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Posted on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

National plumber instructor training in Ann Arbor goes global with new Australian affiliation

By Ben Freed


From left to right: Terry Urbanek, UA international representative; Earl Setches, PTEU national secretary; William Hite, UA general president; John Telsord, UA director of Canadian affairs; Patrick Kellett, UA director of business development

Ben Freed |

The annual United Association (UA) North America training convention held at Washtenaw Community College has a decidedly more international feel this year thanks to a new affiliation with the Plumbers Trade Employees Association (PTEU) of Australia.

The two unions, both members of the World Plumbing Council, will sign the affiliation agreement Wednesday morning. The agreement will transform a 6-year informal relationship into a close collaboration that both sides say will lead to improved training practices, increased job opportunities, and even a “greener” world.

With the merger, an increasing number of Australian instructors will arrive in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti every year to both learn and teach at the UA’s annual weeklong training seminar. Before long, others might follow them.

“We’re here this year and New Zealand is here, too,” PTEU Federal Secretary Earl Setchs said.

“But China, India, and others will follow suit. This is the place to come excellence in training.”

The only problem they might have is finding a place to stay — hotels in the area already are packed when the UA comes to town.

A part of the draw for North American and international visitors alike are the facilities available at WCC.

“This is the best training center in the world,” Setchs said. “And not just barely, but by a long way.”

Setchs added that the reception of hotels, restaurants and residents in the area has been extremely embracing.

William Hite, general president of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters, Sprinklerfitters, and Service Technicians, said the UA has worked to build the connections in the region that have led to the positive reception as well as new community programs that coincide with the seminar.

Hite said the event on WCC’s campus is just the tip of the iceberg, both for training and for the affiliation between the unions.

“We spend $250 million a year as a union on training and certification,” he said.

The approximately 2,200 visitors to the area are instructors themselves, and Hite said they all take the knowledge they learn and use it to teach both apprentices and journeymen working on continuing their education.

When the Australians join the experience as full partners, they will be able to share expertise in water conservation and learn from American instructors who have more experience with in heavy industry, a growing sector in Australia.

The partnership will also allow for increased employment mobility for union workers between countries. Americans and Canadians are members of the same union, so they can already use their certifications to find work in either country. The new affiliation will open a growing market in Australia to the North American workforce.

“There’s $190 billion worth of work in the resource sector to be done in Australia,” Setchs said. “That’s billion with a ‘B.’”

The Australian government has been involved in the partnership, and Hite said that the process for American union members to work in Australia will be streamlined.

On the flip side, Australian expertise in environmentally friendly techniques will be used to help the American and Canadian union improve performance in what they assume will continue to be a growth sector at home.

“Australia leads the world in green and water conservation practices,” Hite said.

“We hope to learn from them and we will have Australian instructors teaching here next year.”

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

"Australian instructors teaching here next year" I hate when these people "OUTSOURCE" our jobs to "Foreigners"!


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

I think the idea is that Australia wants to be able to hire US plumbers. Australia is in desperate need of tradesmen and you can earn a LOT of money down under in this kind of work.

Ron Granger

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

Just think of the great new expletives you could learn from an Australian Plumber! I'd buy some drinks for that. Heck, they could probably make some cash teaching courses. In fact, are we sure the cross-cultural expletives aren't the primary reason for this new affiliation?

Ron Granger

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Heh. Nice, Nick. But they'd need to put a screen up. Can't be showing crack in front of all those police and judges.


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

It will be great to have some true blue aussie accents in town!


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

With all these plumbers in town, maybe somebody could take a minute and look into the City Hall water sculpture.

say it plain

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

too funny! a great idea!

Ron Granger

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 1:14 p.m.

A "certified" plumber recently did work on my Grandmother's sink. She was having new countertops put in and the plumber's only task was to temporarily remove the sink and then re-install. It leaked. He had to come back. What is the point of paying top dollar for a cerified plumber if he can't do a simple job right the first time? Us amateurs, we expect to keep trying until we get it right. But a "pro"? But it's good money if you can get it.

Honest Abe

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 11:33 p.m.

Home Depot!? That is where things went wrong! Home Depot hires 'handy hacks" as sub contractors. If you want a plumber - Call a plumber. Yes, I am aware that some big box stores offer installation and such with certain purchases, but when it comes down to it, in the long run at least, hire your own pro's, otherwise you are at the mercy of someone doing it for you. Chances are they will select a sub contract company who offers services for the least amount of money and workers who may not even be permitted to perform the WORK. And to end things, always is EXPENSIVE in the end. I hope your next experience with a plumber is pleasant and professional. Good luck and take care.

Ron Granger

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 8:33 p.m.

Thanks for the correction, Abe. Licensed is the word I was looking for. The plumber was referred by home depot as part of their contractor install program.

Honest Abe

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 6:12 p.m.

No such thing as a "certified" plumber. Legit plumbers are "Licensed" by the State of Michigan, and the Sate plumbing board. and must pass a grueling exam that has a failure rate of 85%. They must have 6,000 hours of documented hours to become a Journeyman plumber. If they choose, they can take another exam 2 years later and 4000 more hours later, and sit for the Masters Exam. Again, it is another grueling exam that most never end up passing. It is right around 70-85% failure rate. So after all that Ron, Granny probably was serviced by an apprentice or a laborer. Either way I agree the sink should have been done correctly from the start and no leaks. But I wanted to make it clear that 'certified' is a lower tiered term to give the legit guys who work very hard at becoming a state of michigan licensed plumber. There is more to plumbing than leaky faucets and buttcracks. Those guys have to know about structure, venting, layouts, blueprints, sanitary drainage, storm lines and sewers, water distribution, water heaters, fixtures, material, undergrounds, service & repair, remodels, new construction and all the code that goes along with it. My brother is a plumber, and a licensed one at that. He works very hard and he makes a great living too. He is honest and it took him years and years to learn the trade not to mention the 6 figure amount he invested into starting his company. Please do not stereotype tradespersons or judge a bad job and hold it against everyone. As with any business, sometimes there are people working there who should not be. I advise Granny to search around for a good plumber next time. Maybe ask a friend, neighbor or good reviews online. cheers and have a blessed day.

G. Orwell

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

"Australia leads the world in green and water conservation practices," Hilte said. I am all for conservation but please no carbon taxes here in the US as they have in Australia. Carbon taxes are nothing more than a scam to enrich those collecting it. I am glad UA is here and WCC can provide the venue. Sounds like a great partnership.