Andy Baxter was recently announced as the new President of the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC); one of the six member schemes which make up WaterSafe, alongside Anglian Water’s APlus, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers (CIPHE), the Scotland and Northern Ireland Plumbing Federation (SNIPEF), the Water Industry Approved Plumbers Scheme (WIAPS) and Severn Trent’s WaterMark.
Andy describes his new role, his career highlights and predictions for the future of the industry - as well as what it means for APHC to be part of the WaterSafe family.
Can you briefly describe your new role as APHC President?
As this position is relatively new to me it’s a voyage of discovery. My inauguration at the Installer SHOW in Birmingham was surreal, I’m an installer first and foremost so to be there with my family felt like the start of this journey.
I’m already scheduled in to visit colleges and get involved in guiding the next generation of plumbing and heating professionals. It’s exciting, it's a privilege to be the custodian for the next two years.
What are your highlights from your 40-year career?
There’s many, but here’s a few:
1982 - I joined British Gas as an apprentice
2002 - I started teaching at a college
2003 - I taught Yorkshire miners fresh out of the pits to be gas engineers
2012 - I spent a few weeks trouble-shooting a faulty heating system at Sir Alex Ferguson’s house
These experiences show how the industry can put you anywhere.
Did you ever imagine you would run your own business and be President of a trade association?
This has always been inside me; my family were coal merchants for over 100 years (energy suppliers) until the introduction of natural gas in the 60s.
When I was looking for a career, my father simply said anything to do with fuel, as fuel is king, and of course, he was right. I applied for an apprenticeship at British Gas in 1979 and I was off.
I always wanted to work for myself, I think it’s a family trait, so I made the step in 1994 with the help of a £40 per week government allowance - priceless! This industry has given me so much and continues to.
The presidency of the APHC is a great honour, there’s still plenty of work to do within the industry.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Well, it’s not Ground Hog Day anymore that’s for sure! The changes that are now happening with the move to electrification are immense.
I’ve got a great team around me, but I still start the next day the night before. Once we get started for the day, it can go in any direction from planning, trouble shooting, surveys, meetings, calls and emails. Now and then, if an engineer is off its back to basics for me for that day - tin hats and flak jacket on! No two days are the same.
What sets the APHC apart from other industry bodies?
I joined the APHC on the recommendation of my wing commander Richard Perrins.
The upshot of that is we have now integrated many of the offers and advice that the APHC recommend into the business, and it’s made a real difference. Plus, they are always there for advice at the end of the telephone; they have a face and a voice which is great for the industry.
What do you expect to change or improve further during your term?
The APHC is already adapting to the new market. I’m privileged to directly see the efforts of planning for the long term, which is what the industry is trying to do at all levels. Electrification will be at the forefront of that as most installers are now seeing that reflected in the type of work they are completing.
The APHC is at the forefront of the movement and supporting businesses and I’m a part of it.
What challenges and opportunities do you foresee for the industry, in the near and distant future?
We need more education and more help for businesses to make the necessary changes the Government is pushing for. The industry has made these types of conversion changes before with coal to gas, towns’ gas to natural gas, standard to condensing and now electrification.
Of course, we can do this, and the industry can seize the opportunities being created, but help is needed. I’m very excited for the way forward, it’s not going to be easy, and this industry needs help first to help the consumer. That way, we can make a difference for a lower carbon future.
What advice would you give to school leavers looking to start a career in plumbing, and those already in the industry?
For those taking their first steps in the industry: find an apprenticeship with employers if you can. In my opinion, this is a great route to you becoming a fully qualified plumber.
If you choose to enrole on a college course instead, try to get a job to run alongside the course to enhance your social skills. This is so important as you’ll need these transferable skills to make the transition into work easier once you finish your course.
And for those already qualified and working in the industry: adapt where you can. With change comes so much opportunity and there’s lots of it on the way.
What does it mean for APHC to be part of the WaterSafe family?
WaterSafe is a national brand, and the WaterSafe accreditation helps us to add to the benefits APHC provides their members and the consumers.
The WaterSafe accreditation provides safety and security; consumers get competent plumbers and plumbers’ businesses stand out as they receive recognition of their professional status.