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49-year-old apprentice plumber gets a helping hand


When he graduates from his plumbing apprenticeship in 2024, Rory Withers will be 50 years old. 

It’s not how the New Lambton Heights father-of-four thought his career would progress, but in less than five years he’ll be exactly where he wants to be, and that’ll be good for Newcastle, too. 

Rory is a mature-aged apprentice. 

He’s gained experience in a range of hands-on skills over the years, but this is the path that will lead him to his specialist field so he’s pulling his weight like all the other members of his team. 

“I’m not sure I love being called mature-aged, but that’s what you get for being an old bloke in a young man’s game,” he says. 

“Some days it’s tough on the body, the misses will tell you that, but I’m digging trenches and carrying tools and pulling my weight just like all the other blokes.” 

The truth is Rory had dreamt of becoming a plumber for more than two decades, “but life got in the way”. 

As a single parent to his two oldest boys and needing to pay the bills, he took a full-time job at HMRI in the maintenance sector, where he stayed for the next decade. 

Then, two years ago things changed. 

“I always told my boys to get a trade, get a few trades, they’re great skills to have,” he says.  

“I thought now it’s dad’s turn.” 

Rory says the Rheem Apprentice Plumber grant will help get him the tools he needs to do his job better.

Rory started his apprenticeship with Gateshead-based business Advantage Plumbing Solutions in August 2021. 

And, while his body has managed to keep up with workloads, the family bank balance took a hit as Rory’s income dropped from $2,000/week to $731/week. 

He now has a new partner and two more young children.

More than half of his wage is spent on rent.

“It’s a massive pay cut and I can see why people thought I was crazy doing it, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he says.

Rory has a 10-year plan that will benefit the region, too. 

He is looking at becoming Newcastle’s own medical gas specialist, a field of expertise he’s had his eye on for a few years now. 

He says it’s a skillset that requires attention to detail, and perhaps a sense of maturity. 

In a positive step forward, Rory was named in the list of winners of the 2023 Rheem Apprentice Plumber Grants this month. 

Established in 2012, the program aims to invest in the future of the plumbing industry by contributing $30,000 to 10 winners each year to assist with study and tool costs.  

With a 57% increase in grant applications this year, Rheem Australia managing director Chris Taylor says it’s clear apprentices are feeling the pinch of the rising cost of living.  

“A common narrative among the 338 applicants this year is how much of an impact a grant will have on securing their future,” he says.  

“This important financial investment will help lessen the load on our apprentices as they battle the fastest-growing annual increase in the cost of living since 1990.  

“Depending on their needs, they can choose which new tools to purchase that will ultimately assist them on the job site.” 

According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research report, the number of active apprentices and trainees increased by 14% between 30 September 2021 and 30 September 2022.  

“I tell my TAFE teachers I’m coming for their job now,” says Rory. 

“I’ve just got to get through my studies and my training, and I can bring a specialised skill to Newcastle that’s only in Sydney at the moment. 

“This money will help me get some tools that I need and help pay for my TAFE fees, so yeah, I’m really grateful for it.” 

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