Dedicated to plumbing

By Dineo Phoshoko

Choosing a career that you love is crucial. Wesley Armstrong chose plumbing as a vocation and has never looked back.

The 31-year-old is a director at ARM Electrical & Plumbing, a family-owned business that has been operating since 1970. ARM has registered and licenced plumbers and electricians, and this plumbing company is affiliated with the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA) and the Electrical Contractors Association. As a director, Armstrong is responsible for overseeing proceedings at the company to ensure that everything is running smoothly and that everyone does their job correctly.

Wesley 001 webWesley Armstrong encourages children not to fear doing what they enjoy.
Iamge credit: Cherry Ellis

His decision to become a plumber was influenced by his grandfather. “He basically taught me the basics and the general things around plumbing, which I’ve carried through till today. The main aspect that I’ve maintained through that period is to do things right and to do it right the first time,” he explains. After completing matric, Armstrong pursued his passion for plumbing and did his internship with a reputable plumbing company for five years. In the sixth year, he went to do his trade test, which he passed.

Once qualified, Armstrong started by assisting his parents. At the time, the family business only focused on electrical contracting, so Armstrong was given the task of starting the plumbing division. Although the family business had already been established, starting the plumbing division was not easy. “When I first started the business, I started with a single vehicle, a Toyota Tazz,” explains Armstrong. More than 10 years later, the plumbing division has grown and is now well established.

Working in the plumbing industry, one is bound to encounter different experiences every day. For Armstrong, two stand out: the first one is when ARM was the only plumbing company that managed to clear a blockage at a factory after three other plumbing companies had tried and failed to do so. Another unforgettable encounter was when Armstrong had to climb into a manhole to feed the springs into a line at a pie factory. After that job, he felt extremely tired, which was very unusual. He later discovered that the sewer lines contained methane — a gas that causes tiredness when inhaled.

Hold your head up high

Stereotypes about plumbers abound, with most people assuming that being a plumber is a low-class job. “A lot of people think plumbers are dirty and that they are a specific class in the industry. We are very needed in the industry and in the community. We feel that people do not give us the respect that we should actually get. People take it for granted that water and electricity is something that one has to live with every day.”

He does admit that he did have some reservations about becoming a plumber, for fear of what his peers would say. Armstrong also thought that he would be judged based on his appearance when walking in public. “That was a hurdle I have overcome. I am hardworking and dedicated to what I do, so I cannot really be too bothered about what people think,” he says with pride.

Industry challenges and opportunities

Having been in the industry for a while, Armstrong finds that competitive pricing is a challenge, especially when it is done by unregistered plumbers. Another challenge is the early hours and late nights, with call-outs as early as 4:00 and being on site until 22:00 or 23:00. Many call-outs of that nature happen in winter because of the freezing and bursting of pipes, which then need urgent attention.

Persistence is essential for progress in the industry.

Regardless of such challenges, he believes that the industry is looking stable, with lots of growth and opportunities for development. He suggests that children should be exposed to information about available opportunities in the plumbing industry at an early age. “Children mustn’t fear doing what they enjoy. If you like working with your hands, you should try and pursue that.”

Armstrong also mentioned IOPSA and the work they are doing to improve the industry. He made reference to the introduction of the certification of geysers as a way of moving forward in the industry. The certification will protect consumers and insurance companies.

Words of wisdom for future plumbers

Apart from his job, Armstrong enjoys the outdoors, as well as visiting the Vaal during his spare time and taking in the beautiful scenery. He also loves water and never passes up an opportunity for a swim. “Water is a passion. In my school days, I got full colours in swimming,” he adds.

Many exciting things lie ahead for ARM Electrical & Plumbing. One of them is the opening of a new branch in Hurlyvale close to Edenvale. This will add to the three existing branches in Alberton, Bedfordview, and Boksburg.

For anybody interested in getting into the plumbing industry, Armstrong says that persistence is essential for progress in the industry. He also believes that having a positive attitude is important. “You’ve got to be humble and you’ve got to be hardworking and dedicated,” he concludes.

Click here to read the June 2018 issue of Plumbing Africa

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