WorldSkills Expert Focus

The fifth installment of our Plumbing and Heating Expert Focus series takes us “Down Under” to meet a young man with a unique WorldSkills CV: from Competitor, to Champions Exchange participant, to WorldSkills Foundation volunteer, to Expert at the national and international competition levels. From Australia, via Ireland and Nepal, it’s good to meet you...



I am a Plumbing teacher at TAFE NSW (Technical and Further Education, New South Wales) college in Wollongong. I have just been made full-time, after working part-time for the last few years. My journey with WorldSkills goes all the way back to 2001 when I started out as a regional competitor, progressing to the Australian national competition and then being lucky enough to be selected to compete internationally in 2003 in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Since then I have continued to be involved in WorldSkills Australia regional and national competitions with designing and judging. I am now going forward to represent Australia as International Expert for Plumbing and Heating at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017.

A young Andrew representing Australia in the Plumbing and Heating competition at WorldSkills St. Gallen 2003.

In 2008 I took part in the Champions Exchange, which was a program being run by WorldSkills at the time. Former WorldSkills competitors were invited to put their name forward, and could then be hooked up with a new work opportunity somewhere else in the world supported via different WorldSkills Member organizations. The Irish Plumbing and Heating Expert at the time, John Smartt, lined me up with a job in Ireland. I ended up over there for 12 months, worked with two different companies and did a bit of traveling around.

In Nepal alongside IAPMO representative Jed Scheuermann in January 2014. Image stills taken from the short film “How plumbers improve water quality and health” by Simon Forbes; view here:

For the last three years I have been involved in the Village Sanitation Program in Nepal, organized by Healthabitat. My first visit to the project in early 2014 was sponsored by WorldSkills Foundation. I was part of a local team working on provision of new toilets and handwashing facilities, rainwater collection and using waste to produce biogas as an alternative to smoky wood fueled cooking. The region we worked in – the villages of Bhattedande, Dandagaun and Arubot, in the Kathmandu Valley – was severely hit by the Nepal earthquake of 2015. Following the disaster, I successfully applied for funding to support relief efforts in the region via the Reece Grant. So I remain involved in the project to this day, and have supported the participation of other international plumbers in the project during this time.

Working alongside local plumbers from villages in the Kathmandu Valley region of Nepal, January 2014.

Since I was 16 I have worked with my dad’s company, Whalan Plumbing; mainly just the two of us together, working. We are based in Goulburn, which is in between Canberra and Sydney, closer to Canberra. It’s only a small town of around 24,000 people. I grew up there and have been based there my whole life. As my dad has been getting on in age in the last few years I have taken on more responsibilities within the company alongside our plumbing work, from accounting to quoting. Today I combine this with my teaching position, traveling back and forward from Goulburn and sometimes staying over in Wollongong a couple of nights a week.

Family business Whalan Plumbing operates in the Goulburn area of New South Wales, Australia.

All plumbers working in Australia are licenced and we must provide our certification for any of the jobs we do. We work to the Australia and New Zealand Standards; official plumbing regulations are generally the same and recognised across every state, but the most recent gas regulations introduced are yet to be adopted completely across the country due to some debate about the way they are written. For example, in New South Wales, where I am based, we are still working with the older gas standard: there are points in the newer gas standard which are more relevant, but we still have to work from the old one – which can be confusing!

In terms of enforcement, at the planning stage Local councils will only approve the design of any new building once it is in line with all applicable standards and then once construction starts, there will be further checks from local inspectors to confirm all progress remains as per the plans and as per the standards.

Manufacturing of plumbing products is dwindling in Australia. I guess it’s like a lot of countries: a lot of material is imported now from overseas, rather than being produced here. It all has to be weighed up because while the costs of manufacturing here are quite expensive compared to some other countries, there is also the issue of transportation down to Australia, which is obviously another major cost. Having said that, for the past few years – certainly, in the years I have been teaching – it seems the economy in the building sector is going along pretty well. Numbers of students enrolling and then getting work has continued to be fairly strong, and fairly consistent. Our biggest problem, all over the country, is that so many people want to get things done cheaply … they don’t want to spend money on quality products, they are rushing jobs, or they are trying to do it themselves rather than paying a qualified plumber.

A WorldSkills Australia national Plumbing and Heating competition in action – pictured here, in Sydney in 2008.

To become a plumber in Australia we do a Certificate III course in Plumbing. It runs for three years and it introduces the basics around hot and cold water systems, health and safety, drainage, storm water, gas, mechanical, and pipe. Once you’ve completed your Certificate III you can be sub-contracted to work alongside a licensed Plumber. To become fully qualified, you need to do Certificate IV, which goes into more detail on all of these areas and also introduces the design side of things.

Unfortunately Australia is not going to be sending a plumbing competitor to WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 because our top competitors from the most recent national competitions are above the age limit and therefore not eligible. Our national competition age limit is 24 years old, whereas the international competition age limit is 23 years old. It is disappointing, but I think this is going to become more and more of an issue for WorldSkills Australia because a lot of young people today are choosing to go on to year 12 and high school before they decide to start a trade. It puts them right up to the age limit to participate in the WorldSkills competition, should they make it that far … but, at the same time, we are getting stronger people in our regional competitions because they have studied or gotten more experience around their trade, for longer.

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