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From Afghanistan to Zululand, plumbing is the answer schoolkids should be looking for

Written by Eamonn Ryan

Learning a trade such as plumbing may be the simplest route for any young person to ultimately run their own business.

Trades such as plumbers, electricians, mechanics and technicians keep our economy running. All these jobs were once considered the cream of occupations, though all over the world they are today seen by many youth as less prestigious among than a university education. They’re hard and sometimes ‘dirty’ work – but the truth is they hold the greater potential to establish one’s own business.

Unclogging someone’s toilet is gross. But many plumbing contractors and small business owners will tell you: they love what they do. There’s fulfilment in it. The trades provide a true value to society, your community, and neighbours.

“The fact is that with the effective unemployment rate in South Africa now above 50%, and the rate form school leavers much, much higher – a generalised university education is not the route for a school leaver to take, because even graduates are not getting jobs” says Brendan Reynolds, executive director of the Institute of Plumbing SA (IOPSA).

“There’s always a need for plumbers – as it is for each of the different trades. As long as there are human beings that drink water and use a toilet, there will be a need for plumbers. Some professions come and go according to fads or technology, and some jobs in the coming years will be taken away by automation – but we will always need plumbers. Furthermore, a good plumber is always in demand, and it is an international job.

Earn while you learn

Earning a two or four year degree at a university is expensive even though any education is money well spent. But trade school is a good alternative to college for individuals that don’t wish to accumulate student debt, or spend three years before they can earn a cent. Apprenticeships allow a youth to earn while they learn. They can typically enter the plumbing industry straight after school (though they should be aware that Grade 10 maths is generally a prerequisite) and begin working at the same time as they\re learning the trade.

“There are recently qualified tradespeople earning more than recently qualified graduates – and without debt, and on top of that had been earning a small stipend throughout their learning process. There’s really good money in the trades. More and more people are coming to see the attraction of a trade, and we see the number of applications increasing all the time.

“What we have seen for the past few decades, is many office jobs being outsourced overseas, taking away opportunities for our schoolkids. The trades cannot be outsourced. Someone in another country can’t remotely unclog your toilet or instal your geyser. You need local talent — these jobs require literal, hands-on work.”

There’s a shortage of almost all tradespeople in South Africa, with most being on the list of jobs that enable people from other countries to come work in South Africa. “We are talking here only of qualified, and high-quality tradespeople,” adds Reynolds.

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