Skip to content

Plumbing Apprenticeship Graduate Speaks to Encourage Plumbing Technique Honours Students

Plumbing apprenticeship graduate from the Plumbing Techniques program at Humber, Frank Spatone, talks to students at the plumbing techniques honours luncheon.

Below is a copy of his speech and the words of advice he offers to students pursuing a career in plumbing.


I never liked plumbing.

Or so I once thought.

I can vividly recall from when I was around the age of three, my elders would tauntingly ask me, "So, are you going to be a plumber like daddy when you grow up?"

My consistent reply would be a resounding "Uh, uh!...Daddy's always dirty!".

And so, plumb, I did not.

Instead I pursued a so-called "white collar" career and education immersed within the realms of business administration, marketing and multimedia, because "white collar" is what consensus led me to believe was the way to go. But things never felt quite right, despite my success. For three years I held a coveted position at a global trading house located high up on the 33rd floor at the corner of Yonge and Bloor. But it wasn't long before my snazzy ties began to feel like a daily noose which I couldn't strip from my collar soon enough.

Ultimately, around 2002 I officially became a full-time plumbing apprentice as part of my father's plumbing & mechanical company.

Fast forward many years later to today: I'm not only currently at the very pinnacle of my colorful career journey as none other than a licensed Plumber, but also at an optimal moment in my life as a whole, and ironically, Plumbing and quite notably, Humber College have been significantly responsible for it - both directly and indirectly.

Stopping to really think about it, I'm astounded at the wealth of opportunities, experiences, and fortunes Plumbing has provided me, and continues to provide me. For the mass uninitiated, a Plumber is nothing more than a foul-mouthed guy or gal in overalls who fixes faucets and charges too much for it. Super Mario can do it...what more could there possibly be to it? And that's the tricky - and awesome - thing about Plumbing. The trade branches out into so many diverse realms, that there never really is a dull moment, and always a new opportunity for growth. I've yet to meet a Plumber who's "done it all" - myself included.

I have seen the side new construction - both residential and commercial. I've been the lead Plumber for one of Toronto's busiest hospitals; I've carried out service work; I have my own successful and growing business. Two months ago I was offered a Senior Mechanical Inspector position for a nearby township, and above all else and dearest to me (and I'm not sugarcoating when I say this): I have been blessed with the opportunity to share my knowledge with you individuals [the students] as an instructor at Humber College.

Now that I've forced you to endure my bragging and chest-beating, it’s only fair to let you in on a deep, dark personal secret:

I never believed I was any good at plumbing or really knew all that much. Any confidence was non-existent.

That's the honest truth.

Never could I have fathomed a decade ago, that I'd be standing here today at Humber College in front of our future tradespeople, relaying to you of all the awesome experiences the Plumbing trade has provided me.

For me, I believe the turning point was during an evening in April of 2006.

I had received a phone call from Mr. Richard Snowdon (whom I affectionately refer to as the Godfather of Plumbing). I had had the outstanding experience of having Mr. Snowdon as my Intermediate Plumbing Theory Professor. I must say that Mr. Snowdon truly is among the finest professors I've ever had - and I've had many.

Mr. Snowdon was calling me to ask if I would represent Humber College at the upcoming Ontario division of the SkillsCanada Plumbing Competition.

For those of you who are unacquainted with SkillsCanada:  Think of the Olympics - with all its medals, podiums, and ceremonies - but for skilled trades. The idea is to recognize the cream of the crop of a particular trade, first on a provincial level, then on a national level, and - every two years - on a global stage.

I vividly recall sitting at my kitchen table that night, listening to Mr. Snowdon explain all this to me. And I began to get that distinctive feeling one gets when compelled to step out of their comfort zone:  Accelerated heartbeat, fluttering stomach. I was floored.

My reflexive automatic response was:

"Rick, I don't know if it's such a good idea…I don't think I'm good enough to compete at something like that. I don't want to disappoint the College!"

And there was a heavy pause.

And then in true Richard Snowdon fashion, in a manner which only he can do, he ever-so calmly-but-effectively replied six words which I'll never forget:

"I think you're selling yourself short."

And so…I agreed to compete.

And I won.

The victory granted me with an awesome, free, lobster-riddled trip to Nova Scotia, to represent both Humber College and the province of Ontario, where I had the opportunity to strut my plumbing stuff against some absolutely outstanding competition from the other provinces and territories.

I didn't win in Nova Scotia to be able go on to the WorldSkills in Germany that year, but in the grand scheme of things, it really didn't matter. The floodgates of potentiality had been opened.

In 2007, I competed again at the provincial level, where the College and I were awarded – despite a few leaks – a Bronze medal, presumably for accuracy of project completion.

Mr. Snowdon probably doesn't recall saying those words to me on the telephone that evening in April 2006, but the impact they had on my life is unmistakable. And I want to personally and humbly thank Mr. Snowdon and Humber College for maintaining confidence in me by granting me the canvas to discover my true plumbing capabilities.

The moral of my long-winded message is:

"Don't sell yourself short!"

Whenever that familiar ugly feeling of doubt creeps up on you, be sure to remind yourself of your true accomplishments and capabilities. If others have done it, then so can you.

It's worth repeating: Do not ever, EVER sell yourself short!

With a specialized trades certificate such as one for Plumbing, Electrical, Boiler Maker, etc., you are in a very real way granted a license to generate money. 

Question: What you call a chief financial officer of a large bank who just lost their job? 


What do you call a licensed Plumber who just lost their job? 

A Plumber!

One could be the most effective CEO for the largest multinational corporation. But at the end of the day, they are expendable and replaceable. As a licensed tradesperson on the other hand, the economy may get rough, your employer may close up shop, or your Customer may not pay you. But at the end of YOUR day, you're still a licensed Plumber, and virtually no person or circumstance can strip you of that.

As I sat at my desk trying to summarize my thoughts for you, I heard that familiar chime from my Outlook program advising me that email had arrived. I looked up and my eyes caught the popup on the screen which confirmed that yet another new Customer had accepted a quotation for a large bathroom renovation I had sent them earlier that day.

Plumbing opportunities are abound; it’s merely a matter of looking for them.

As with anything worthwhile in life, mastering a trade such as Plumbing or Electrical takes consistent effort, perseverance, and determination. Your job is to master your trade to such a degree so that a task which seems foreign and impossible today ultimately becomes ingrained in habit and second-nature.

Ask the questions.

Observe others around you.

Heed not only what they're doing right - but also what they're doing wrong.

Allow yourself the elbow-room to make mistakes and then learn from them and fine-tune your technique towards the direction of perfection.

The devil truly is in the details.

Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and take on something new, as it really is the only way to grow.  You'll recognize that distinctive feeling it when it happens. It's that sort of feeling you get that tells you that you're in over your head in what you're about to embark.

A sense anxiety; rapid heartbeat with perhaps even a dash of panic.

Don't run away from this feeling. Embrace it!  It means that you're about to master something new and exciting in life.  Do your homework and do your best in the safest manner possible!

Take responsibility when you make a mistake (and I guarantee that you will make mistakes!), apologize and remedy it if applicable…and move on! Learn from it; don’t dwell on it!

Maintain integrity.

Jobs come and go, but your workmanship and reputation follow you everywhere! Be fair and true to yourself and others. And always, always do the right thing. Even if it costs you up front, the returns will be exponential.

Your goal shouldn't be to make everyone like you, because if you truly do stand for something, I can guarantee you that there will always be someone who won't like you. You can't make everybody happy, but you can ALWAYS do the right thing.

Don't be afraid to challenge the status quo.

I was speaking with one of my outstanding students the other day, discussing his future and his potential opportunities in the plumbing trade. He expressed that he'd be reluctant to ever start up a plumbing company in his home town since there's practically one Plumber who everybody uses, and that it would be futile to compete for business.

I personally beg to differ.

Perhaps the local market is looking for a fresh face; perhaps the existing Plumber has a hold on the market simply because there are no superior options available.

There's always a way to do something better. Find out what others are doing and improve upon it!

And above all:  Work hard!

You truly do reap what you sow. Five years of apprenticeship training and testing may seem like a daunting task today, but with consistent effort and hard work, the day you proudly hold up your shiny new Certificate of Qualification will be here before you know it!

But it all happens at one day, one step, at a time.

Someone once said:

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get".

The world truly is your oyster…or in your case, your pipe wrench.

So work hard and become lucky!

Finally, I'd like make an attempt to rattle you from my droning by making a feeble attempt at humor by sharing a quick joke for you to take with you:

A plumber visit's a brain surgeon's home to fix a plumbing leak.

A half hour later, the plumber presents him with a bill for $200.

The Brain Surgeon, obviously infuriated, responds:

"Two hundred dollars for a half hour of work?...that's four hundred dollars an hour! I'm a brain surgeon and I don't make four hundred dollars an hour!"

The plumber ponders the remark, and calmly responds:

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I was a Brain Surgeon too once…and that's why I'm a plumber now!"