On #WorldPlumbingDay, SNIPEF will talk to business owner Michael Cairns from Celsius Plumbing and Heating about what life is like as a plumbing professional:
As plumbing and heating professionals around the world prepare to celebrate World Installation Day today (March 11), the Covid pandemic has clearly underscored their importance as critical workers on the public health and safety front.
While World Installation Day 2010 was opened to highlight the connection between quality installation and health, ecological sustainability and economic prosperity, the past year also showed the decisive contribution of sanitary technology to clean water and sanitary systems.
SNIPEF, the employers’ association for plumbers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, recognizes how PPE-clad engineers and plumbing professionals have managed the pandemic and put themselves at risk of keeping the taps running and turning on the heaters.
Here, SNIPEF highlights one of the heroes of the industry and asks what it takes to make such an important contribution in an increasingly critical sector:
How long have you been a plumber and how did you start?
I started spending my time in 2003 and unfortunately I was just qualifying when the 2007-08 financial crisis hit. I was laid off so circumstances really dictated that I should try and start my own business. I hired my brother as an apprentice and he now trains people himself and takes them further.
There was of course a lot of uncertainty in the economy when we started – pretty much what it is now. But in many other ways it was different days. The technology for the self employed was much less developed and we had to learn all about the business itself.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I’m not really into the tools these days, but I still mix in as needed, which I really enjoy. Our “ready to sweep floors” corporate value means that regardless of your position in the company, everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I’ve worked very hard over the past four or five years building a business that can work without my constant involvement. I want to work on business rather than business. So I’ve invested a lot in setting up systems and processes, which is quite unusual for a trade-based company. I didn’t want Celsius to be too dependent on me. What I enjoy most at the moment is dealing with internal processes, how we automate and how we use technology.
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What is the greatest challenge in your job?
Very early on in the pandemic, we realized that despite people’s low level of trust, we still needed to have access to their homes and jobs. But we only carried out essential work, and everything unimportant had to be put in a work jam. This was quite difficult as we are a reactive company – work comes in, we do it, and we do the accounting. Once we got out of the first lock we were very busy cleaning up the backlog and once we get out of this we will use the lessons we learned to catch up on the work we had to postpone.
How has the pandemic changed your everyday life?
Safety is always the top priority, but over the past year we have made it a point to make our customers and our team feel safe. At the beginning of last year we created a Covid Response video that our customers will be informed when our engineers are on their way to them, so that they know what to expect. We need to go into the homes of many elderly people, and it is important that they feel safe and confident in us. I’m super proud of the team – you just have to look at our reviews.
Did you make any changes during the pandemic that you will continue to do?
We knew cash flow was going to take a hit because we could only do essential work. One solution that we implemented that was really successful is that we now prepay for the work. It is not normal in trade. It shows a remarkable level of trust from our customers who have been very supportive of our situation. We will do the same after Covid.
Did you do anything to help during this difficult time?
As key workers, we managed to keep most of the team full-time, but when people were on leave we felt it was very important to keep in touch with them to make sure they could handle it. Traders are naturally busy and suddenly they were confined to the house overnight doing nothing.
We wanted to let them know they weren’t forgotten, and in addition to the Zoom meetings, we’ve set up a Friday check-in. We all know isolated mental health has been a major issue over the past year, and the team’s feedback has shown that our efforts have been very helpful.
International Women’s Day is just over. How do you help women in the industry?
Women are valued members of the team. They are an integral part of our organization and we couldn’t do without them. We currently have three with us: Monique is an engineer who specializes in water and legionella testing and certification. Ailsa, a senior maintenance coordinator; and Ailie, who started out as a junior administrator apprentice and is now a maintenance coordinator. We have a blog on our website about their contribution.
What advice do you have for people starting out or considering becoming plumbers?
For a small company, we try to do our part for trainees. In the 14 years that we have been on the road, we have helped 10 young people and will continue to be ambassadors for apprenticeships.
Of course we can’t hire every applicant, but when young people approach us we always get in touch and advise them on what they could do to find an employer. We’ll have an apprentice page on our website that we can direct people to and other people in the industry can send applicants there.
We encourage prospective trainees to set up a LinkedIn page – it’s free and connects you with people in the industry. You should be aware that four years can seem like a long time and like hard work, but once qualified you have an ability for life. A qualified plumbing and heating engineer should never be unemployed.
What was the benefit of being a SNIPEF member?
Credibility, in a word. The SNIPEF team is always on hand to answer any tough questions and the support from the trainees is top notch. When we first started hiring people, SNIPEF advisors were able to guide us in areas like contracts and labor law. We wish we had joined sooner.
Michael Cairns, Managing Director, Celsius Plumbing and Heating, Edinburgh
Celsius Plumbing and Heating employs 17 people, including two trainees, the second of whom only qualified last month.
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