 Wintec Apprentice of the Year Award

Patrick also credits CF Reese for their incredible culture for learning and for their approach to team-building. “Our General Manager Dave Morgan is so supportive of the apprentices and we have such a talented team. Questions are welcomed and we also now have a former Wintec tutor on board to assist with in-house training and block courses. That’s helpful as I am now learning drainlaying as the final stage of my apprenticeship.”

Bright future ahead

What’s on the cards? Patrick is a young man with a big future ahead of him—particularly since winning the 2018 Wintec Apprentice of the Year Award as a newly qualified plumber and gasfitter.

"The immediate goal is to gain more experience in residential plumbing and I’d also like to specialise in solar heating and pumps. The long-term goal is to start a company of my own but to get there I need as much industry knowledge under my belt as I can.” His manager Dave Morgan agrees, “Patrick is a great example of how a young man can make a successful start to a long career in plumbing; we’re proud to have him on our team.”

Watch this space.

This blog has been adapted from an article by Je t'aime Hayr in NZ Plumber magazine, December 2018/January 2019 issue.