Want to do hands-on work outdoors and get paid well for it? As Sam Fihaki has found during his training, plumbing is one trade that fits the bill. Find out how the 18-year-old is learning valuable skills that are already proving to be in hot demand.

Sam Fihaki knew plumbing skills were in demand – but he didn’t expect to be peppered with job requests from family members before he’d even finished his training.

“It’s pretty funny when people in my family say, ‘Oh, our toilet is blocked, can you come and fix it? We’ll pay you’. But I’m not a plumber yet. I haven’t even finished my first year!”

Sam is soon to complete his pre-trades course at Unitec and has his sights set on an apprenticeship.

“I want to get some life and work experience under my belt, and I thought learning a trade would be a good way to do that.”

Taking the plunge

Plumbing might have an unglamorous reputation but, as Sam has found, the trade involves a lot more than unblocking clogged pipes.

“People think plumbing’s just working under the kitchen sink or fixing your toilet and stuff. But there’s heaps of different things involved. I really enjoy gasfitting and drainlaying.”

Sam Fihaki, Plumbing trainee
Sam at MPTTs Whanaungatanga Day at the start of his studies

Part of the appeal for Sam is getting to do a variety of hands-on work every day.

“There’s a lot of physical work and you’re outdoors – it’s a cool job. And it’s a different job every day. You’re not stuck in an office. Every day’s a new day – you never know what to expect.”

Issac Liava’a from Skills, which provides plumbing apprenticeships and industry training, says plumbing involves a wide range of skills that are in demand.

“Plumbers don’t spend as much time working with toilets as people think. There’s a lot more to the job.

“Plumbers and gasfitters work with all the systems that supply water and gas or remove waste. So they need to know how pipes and drains work, understand building regulations and know how to identify different sources of water.”

Cash flow

Issac says plumbers have important skills that help ensure all Kiwis have clean drinking water, and that waste is taken away safely from homes.

“Unless it’s scheduled installation or maintenance, plumbing jobs are often urgent. That means plumbers tend to be in demand and can charge a good amount for their skills. Even for scheduled jobs, every task involving water, gas and waste systems is important work that needs to be done right.”

Sam says he was surprised – in a good way – to discover what he could earn once he’s qualified.

“The pay’s really good. There’s a lack of skilled people in the plumbing industry, so they’re in demand.”

“People think because plumbers deal with things like sanitary, it’s not well paid. But that’s one reason why the pay is so high – because not many people want to deal with that kind of stuff.”

Knowledge on tap

Sam, whose mother is from Rewa in Fiji and whose father is from Lau, also in Fiji, qualified for an MPTT scholarship to pay for his fees and provide ongoing coaching.

He is due to finish his pre-trades course in August and is enjoying the projects he’s working on.

“We’ve been doing a lot of practical work lately. At the moment we’re working on a hot water cylinder assignment, which is a pretty big job.”

Being one of the youngest in his course, Sam often asks for advice and insights from more experienced trainees.

“Some of the older guys have done plumbing before. So we ask them questions about what it’s like in the industry and what the work hours and pay are like – just trying to get our head around the fundamentals of the job.”

Piping up

When Sam finishes his course next month, he hopes to move into paid work as soon as possible. To start with, he’s been asking his contacts if they know anyone who’s looking for an employee.

“I know a guy who knows a lot of plumbers, and some of them have asked him if he knows anyone – so he’s recommending me to them.”

Further down the track, with more life and work experience in his toolbelt, Sam would like to join the police force.

Sam Fihaki
Sam working on a community project as part of the MPTT programme

“Ever since I was little I’ve had this thing where I wanted to help out the community. I’ve had a lot of support to do it – like my dad’s brother’s a cop, my best friend’s dad’s a cop, my mum’s best friend’s husband’s a cop. There’s quite a lot of people who’ve said I’d make a good cop.”

But for now, he’s focused on finishing his training and fine-tuning his plumbing skills.

Thinking of training to be a plumber and gasfitter? Find out more here.

What you can learn from Sam
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help. When Sam meets someone with plumbing experience, he asks them what the industry is like. He’s also asking his contacts to help him find work after his pre-trade course. Remember, most people enjoy giving advice and will be happy to help. Don’t know any tradespeople yet? Start by asking your MPTT navigator whether they know of any jobs that might be right for you.