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How To Retain Top Talent in Your Plumbing Business

Running a small plumbing business is no easy task. From dealing with unpredictable emergency calls to allocating plum jobs fairly (pardon the pun), keeping your best plumbers happy and motivated can be challenging. To deliver the quality and consistency your customers expect, though, you have to meet that challenge. In this article, we’ll discuss some detailed strategies around retention and look at how modern tools such as software for plumbers can reduce workloads and contribute to a positive work environment.

The Heart of Your Business: Why Retaining Top Talent Matters

Imagine you’re a small plumbing business owner. You’ve spent years building a reputation for reliable, high-quality service, and your growth is starting to accelerate. Suddenly, your best plumber – the one who consistently earns you great reviews, and who can fix a leak in their sleep – hands in their notice, stating they’re burned out and they want a better work/life balance. Panic ensues.

This scenario highlights why retaining top talent is vital. Skilled plumbers are not just workers; they're the heartbeat of your business, driving customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

The Challenges: What Makes Retaining Plumbers So Tough?

As a small business in the plumbing world, the challenges are as varied as the clogs you encounter. The unpredictable nature of the job, long and irregular hours, and the physical demands can make it tough for employees to stick around. Add in the allure of better pay and benefits from larger companies, and you’ve got a recipe for high turnover.

All’s not lost, though. Here are steps you can take to retain your best plumbers - and build a better business while you’re at it.

Step 1 - Create a Positive Work Environment

A positive work environment can be a significant factor in retaining top talent. When employees feel they belong to a community rather than just a workplace, they are more likely to stay. To foster a positive work environment, you need the following elements in place:

Effective communication

Your first step towards retaining top talent should be to ensure you have a work environment that encourages open communication, suggestions, and questions.

Ask yourself, and be honest in your answers: Do I encourage my employees to make suggestions and voice their concerns? Do I respond in a way that makes them feel respected, and as though their opinions are highly valued? Do I keep everyone in the loop? If you've answered no to any of these questions, then you need to take action.

By setting up regular one-on-one check-ins where employees can talk openly about what is and isn’t working, and where you can also share your thoughts and provide praise and constructive feedback, you can make your plumbers feel appreciated and connected. This small change can make a big difference.

Transparent Decision-Making

Be transparent about company decisions, changes, and future plans. Involving employees in decision-making processes can give them a sense of ownership and investment in the company’s success.

Encourage Community Involvement

Engage your team in community service and charity work. Not only does this enhance your company’s reputation, but Gen Z and Millennial workers in particular take pride working for companies that contribute to societal well-being. Organize events like charity runs, community clean-up days, or fundraisers, and consider sponsoring a local kids’ team. (Helps with marketing too, although that’s another topic!)

Step 2 - Compensation and Benefits: Fair Pay for Hard Work

Fair compensation is more than just a paycheck – it’s about recognizing and rewarding the hard work your team puts in. (Although the cash helps too.)

Determining Fair Market Value

To figure out what to pay your plumbers, start by researching local wage rates. Government websites for your country like Jobs and Skills Australia or the US Bureau of Labor Statistics can give you a ballpark figure - you can drill down by industry and by region. It's also important to look at job postings (of competitors you admire, not the sketchy industry low-ballers) to get a sense of what's standard in your area.

Crafting a Competitive Package

  • Base Salary: Ensure your base salary is competitive. If the average local rate is $30 an hour, aim to match or exceed it.
  • Bonuses: Implement performance-based bonuses. For example, offer a bonus for every five-star customer review a plumber receives.
  • Overtime Pay: Make sure overtime pay is fair and clearly communicated. Set a higher rate for being on-call and emergency call-outs.
  • Paid Time Off: Consider implementing a flexible policy that offers vacation days increasing with tenure, along with a set number of sick days and paid holidays.
  • Wellness Programs: Support your employees’ health by implementing a wellness program - consider including regular health check-ups, an offer to subsidize gym memberships, and mental health support.

Step 3 - Invest In Your Team’s Professional Growth and Development

Investing in your team’s growth not only enhances their skills, but also shows that you’re committed to their career development. No matter how old your employees are, from Gen Z to Baby Boomers, investing in their future builds loyalty and results in happy, motivated plumbers.

plumber at a residential job

Story: Sarah’s Journey from Apprentice to Master Plumber

Sarah started as an apprentice at her local plumbing business. The owner, Tom, believed in investing in his team’s education. He covered the costs of Sarah’s certification exams and provided paid study time. He also set up a mentorship program where Sarah learned from more experienced plumbers.

Within a few years, Sarah progressed to a senior plumber role, bringing new techniques and ideas that benefited the entire team. Sarah’s loyalty to the business grew, knowing she was valued and had a future there.

Career Progression

Show employees how they can advance from entry-level positions to more senior roles, and map out what they need to achieve to get there. In other words, work with each employee to create a personalized professional development plan and outline a path to take on more responsibilities. Showcase the growth opportunities in your business by encouraging and supporting employees to pursue certifications, training sessions, or mentorship programs.

Recognize and reward employees who achieve their development goals. This not only motivates them but also shows others that hard work and dedication are valued and rewarded!

Professional Certifications

Encourage and support your plumbers in obtaining professional certifications as appropriate for the services provided by your business. You may want to cover costs and provide study leave when possible. Although it varies by region, there are general certifications and progressions to consider:

  • Basic Certification: All countries require an initial qualification or certification that covers fundamental plumbing skills. This is usually obtained through an apprenticeship or formal education.
  • Advanced Certification: More advanced qualifications are available for those seeking higher expertise or supervisory roles. This often involves additional training and examinations.
  • Specialized Certifications: Certain specialized areas such as working with gas, water regulations, or advanced technical skills require additional certifications.
  • Registration/Licensing: Plumbers must be registered or licensed to practice legally, which ensures they meet safety and professional standards. This is often regulated at the state, provincial, or territorial level.

Plumbing certification paths to consider when creating professional development plans

Regular Training Sessions

Regularly schedule training sessions in-house or through industry associations, or partner with local trade schools for advanced courses.

In-House Training

Schedule regular training sessions to keep your team updated on the latest plumbing techniques and technologies. This could include:

  • Safety protocols
  • Advanced plumbing techniques
  • Soft skills, such as customer service
  • Job management software training

Industry Associations

Plumbing industry associations often have conferences and events. Sending an employee to learn and report back is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to their growth. Some examples of industry associations include:

Local Trade Schools

Partner with local trade schools to offer advanced courses for your team. This could involve:

  • Specialized courses in green plumbing
  • Certification programs in specific plumbing skills

Plumbing Mentorship Programs

A mentorship program fosters knowledge sharing and camaraderie, and it can be a powerful tool for professional development - for both the mentor who values having their expertise recognized, and for the mentee who appreciates the opportunity to learn from an experienced plumber.

Some tips for setting up a successful program:

  • Match Wisely: Pair seasoned plumbers with newer team members based on their skills, experience, and personalities.
  • Set Clear Goals: Define what the mentee aims to achieve through the mentorship.
  • Regular Meetings: Schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress, challenges, and goals.
  • Feedback Loop: Encourage both mentors and mentees to provide feedback on the program to continually improve it.

Step 4 - Leverage Software to Balance Work and Life

Technology can streamline operations and reduce stress, making your plumbers’ schedules smoother and their jobs easier and more enjoyable. A job management software designed specifically for businesses in service trades like plumbing, such as ServiceM8, is your secret weapon in making everyone happy.

Dynamic Scheduling with ServiceM8

ServiceM8's scheduling features allow you to plan jobs and distribute workload evenly across your team, ensuring no one feels overwhelmed and everyone can maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Instant Dispatch

You can quickly view the status of all field staff to find the closest available plumber with the required skills for any given job.

With ServiceM8's instant dispatch feature, staff can quickly respond to urgent jobs with all necessary details sent directly to their mobile devices. This reduces confusion and stress, allowing plumbers to focus more on their work than on logistics.

Track My Arrival

ServiceM8's Track My Arrival feature enhances the customer experience by allowing clients to track their plumber’s arrival in real-time. It not only improves transparency but also reduces the number of calls and queries about arrival times, freeing up more time for your staff to focus on their tasks.

On-Call Rotation and Premiums

Rotate which employee is “on-call”, meaning they are available to respond to any after-hours services offered by your business. A staff member can be designated as “On Call” with the ServiceM8 app, and the ServiceM8 phone can even direct after-hours calls to that staff member.

When specific staff members are designated as being on call, the others can relax in the knowledge that they won't be called out to urgent jobs during their downtime.

Offer a pay premium for being on-call and additional bonuses if the on-call employee needs to respond to emergencies or after-hours work. This not only compensates employees fairly but also acknowledges the inconvenience of these unpredictable hours.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful team. When everyone is on the same page, operations run smoothly, and morale stays high. Using job management software for plumbers ensures that your entire team can not only view their schedules and get real-time updates, but can also access all info needed to complete their jobs successfully - from job details and notes to a live activity feed where they can ask advice or update the team.

ServiceM8 has changed the way we communicate and work as a team, because if somebody goes out to a job, they just write a note in the diary. And then if someone else needs to re-attend that job for any reason, then there’s little notes in the diary and they can just follow up - so everyone keeps everyone else up to date. - Jason Harris, Director, Prowater Plumbing

(To hear more of Prowater Plumbing's story, click here.)


ServiceM8 allows you to automate client communication, reducing the admin burden on your staff. Automated email and SMS notifications can remind clients of booking times, request payments, and follow up on quotes.

Less time spent on admin means more time at home with the family (or playing video games, or working out, or painting a watercolor, you get the gist), and a better work/life balance.

AI Smart Helper

Drafting emails, revising messages, and generating quotes can all be done in seconds with ServiceM8’s AI feature. It’s like having a super-efficient office assistant who never sleeps. This boosts productivity and ensures all communications are spot-on, making your business look good and your staff feel less overwhelmed. After all, when you’ve finished a plumbing job, the last thing you want to do is have to tackle a mountain of paperwork.

Implementing such technologies can deeply enhance your employees' work environment, making their day-to-day operations smoother and less stressful - and making them less likely to want to leave.

Final Thoughts: Building a Workplace They’ll Love

Retaining top talent in a small plumbing business isn’t just about competitive pay and benefits. It’s about creating a work environment where your team feels valued, supported, and excited to come to work every day. By investing in their development, offering flexibility, ensuring fair compensation, and leveraging technology like ServiceM8, you can build a loyal, motivated workforce that will help your business thrive.

By making these strategic changes, you’ll not only retain your top talent but also attract new skilled professionals, ensuring your small plumbing business continues to grow and succeed in the competitive industry. And remember, a happy plumber is a productive plumber!

Now, grab your tools, invest in your team, and watch your business flourish.

Learn more about how ServiceM8 can transform your plumbing business.

Article last updated on
June 20, 2024

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