A tale of three plumbers: a career path for all generations

By College Relations | April 13, 2022

Aspire Plumbing
Gary Whitlock and Dallas Stewart of Aspire Plumbing and Heating

Plumbing and Piping Foundation program coming to OC’s Salmon Arm campus

A trio of plumbers at Aspire Plumbing and Heating may have different years under their belts, but their passion for the career holds strong with each generation.

Dallas Stewart, Gary Whitlock, and Allen Minderlein are all at various stages of their careers but have all relied on post-secondary training at some point to advance their careers in the plumbing industry.

Stewart, the youngest at 23, has just finished the Plumbing and Piping Foundation program at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus. The foundation program prepares students to work in a variety of settings, but he chose early on to pursue service plumbing – undeterred by misconceptions that service is a dirty job.

“It is not as bad as people think; we are more likely to be covered in dirt or cobwebs from crawling under places than anything gross,” Stewart explained, adding that he also saw a giant opportunity. “I knew if no one else was going into service, I would have a lot of choices. I was able to take my time and find the right fit. I could not be happier having found Aspire.”

With wages going from $21 to $35 in four years, if Stewart pursues his own journeyperson ticket, he can afford a comfortable living in the community he was born and raised in. Minderlein has done everything from service to new construction, renovations, commercial, and being a supervisor on large sites. “You can have as many careers as you want as a journeyperson – they prepare you for everything.”

Whitlock said the benefit of the profession is not just the wages. There is the opportunity to start your own business. “That’s the other side I am mentoring Dallas on. He sits in on meetings with the product reps and we teach him the breakdown of the bill. We’re transparent about what our costs are: fuel, product, time. That way if he does want to run his own business, he knows how it works.”

Whitlock started plumbing as a second career when a fellow firefighter took him on as an apprentice. He started Aspire in 2019 with his partner Tanya, and when it came time to add someone to their crew, Whitlock specifically went looking for someone that had completed the foundation program.

“It’s nice for them to come in with the basic skill set and then mold them to how we do things,” Whitlock says. “We have specific ways of doing things to keep up to the standard of service we want to deliver, especially over the last two years of the pandemic. It saves me time if I can teach someone the right way the first time instead of correcting bad habits.”

“The other thing that the foundation program does is prove to me that someone has the ability and the desire to learn. As service plumbers, school does not end for us. We are constantly learning as products change and we come across something different every day. It’s very common for us to send Dallas home with homework. If we’re doing a pump the next day, he needs to study the manual before.”

When asked about what they liked about service plumbing, the common denominator seemed to be an appetite for problem-solving and the opportunity to do something different every shift.

“Gary’s mantra is people know they have a problem, they’re trusting us to find the solution that works for them,” Stewart says. “It’s cool to watch these two bounce ideas off each other and use their combined experience to come up with the best strategy.”

“The solution is never the same, you’re dealing with different products, different budgets, work that’s been done by other people,” says Whitlock. “We have to be able to make a customer feel like they’ve gotten real value because we’re not cheap. Especially with rising fuel and product costs, communicating that to clients has become more important.”

“The journeyman-apprentice relationship is a bit like parenting,” he adds, “it’s striking that balance between giving them space to make mistakes but also making sure they get it right the next time.”

The Plumbing and Piping Foundation program is coming to Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus July 25. Spaces are still available. Visit www.okanagan.bc.ca/mbt for information.

Tags: Trades, Salmon Arm



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