Day In The Life Of A Plumber In Singapore – Do They Fix More Than Just Your Pipes At Home?

Working as a plumber in Singapore

Oftentimes fresh grads will find themselves working behind a desktop in an air-conditioned office, straying away from laborious and uncomfortable jobs. Owing to certain job misconceptions, there are only a handful of young mavericks taking up uncommon professions such as becoming a mechanic, plumber, or electrician.

One such person is 29-year-old Geraldine Goh, who specialises in plumbing works. Being in a job that is often glazed over by society or considered unglam, she shared with us more about her job and how plumbing entails so much more than just unclogging toilets.

More than just a fixer-upper

Some of us see plumbers as handymen who come down to our house to fix our leaking pipes and choking sinks. Yes, that is definitely part of the job. However, that is not all that plumbers do. Some plumbers specialise in specific areas such as sewer line management or water tank cleaning, and most generally deal with much larger projects than just residential homes.

For Geraldine, as the director of her own firm, she goes for a more broad specialisation that involves designing intricate plumbing systems across different developments from commercial buildings to solar farms. Contrary to popular belief, a whole array of skills and plenty of brain power is needed in this line of work; not just manual labour. 

Geraldine and her team flushing out all the dirty sediments in the water from a newly installed fire hydrant mains at a solar farm.

Did you know that fire hydrants need to meet both PUB’s & FSB’s Fire code on the required operating pressure and flow rate? For that, plumbers designing the system will have to ensure the maths checks out such that they meet all the necessary requirements of both agencies.

And if you’re renovating your home with a new plumbing system, plumbers will have to calculate the right piping size so that the shower water pressure hits just right and isn’t too weak or strong. 

Only with specialised knowledge is Geraldine able to make precise calculations to ensure the right pipe size is being fit or the correct amount of water pressure is flowing out of fire hydrants for firefighters to be able to do their job efficiently. Yes, our lives could very well depend on these plumbing systems.

In fact, a professional plumber has a lot to consider while on the job – from understanding sea levels to the mode of water supply applicable to the building.

Geraldine explained, “When people call about plumbing issues, it’s more about studying the problems and how to solve them. [You need] your knowledge of how plumbing systems in each building work; you’ll have to review, evaluate and troubleshoot.”

Challenges on the job

Besides the constant meticulous planning and checks of plumbing systems, there are other challenges such as constructing plumbing systems in the sweltering heat. As tough as it may seem, though, it is rewarding once you see the finished product working perfectly. Those who don’t like being desk-bound will enjoy the day-to-day challenges and change of scenery.

There are times when Geraldine gets stumped over an issue and mulls over it for days and nights. But for her, it is the gratitude of clients once she solves their issues that make it all worth it. When stuck, she would turn to her mentor or community of plumbers for advice.

On top of that, she notes, “New plumbers really need someone to guide them along, to let them gain exposure to different scales of projects.” Some plumbers in the industry stick to one specialisation, but Geraldine encourages aspiring or newbie plumbers to gain a wide range of experiences and tend to all kinds of plumbing work. With experience and hard work, one might even get to work on exciting projects such as new malls and fancy hotels.

Being a female in a male-dominated industry

It is no secret that the plumbing industry is a male-dominated one. Initially, clients would approach Geraldine with reservations given how they were used to seeing slightly older men in this line of work. It was hard for some to digest that a young female plumber like herself with less experience was tending to their issues.

“There’s not much of a gender thing,” Geraldine mentioned. “The older generations don’t speak too politely. ‘Eh! Get it done!’ [they would say]. If you’re a girl who takes it to heart and is timid, you might feel a little bit hurt, but it’s okay – just work with an open mind.”

Only after she got her official plumbing licence did she begin to receive more positive reactions from clients – mainly about her being a certified local female plumber. Gaining such credibility was a big step for her to start getting larger projects to work on.

Physically there may be constraints for some females but in this day and age, one does not have to be buff to be a plumber. Advanced technology and new power tools make it much easier to go about one’s daily tasks. Geraldine demonstrated to us the use of a crimper that connects one pipe section to another with a simple push of a button.

This is opposed to the traditional spanner, nuts, and bolts that require brute strength to properly tighten pipes such that no leakage occurs.

Nonetheless, being a female has its perks even in this industry. Geraldine found that ladies are generally more meticulous so they’re able to pick out things that their male counterparts might miss – a plus point, especially for a job that requires precision throughout the entire process.

Pipeline from aspiring pilot to meticulous plumber

As much as she loves her job now, plumbing wasn’t Geraldine’s plan from the get-go. She initially aspired to fly high as a pilot but soon found the multitasking aspect of piloting to be overwhelming. So, she tried out mechanical engineering that provided a broader foundation that could later be used in various professions.

It turns out that mechanical engineering was not her forte either so she dropped out. Uncertain about the career path she wanted, she got to work and got a job at a Town Council, managing a team of people including plumbers and contractors.

It was during her time there that plumbing first piqued her interest. “I would follow [the team of contractors and plumbers] around to the extent that the contractors would tell me to stay in the office,” Geraldine laughed. “I wanted to follow and understand what they were trying to do and got interested in plumbing.”

So, she jet set on her plumbing pursuit by first starting a firm doing Town Council maintenance with a contractor she knew. To upskill herself, she took up a Builder Certificate in Plumbing and Pipefitting at Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to formally learn about plumbing systems.

In the course of her studies, Geraldine found that plumbing was not just about building the system, but also involved long-term planning for the maintenance of it. The additional challenge only intrigued her further.

On why she stuck with plumbing, she said, “This kind of job satisfaction can’t be gotten anywhere else. In construction, you see a building from zero to completion.” 

Besides that, she enjoys the team-oriented working environment where she gets to interact with foreign workers of different nationalities and backgrounds. She also acts as the bridge between the foreign and senior workers who may be unfamiliar with the evolving workflow that has now digitised and gotten slightly more cheem.

Having a support system within the industry

Geraldine on-site with her mentor, Mr Richard.

During her course at BCA, her lecturer Mr Richard noticed her struggling as a newbie in the industry and reached out to her. From there, he guided her through the plumbing industry even after she had graduated from the course and started her own company.

As for family, luckily for her, there was no “Asian family drama” over Geraldine’s chosen career path. Instead, they didn’t really react at all. “Just do what you like,” they said to her. If anything, it was a plus for them since they now had an in-house plumber.

Future plans & aspirations

Geraldine is currently finishing her part-time degree in Building and Project Management at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). She took up this course to supplement her job and become more well-versed in running large-scale construction projects.

She also aspires to be like her mentor, Mr Richard, who has done multiple projects ranging from Singapore’s iconic buildings to shopping malls. She recalled, “When he drives me around, he points at buildings and goes ‘this building, I’ve done before. This one also, I did it. This one is by me.” It’s all very exciting to her.

Support for skilled tradesmen

When Covid first graced the land, many Malaysians and foreign workers returned to their home country leaving us with a shortage of skilled tradesmen such as plumbers and contractors. 

In fact, a Singapore Labour Force Survey last year revealed that over 50% of tradesmen and craftsmen are now older than 50 years old. There has also been a 40% to 50% drop in the amount of locals in this sector in the past 10 years – which urges the need for more locals, especially youth, in the trade.

When you have a leak in your toilet or your aircon breaks down, it is these tradespeople who save the day. Imagine a day when there is a severe shortage of such people – it would take a much longer time to get someone to fix your house woes. And with current trends, that day isn’t too far away.

So, to better support our skilled essential tradespeople, the Career Progression Model has been introduced. It includes more huat job prospects and wages for the likes of electricians, plumbers and aircon mechanics. Those keen to join the industry can also get more structured training to enter. 

If you want to join the conversation, share your piece on how job outcomes of these tradesmen can be improved and how NTUC can work with various partners to design the Career Progression Model at NTUC #EveryWorkerMatters. You can also sound out ways to make the job more attractive for youth.

Share your work-life needs to help shape the future of jobs

This post was brought to you by NTUC.
Photography by Jin Ron Poh.

Nur Hidaya

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