By Alan Apted, Stuff/Manukau Courier

In an age where the growing shortage of plumbers has industry leaders sounding the alarm, Hera Eruera burns as bright as the flame from her welding torch.

Eruera, 22, is the only female in a group of 16 apprentices at the Manukau Institute of Technology’s School of Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying and she is loving it.

“In my mind, plumbing was all about toilets. But I’ve since discovered it’s a lot more than that.”

“I love everything the trade offers, especially the variety.”

“There is gas fitting, the welding, working with sheet metal, working on roofs, drainlaying, working with hot and cold water systems. I have a far better understanding of what’s involved now and I love it.”

The former Māngere College student says it was her tutor and welder with 30 years experience John McDonald who opened her eyes to the world of plumbing and the financial security that qualified plumbers enjoy.

 

MIT tutor John McDonald with MPTT Plumbing trainee Hera Eruera
Experienced welder and MIT tutor John McDonald has played a pivotal role in building Hera’s confidence, passion and skillset. Photo: Alan Apted

Industry figures show that newly qualified plumbers earn around $50,000 a year. Experienced, certifying plumbers can earn more than $75,000 while experienced self-employed plumbers earn between $80,000 and $100,000 a year or even more.

New Zealand needs around 60,000 tradespeople over the next five years, according to Master Plumbers. It says there is a major shortage of skilled plumbers, especially in Auckland.

“The plumbing workforce needs to grow by nearly 40% by 2021 to keep up with current demand,” Master Plumbers’ chief executive Greg Wallace said. “The current shortage of plumbers means that the career prospects for all plumbers are excellent.”

“Plumbers are in high demand, and there is a certain level of job security which other career paths cannot offer.”

Women like Eruera is what Women in Trades NZ is after. They have had more than 100 women including 77 school girls attended an open day in Auckland recently.

“Women represent less than 3% of tradespeople so there is a big opportunity to increase the workforce through diversifying the traditionally male dominated trades role. However, research and feedback from employers has found that despite the active targeting of women through female specific scholarships and apprentice awards there is limited uptake,” a spokeswoman said.

For Eruera, who is training under a scholarship from Māori and Pasifika Trades Training: Auckland, she will be breaking through other obstacles.

 

Plumbing trainee Hera Eruera
Plumbing trainee Hera Eruera works on her brazing skills. Photo: Alan Apted

 

“I will be the first tradie in my family,” she vows.

“I’m a CYFs (Child, Youth and Family) child, given up when I was young – although I was reunited with my mum and dad later in life. We depended on welfare and there was lots of alcohol and drugs.”

She says the things that matter most to her now are financial security and being a good example to her children.

“I also know that once I qualify I’ll never be unemployed,” Eruera said.

“My tutor John McDonald convinced me of this. It’s why I’m here.”

“I see myself owning my own business one day, even becoming a tutor like John. It will be a way of giving back.”

* This article was originally published in the Manukau Courier and on stuff.co.nz

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