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Ten rules for young plumbers to live by

Oct. 31, 2013
The apprentices in my classes are eager to learn and they are already out on the job everyday working their tails off to earn a nice paycheck. Over the years I have had students from all age groups and backgrounds and this year is no exception. I take the time to talk to each of them about what it means to work for a living. This is the first "real" job for some of my students so this is a great chance for me to get them started in the right direction with a few extra tools in their back pocket.

It’s getting colder here in Minnesota. Snow has been in the forecast a couple times already, which marks the end to a great summer and the beginning of what is hoped to be a busy heating season. 

It’s that time of year again where trade schools all across the country have started teaching our up-and-coming professionals the ins and outs of everything that is plumbing and heating. I’ve gone back to school too, only this time I’m in front of the class.

I enjoy teaching; the anticipation builds each year as summer ends, knowing we will be working hard in the classroom soon. This is my seventh year teaching.

Our future is looking good too. The apprentices in my classes are eager to learn and they are already out on the job everyday working their tails off to earn a nice paycheck. Over the years I have had students from all age groups and backgrounds and this year is no exception.

I take the time to talk to each of them about what it means to work for a living. This is the first "real" job for some of my students so this is a great chance for me to get them started in the right direction with a few extra tools in their back pocket.

Advice to live by

I go over a list of 10 things I have learned along the way, most of it by experience but a lot of it has been handed down to me as advice to live by. Here’s my list. Let me know if you agree, and by all means, feel free to send me your suggestions for additions.

  • Be the first on the job and the last to leave: I give this advice to everyone starting a new job or still in the formative stages of their trade career. You have more ground to make up than everyone else around you, and you do have something to prove. There’s only one sure-fire way to get ahead, and that’s to work harder than all of your peers.
  • You’re talented, but talent is overrated: Congratulations, you may be the most capable, creative, knowledgeable and multi-tasking generation yet. As my father would say, “Great, what does the bank think of that?” Unrefined raw materials, no matter how valuable, are simply wasted potential so start using your talent, like mad math skills, physical strength or planning to get the job done faster or more accurately.
  • There is no prize for talent either; you can do your job or not. Even the most skilled tradesmen and women have studied for hours, and worked methodically and painfully for years paving their way to success.
  • Don’t wait to be told what to do, and ask questions: You can’t have a sense of entitlement without a sense of responsibility. You’ll never get ahead by waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Claiming you didn't know you were expected to carry out a task, unless it’s your first time around is a guaranteed recipe for failure. Err on the side of doing too much, not too little. Chances are you won't be asked to do any part of your job by someone that hasn't done it themselves. Ask questions about everything. The more you know the better.
  • Time is not on your side:It seems I almost never meet young people starting out that have a strong sense of urgency. Time is the only treasure given to us in abundance, and we can never get it back. In our 20s we think we have all the time in the world to A.) figure it out and B.) get what we want. Make the most of the opportunities you have today because there will come a time when you have less of them.
  • This is a people business:You will be given the responsibility to interact with many key individuals on the jobsite, even in meeting rooms as the face of the company. This will come in time as your skills progress, and depending on the type of contractor you work for, this may be a definite conclusion to your training. Get comfortable speaking with job superintendents, foreman and project managers because having communication barriers will make your job so much harder to perform. 
  • Put your phone away:That's it, put it away.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes: You will make some mistakes. Take each screw up in stride and use it as a learning experience. You'll be working under more experienced leaders; don't bother trying to justify your screw ups because they definitely have made the same mistakes themselves. You’re only going to grow by embracing the lessons learned from your mistakes, and committing to learn from those experiences.
  • A new job a year isn’t a good thing:It takes about two to three years to master any new critical skill; give yourself at least that much time before you jump ship. Otherwise your resume reads as a series of red flags and will have potential employers leery of taking you on as part of their team. 
  • You need at least two mentors: The most guaranteed path to success is to emulate those who’ve achieved what you seek. You should always have at least two people you call mentors who are where you want to be. Their free guidance and counsel will be the most priceless gift you can receive. Picking one of these people and acting "as if" you were them can help you move forward. You've got to fake it until you make it, so it's better to fake it as someone who is respected for their abilities and experience. 
  • Spend 25% less than you make:When your material needs meet or exceed your income, you’re sabotaging your ability to really make it big. Don’t shackle yourself with golden handcuffs (a fancy car or an expensive apartment). No matter how much money you make, spend 25% less to support your life. It’s a guaranteed formula to be less stressed and to always have the flexibility when layoffs come around or hours get cut.


I won’t pretend that I have mastered each item on this list, but I will say that I revisit it often. None of these items are groundbreaking revelations either. Like I said, I was taught most of these lessons by others along the way.

I may have altered them over time, but the real message remains the same. Keeping things in perspective and following the rules will make for a much more successful journey for up-and-coming tradespersons.

Eric Aune started Aune Plumbing LLC in 2004 and specializes in residential and small commercial hydronic heating systems and service. He is a graduate of Dunwoody College of Technology and Plumbers Local 15, Minneapolis Apprenticeship Training Program, and is currently a United Association Instructor and teaches for the Plumbers Local 15 JATC. Aune is also founding partner and vice president of mechanical-hub.com. Contact him at: [email protected].

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