Ara tutor recognised for contribution to plumbing industry

News News & events

29 Apr 2016

Phil Mitchell at the New Zealand Master Plumbers awards ceremony Phil Mitchell (centre) at the New Zealand Master Plumbers awards ceremony.

There are few people who have done more for the plumbing industry in Canterbury than Phil Mitchell. Earlier this month his contribution to plumbing was recognised by the New Zealand Master Plumbers when they presented him with the Graeme Victor Smith Contribution to the Industry Dux Award.

"I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to train so many plumbers," says Mitchell who seems reluctant to accept that his work is worthy of the honour he has received.

Mitchell became an apprentice in 1959 and was asked to work as a tutor in 1964 at Christchurch Technical College (now Ara Institute of Canterbury). It was a position he held for the next five years until he left in 1979 to pursue his own plumbing business. However, tutoring was always in his blood and he took up teaching again in 1986 and continued to tutor until plumbing training was closed down in the South Island by the Industry Training Organisation in 1996.

"Plumbing is very dependent on building and there just wasn't the demand," says Mitchell.

As a result Canterbury based apprentices had to take courses by correspondence and undertake apprenticeships in the North Island, and the lack of training facilities in the South Island was felt. 

"In '99 Canterbury Master Plumbers approached me to see if I could run some classes to support the guys training."

Mitchell confesses that he accepted it mainly for the fun of running the courses.

"I did it for kicks. The guys came round to my house and we worked through their problems in the garage. I was just the facilitator, really. Most of the time they helped each other out."

The guerrilla course in backyard plumbing continued for five years until Rob Lingard, who was then head of the trades programmes, proposed that Ara Institute of Canterbury (then CPIT) re-establish the plumbing programme and invited Mitchell, now approaching retirement age, to establish it.

"I told him 'I'm too old for it.' He said 'No you're not, get in and do it!' So I did.

"It was pretty hard work for the first five years. We just had four walls and that was it. We had to write all the delivery material and develop the facility. For the first couple of years we were all working 50 hour weeks. It was just like starting a business but it was fun."

Although Mitchell was the driving force behind the programme he received the full support of other staff members, in particular Rob Lingard and Wayne York.

"Rob Lingard was amazing. I'd say I needed something and he'd go off and then it would magically appear. I don't know how he did it."

The programme also received generous support from Dux which provided about $8,000 of plumbing equipment.

"When I look at what we have done, I'm just amazed. I can't believe it's real. We went from three tutors and an empty barn to eight tutors with two barns full of tools and training facilities. We now teach over 400 people a year at different levels."

Mitchell says one of the most rewarding experiences is getting calls from former students who now want to send their own apprentices to train with him.

"It tells you that you are doing something right. As they say the best business is repeat business."

And it is a business that Mitchell clearly loves.

"I treat it more as a hobby now but I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't love it."

The National Certificate in Plumbing is also taught concurrently with the National Certificate in Gasfitting – giving trainees two qualifications and the opportunity to become fully qualified gasfitters as well as plumbers.