A Plumber’s Advice for Plumbing Apprentices & Those Who Train Them
Conrado Ensenat knows the value of a plumbing apprenticeship. His own apprenticeship years ago jumpstarted his plumbing career path. Now a journey-level plumber with 17 years of experience under his belt, Ensenat has helped several trainee plumbers get hands-on experience and learn the ropes of the trade. Read about his experience with apprentices and advice for those learning and teaching the craft of plumbing, as told to the SharkBite team.
What have you learned from your experience working with plumbing apprentices?
Working with plumbing apprentices can be difficult — you have to gauge them. Some want to become great techs and plumbers, some want to learn and some don’t. Some will get the hang of things quickly while others won’t get it on the first try. When I was a trainee plumber, I asked questions. It’s one of the most important things to do when you’re learning on the job.
When someone asks a lot of questions, it shows that they want to create value in the plumbing trade and grow themselves — those are the ones who are going to make great apprentices. There’s never a stupid question, whether it’s related to work, safety or general plumbing knowledge.
So test your apprentices. Ask them what they know after a few weeks or months. Let them walk you through what they’re going to do. Are they engaged or not? If you give them an opportunity, explain what you want them to do and then set them free and see how they do. You have to be able to give them the ropes right away, so the work becomes like breathing after they do it over and over again on the site.
Are you glad you’ve worked with apprentices?
The plumbing trade is kind of at an impasse. Lots of people are returning in the next few years, and the demand is there. So I'm very proud.
Why should plumbers or plumbing companies hire apprentices?
Because so many are retiring. As a business owner, you have to realize apprentices are the life of the trade because people are leaving the trade. And as a company, you always want to look ahead, especially if you’re growing, because the technician isn’t going to last forever. That’s where the apprentice comes in.
As a business owner, you have to realize apprentices are the life of the trade because people are leaving the trade. And as a company, you always want to look ahead, especially if you’re growing, because the technician isn’t going to last forever.
What are some of the typical responsibilities of your apprentices?
The basics always: plumbing of any type. You have to know what’s going on, from understanding new tech to simple piping. It’s important to understand the way plumbing systems evolve, so you can’t be afraid of something new. Aside from technical knowledge, I also teach them to be clean and organized and how to be patient as they learn.
What challenges have you faced when working with plumbing apprentices, and how have you overcome them?
It’s difficult when the drive isn’t there. When I see that, I’ll first have a conversation with them and give them a chance to adjust. Then I’ll re-gauge their interest. If they’re still not engaged, it may not be a good fit. So then I’ll have an honest conversation about it with them or refer them to someone else for better luck.
What advice would you give other plumbers who are looking for apprentices?
You have to be upfront with apprentices, so make sure you set expectations. Tell them what you’re offering them within the plumbing apprenticeship program and what they’re supposed to do. Never forget to constantly train and actively guide them. I recommend pairing them with someone on your team who will teach them. It’s our duty (as plumbers) to help apprentices. Where they are, we were. They’re an extension of us.
It’s our duty (as plumbers) to help apprentices. Where they are, we were. They’re an extension of us.
How can trainee plumbers put their best foot forward when seeking a plumbing apprentice job?
A plumber’s helper, or apprentice, should have an eagerness to learn and comprehend. This will put you above the rest. But showing up is also 90% of it. I take note of whether apprentices show up on time — or early or late. Do they have their stuff ready? Do they have patience?
Some other advice for apprentices: Get at least a couple years of experience in service and repair plumbing. Don’t just focus on construction or commercial plumbing apprenticeships. That’s how you expand your knowledge and open up your career options.
Meet Conrado Ensenat
Conrado Ensenat currently works as a plumber at Broward County Parks & Recreation in Florida.
He has worked with over 40 plumbing apprentices throughout his career, and today he still helps guide apprentices at a local company.
You can follow him on Instagram at @conradtheplumber.