Mark de Swardt: Starting from the bottom

By Dineo Phoshoko

What started out as a project to plumb his new house, turned out to be a long and fruitful career in the plumbing industry for Mark de Swardt.

Mark 001 new webMark de Swardt (first from the right, back row) with his colleagues from Progressive Plumbers.

Mark de Swardt bought his first house when he was 23 years old and discovered that the plumbing at the house had deteriorated. “All the pipework was about 50 years old and was galvanised and deteriorating. I had to replace the entire system, but at that age, with bond repayments, I could not afford to get help,” he says. So, De Swardt worked on the plumbing of the entire house himself. His wife would help him when she returned home from work. De Swardt had attended a technical high school, which came in handy. “Soon afterwards, I was asked to plumb a colleague’s house in Dimbaza, one of the larger locations in our region. I took up the challenge, even though it was 80km out of town,” he adds.

De Swardt knew from an early age that he wanted to work with his hands and even did motor mechanics at school. The idea of working in a workshop, though, was not appealing for De Swardt. “Plumbing offered more options; there was a different working environment almost daily.” Even though De Swardt had decided on a career in the plumbing industry, getting into the industry was no easy task. “In the early days, I didn’t belong to any associations or business network groups. It was challenging to try and establish a name for myself. In the end, the old cliché of hard work really did pay off,” he says. Today De Swardt is the director of Progressive Plumbers, which is based in East London in the Eastern Cape.

We all start at the bottom. And the bottom normally is a trench, which needs a pick and backache to get through.

Like any industry, the plumbing industry has its challenges and having been in the industry for approximately 17 years, De Swardt knows all too well about them. “One challenge often faced is the random comments about call-out rates.” Another challenge he mentions, is when clients expect to get a quick response when they call a plumber. “These sorts of challenges are not insurmountable, and with careful planning, can be overcome,” he adds.

De Swardt is optimistic that the plumbing industry is progressing in a “healthy state”. “I think many of us are unaware of the efforts made by the leadership of IOPSA and PIRB. There is a collective effort to ensure that high standards are maintained and that the industry remains well regulated.” He also believes that to further improve the state of the plumbing industry in South Africa, there needs to be a “more uniformed and structured way for apprentices to get into the industry and to qualify in the industry.” De Swardt mentions that more investment is needed in the industry, especially in training colleges for plumbers.

His advice for young plumbers is that they should approach a plumbing company and offer to work for free by job shadowing the staff for a few weeks. He also advises young plumbers to specialise in different modern systems on the market, as this would make them more marketable and set them apart from the rest. “We all start at the bottom. And the bottom normally is a trench, which needs a pick and backache to get through. As in life, there is a natural progression up the proverbial ladder, and you won’t always be in the trenches, so to say.”

Click below to read the October 2017 issue of Plumbing Africa

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