It takes a bit of nerve to give up a the job you've had for 15 years to go it alone, especially just before Christmas, but that's exactly what plumber Richard Dilks did, late last year. And he hasn't regretted a moment.
He'd been feeling like a new challenge for some time, he says, but not because he was unhappy with his employer, a Johnsonville-based plumbing firm.
''I did my apprenticeship with the company, and stayed on - for 15 years,'' Mr Dilks says.
''I was very lucky - we did all kinds of work, from new housing to renovations to maintenance at the zoo and at Wellington pools. We were always busy and it gave me a good grounding in every aspect of the job. And I'm very grateful for that.''
But he felt it was time to stretch himself.
''It got to the point where I needed to move on so I could advance in the job,'' he explains. ''I always knew I had the potential to go out on my own, and knew I'd never forgive myself if I didn't.'' It was a step Mr Dilks knew he couldn't take lightly.
''I was getting well looked after at work,'' he says. ''Plus I have a partner and two young kids, and a mortgage. But I needed to push myself.''
The push has paid off. There were a few set-up costs though - a new van, buying new tools and some of the bigger gear, like oxy-acetylene equipment, that he didn't have, and finding an accountant.
''The paperwork side is all new,'' Mr Dilks says. ''I just used to fill in a job sheet, now it's sorting out suppliers' invoices, clients' invoices and gst returns and taxes.''
It means extra hours, he says, but he's enjoying the challenge and change.
Vortex Plumbing and Gas, the new company, has been very busy since the first day.
''I haven't advertised either,'' Mr Dilks says. ''It's mainly word of mouth - family and friends. If you do a good job then people will recommend you.''
As a qualified plumber, drain layer and gas fitter, Mr Dilks is getting the variety of work he enjoyed in his old job.
''With the three tickets, it never gets boring,'' he says. ''I'm working on some new houses, a couple of renovations, putting in gas fires and I've just replaced an old hot water system with an up-to-date model.
''A lot of people don't understand what plumbing is about,'' he says. ''It's more than fixing blocked drains - there's a broad range of work we do, from roofing maintenance, swimming pools, heating and ventilation to home maintenance, renovations and new builds.'' And there are qualifications necessary for every aspect.
''You don't just leave school and think 'I'll be a plumber' because you didn't pass anything. There are exams to sit and codes to learn - especially because you're dealing with people's health, and the Government keeps an eye on that.''
Keeping people safe is an important aspect of the job. Mr Dilks is passionate about having the right qualifications to do the job.
''If you're getting a plumber in, make sure you see their licence card,'' he advises. ''Rather than reading the sign writing on the van, or picking an ad from the phone book, ask to see the ticket so you know you are getting a qualified plumber/ gas fitter/ drain layer.''
Mr Dilks says unqualified plumbers do more than damage the reputation of the industry.
''The work can be unsafe, and even dangerous, if the guy doesn't know what he's doing.''
The learning never stops, in fact it's compulsory - Mr Dilks is continually up-skilling.
''I've got to do a certain amount of training per year to keep my licences. That's about keeping up-to-date with the new technologies. There are always new products coming in.''
Even with those new products coming in, Mr Dilks enjoys working with more traditional materials, such as copper.
''Sure, it's a little more expensive because it takes more time, but you know it's going to stand the test of time.''
So the future's looking good - for plumbing generally and Vortex Pluming and Gas in particular.
Mr Dilks is enjoying the freedom that working for yourself brings.
''You get out what you put in,'' he says.
There can be a downside.
''You work when people want you to work, and it's hard to say no. If you say no or let them down, they usually don't ring back. It's about getting the right balance - keeping people happy but at the same time looking after yourself and everyone else.''
Mr Dilks would like to get some big contracts down the line but he says that's a waiting game time. And he looks forward to taking on an apprentice soon.
''It's good to give young people a chance because people gave us a chance when we were young,'' he says. ''And with an apprentice, you get the staff you want because you're training them the way you were trained and so the job gets done how you know it should be done.''
- Vortex Plumbing and Gas, 027 277 9696.
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