What Makes a Good Plumber?

Scotsman Shaun Scott is 2016 UK Plumber of the Year. The 25-year-old is an accredited WaterSafe plumber through the SNIPEF scheme. Here he explains why the judges in the competition backed his style of plumbing and why it’s so important to keep standards high.

What Makes a Good Plumber?

“There hasn’t been a job I have done where I’m not welcome back”

What set you on the journey to becoming a plumber?

I’ve been plumbing since I was knee high to a grasshopper. It was during my 5th year at school that I realised I wanted a hands on job, as well as one that could push me mentally, so I decided to leave school and work with my father (Derek Scott) doing a job I had grown very fond of during school holidays, rather than go to university. The teachers at school accused me of taking the easy way out, but I knew plumbing was an incredible industry that I could travel far in. My father said no one should ever stop you from following your dreams. That was nine years ago and I’ve never looked back.

How did you train?

I learnt my trade inside out by working alongside my father and at college with Tullos Training in Aberdeen, where I did a NVQ Level 3 qualification over three years. I won various awards, including apprentice of the year three years in a row, and finished fourth at Skill Plumb in Scotland. I knew a bit before I started so I had a wee head start.

What’s the day job like?

Every day is so different. One day we can be in the middle of the countryside up to our necks in mud repairing a burst water pipe or the next in the centre of Aberdeen installing a bathroom! Our work varies from new houses and extensions to repairing anything from tap washers to 250kw heating systems, maintaining and installing water filtering, storage and booster pumps and everything in-between.

What makes you and your father’s firm stand out?

My father and I have worked long hours in all weathers to establish our reputation. We never advertise and all our work comes from word of mouth. In the small community we work in word gets around fast about who is good and who is bad. I always deliver jobs of the highest standard and will not settle until I’ve achieved this. I enjoy my work and don't think twice about going the extra mile.

Do you think apprenticeships are important?

As my role in the company grew, so did my responsibilities and I’ve trained a number of apprentices over the years. My current apprentice has just been named SNIPEF Apprentice of the Year at his college. I think it’s really important to bring good training to the industry and offer young people opportunities for employment and skills learning.

What’s the most important part of your job?

In our business it’s so important to have great customer relations. I carry a hoover in my van to clean up after the work is finished and it’s the little things like this that customers appreciate. I always try and help people out the best I can. On occasions when the job is small I won’t charge, as this builds up a loyalty for future work and the recommendation is worth more than my time to resolve the problem.

I’m always on the phone offering advice to customers looking for guidance on their job, even if it’s not plumbing related! Recently on a Saturday afternoon I Installed an elderly customer’s home phone after she had given up. It took me 30 minutes and the delight on her face was enough payment. There hasn't been a job I haven’t done where I am not welcome back. I always try to keep my customers happy. Often we price jobs and we are not the cheapest but they know they will get a first class job.

The job you’re most proud of?

Although I’ve carried out many projects I’m proud of, from a 100KW biomass system in 2-inch steel pipe, linking a boiler, wood burning stoves and solar panels together via a thermal store, to my daily duties of plumbing repairs while having a laugh with the older generation.

My current favourite would be a bathroom I recently completed. What made it stand out was the fact the bath stood in the middle of the bathroom and was fitted in that very spot in 1925. The bath’s enamel had gone and the 90-year-old trap was leaking. The family had been told it was impossible to restore and wasn’t worth the hassle but, having done similar work for the National Trust previously, I was able to safely remove the bath for it to be re-enamelled and put in new pipework. The best bit was the look on the owner’s face and his wife as they explored the new bathroom. It made all the difficult and challenging problems worthwhile and reminded me of why I love the job so much.

What about the role of accreditation bodies like WaterSafe?

It’s massively important to be properly qualified and for customers to be able to see that. It’s the people who aren’t qualified who give tradesmen a bad name and then people mistrust the industry. It’s easy for someone who is not qualified to cause lot of damage if they bodge a job – they can flood a house and cause thousands of pounds worth of damage. It makes such sense to have a scheme like Watersafe where people can go to find a recommended plumber.

And when you’re not plumbing?

In my spare time, I’m an active member of my local Young Farmer’s Club, which raises a lot of money for local charities; I play football and enjoy tug of war. I also have a passion for restoration, including vintage tractors, and my wife’s father’s 40-year-old butchers bike!

What does the future hold?

In the next 5 to 10 years, I believe technology will play a huge part and plumbers and plumbing will need to adapt to take advantage of it. We’re already seeing technology interfaces to the home from tablets and mobile phones and this will become mainstream.

This new level of technology may require a higher level of training for plumbers, maybe including university education and a degree. This advance learning would supplement the apprenticeships that support the essential practical skills development that have shaped our industry to date.

“Even though it requires long hours as well as brain and brawn power I honestly couldn't see myself doing anything else!”

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