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Introducing Kelly Dawson-Fitzpatrick from Hydro-Jet Solutions Australia

We are excited to welcome Kelly Dawson-Fitzpatrick from Hydro-Jet Solutions Australia into the business spotlight for August! 

This is a powerful chat with Jess McEachen Copywriting, where Kelly takes us right into the world of plumbing and construction, and why she is so proud of what her family business does each and every day. She also reveals what is so special about working with her Dad and brothers.

Kelly is passionate about seeing her industry not just survive but thrive, and she’s got plenty to say on why trades are a fantastic opportunity for young people, and all of the ways women are welcomed and valued in the construction industry.

Thanks to her incredible work as Business Operations Manager, Kelly was the worthy winner of The Backbone Award at our 2020 SA Woman Awards, and in this chat, we loved getting to take a deep dive into what being the ‘backbone’ truly means to her.

Let’s all give Kelly a warm, SA Woman welcome to the August Business Spotlight. The fire she has in her belly for all that she does is truly inspirational and we’re so grateful for all that she has shared with us here.

// Thank you for joining us in the Business Spotlight for August! For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you please introduce us to Hydro-Jet Solutions Australia and who your company loves to work with?

We are a maintenance plumbing company. We work in all areas of plumbing maintenance including commercial, industrial, hospitality, food manufacturing, wineries, medical and residential.

We are South Australian family owned an operated. My father Geoff is the Managing Director, Guy (the middle child), is the Senior Plumber/Project Manager, Sam (my youngest brother) is also a plumber, and I am the Business Operations Manager. We also have two other plumbers who work for us and two apprentices.

We love to work other South Australian Family Businesses, it is always lovely to know that we are able to support each other. We are very proud of our client base, and when we have an opportunity to stop and look at some of the amazing companies, both global and South Australian, it does almost take our breath away and humbles us that we work with these people and companies. 

 

// Plumbing is such an essential trade so I can imagine that it’s quite a competitive industry to be in. How do you set yourself apart and be different to others in the plumbing industry, and the overall construction industry?

The biggest motto in our office, and whilst it isn’t pretty or polished up is ‘if you can’t do it with a smile on your face then don’t do it.

It is something that our Geoff, our Dad, has said to us our whole lives. It essentially translates to if it doesn’t make you happy then go do something that does.

The plumbing and construction industries are extremely competitive, and sadly in a number of instances it is also an industry that will do their best to work against each other than together.

Dad has always said there is enough work for everyone, and with that, we work with several other plumbing companies, as there are times we need to be there for each other and help each other. Whether to help a client, to borrow labour or for advice – we believe in working as an industry not as individuals.

We appreciate that we are not a huge team, but we believe the service we offer is the reason we have the clients we do. We treat every client like they are part of our business and that we are always approachable and work to form a relationship with them. We are not about fixing the issue and moving on, we want every client whether they are a global company or your grandmother, to feel valued, understood, understand what has occurred, why and how we will resolve it for them.

We work to understand the requirements or our client and make sure that the outcome that is achieved is the best one for them and fulfils their needs. Like any business it is about the people and no matter how big or small the client is, you need to value the people who you are dealing with.

 

// While we’re on the topic of it being an essential industry – is plumbing a trade that automatically attracts school leavers? Or, if not, what do you do to foster the next generation of plumbers?

Plumbing is an essential industry, which means that there will always be jobs in the industry.

Sadly, it has been very difficult to encourage young people into the industry, into any trade in fact, trades have been underappreciated and discouraged for many years, and the public are now experiencing the results of this, as securing a tradesperson quickly can be difficult.

The industry associations and RTO’s have been working very hard to turn this trend around, however, it is a tough battle, as the schools promote University as the best option for career paths and many parents, feel that learning a trade is not what they want to see their child doing.

It saddens me, as the trades are a fantastic opportunity for young people.

There are very few tradespeople looking for work, they are paid very well and there are other career paths into the future, which could be Project Management, their own business, consultancy, design or the educators of the future. You don’t need to always be ‘on the tools’.

It frustrates me that many people’s opinions are that tradespeople are not the smartest people around, but most tradespeople I know are highly intelligent, highly skilled and must be extremely knowledgeable about their industry.

The standards and regulations in which they much understand, adhere to, and are consistently updated are not for the faint hearted.

Undertaking a trade is a great way for young people to set their lives up, know there will always be work for them, they are paid to learn and don’t start their careers with a huge education debt, which can allow them to purchase a home, start a family or business earlier in their lives.

The trade industries are very rewarding, and I encourage anyone thinking about doing a trade to give it ago, there are many companies like ours who’s doors are open to anyone who would like to undertake some work experience, or would like to have a chat to learn more about the plumbing industry.

Kelly Dawson-Fitzpatrick - winner of The Backbone Award at the 2020 SA Woman Awards

// You were the very deserving winner of ‘The Backbone Award’ at our 2020 SA Woman Awards – and I’ll never forget your face when your name was announced!

What obstacles and opportunities you have found being in this ‘backbone’ position?

I was shocked to have won the backbone award; it still amazes me to this day!

I have always looked at being the ‘backbone’ of our business as me being lucky. I am so lucky that I have the opportunity to work with my Dad and my brothers every day.

Don’t get me wrong there are some days that we don’t see eye to eye, but that is normal in any workplace, but to spend 5 days a week with my family is pretty special.

I get every emotional at the thought that when the day comes where my Dad and my Mum aren’t here anymore, us three kids, can know that we worked and built something together as a family for our families and that we had the time together very few people get with their loved ones.

Having said that being ‘backbone’ can also be frustrating. I am the one that everyone comes to, everyone rings, and everyone thinks is their direct personal assistant when they want something organised. We have a great system in place, but at times, it is just easier to call Kelly isn’t it, haha.

I am also the one that needs to ensure that we have consistency of cash flow, the invoices are issued, the bills are paid, payroll is done, the phones are answered, the clients are happy, the WHS is up to date, the Uniforms are ordered and the cars are serviced.

There are days where I most definitely live up the ‘grumpy office lady’ image, but to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have found running the business to be a huge learning curve, and I am very grateful to have some amazing people around me, who have supported our business, shared their knowledge, encouraged me and have been there as a shoulder to cry on, for those days we need it. I have grown so much as a person; I have learnt so much and in all honesty I would have undertaken half of the things I have done or am doing if it wasn’t for Hydro-Jet Solutions and the people around us.

// “Kelly is driven to make a change in the plumbing industry, to provide a quality, reliable service, which results in client satisfaction and to bring a professional and female touch to the plumbing industry.” I absolutely LOVED reading this part of your bio.

What is the change that you want to see? And, in terms of a female touch – how do you encourage women to become part of the plumbing and construction industries? What are the opportunities that exist for women?

As I said about encouraging the next generation into the Industry, I want to see the industry change the way It looks at Itself.

Many of the stakeholders don’t value themselves and the contributions they make to our state, our country, and our world.

We all talk about the state of our health system, however, can you imagine what our lives would be like without the proper sanitisation, wastewater treatment and clean drinking water we all just expect?

We don’t give a second thought to turning on the tap and seeing clean drinking water or flushing our toilet and not every worrying about seeing what was flushed away ever again! We as an industry need to respect ourselves and command this of others.

As an industry we are making huge leaps forward to encourage more women into the industry.

I want women to know that they are welcome and valued in the construction industry, women provide a different prospective, understanding and contributions to projects.

Women are able to undertake any role they wish in the construction industry, from undertaking a trade, contract administration, WHS, crane operators, to Managing Directors, the list is endless, there is nothing stopping women from doing whatever job they feel passionate about.

The majority of companies now appreciate that the client experience and the delivery of an outstanding project is enhanced, when the service delivery is through both male and female perspectives, and actively participate in programs such as HiViz with Master Builders and Crucial Women in Construction through Master Plumbers and other associations.  

I want to see the industry change the way It looks at Itself.

Many of the stakeholders don’t value themselves and the contributions they make to our state, our country, and our world.

We all talk about the state of our health system, however, can you imagine what our lives would be like without the proper sanitisation, wastewater treatment and clean drinking water we all just expect?

We don’t give a second thought to turning on the tap and seeing clean drinking water or flushing our toilet and not every worrying about seeing what was flushed away ever again! We as an industry need to respect ourselves and command this of others.

Kelly Dawson-Fitzpatrick

Hydro-Jet Solutions Australia

// You’re currently undertaking an MBA at Deakin University – go you! Looking ahead, where are you wanting to take your own role and your career? What excites you about the future?

Undertaking my MBA wasn’t an easy decision to make. To go back to Uni after 20 years was daunting, but I couldn’t see any other way of learning to understand our business more.

I felt that it was imperative for me to further develop both my management skills, but also for me to thoroughly understand the strategy, leadership, accounting, and financial aspects of our business.

I don’t want to be relying on outside experts to tell me about our business, I wanted to know everyday where the business is, was and where it will be in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I also wanted to be able to understand the recommendations that we being made to us thoroughly to enable informed decisions to be made in conjunction with our team of experts.

As a part of the MBA I am undertaking some electives, covering being board ready, project management and compliance which will be very useful.  I would love to try to make more of an impact on the industry either through association contribution or education and training, by sitting on a couple of industry boards in the future.  

 

// What is the advice you’d give to any women wanting to step into leadership and management roles? Particularly within industries that are seen as male-dominated?

The biggest key is to have a thick skin and be prepared to learn, prepared to get your hands dirty and understand the industry you are in.

Most people will think that the male dominated industries will not be welcome to women coming into their domain, but I have never found this in any way. In fact, most men welcome women onsite, and I have always been encouraged women to give it a go, understand it and always found that the trades are more than happy to share their knowledge.

From a management perspective, I am always the first one to help onsite when I can, this is the only way that I am able to learn about the plumbing and let’s be honest the most important part of our business.

It is imperative for me to do my best to understand the critical side of the business, the side of the industry and trade. No one appreciates it when a manager or leader sits in their ‘ivory tower’ and offers suggestions on workflow, performance, or areas that we see as important and how things can be done differently, to increase the bottom line without in all honesty being qualified to have this opinion. You also don’t get the best out of your staff if this is the position you take. As a manager or leader, you need to understand what the people on the ground are facing, their challenges with and how it can be made easier or streamlined for them.

Whilst I am undertaking my MBA, this piece of paper provides me absolutely no understanding of the daily processes, requirements, legal compliance, skills, technical requirements, or understand the materials we use our plumbers work with every day. The only way I can understand this is to spend time with them onsite, participating, assisting, and seeing their job and our business through their eyes.

We can then have open discussion on how as a manager or Leader how we can improve the company efficiency or implement better practices. Leadership and management need to build trust and understanding with those who you are leading, standing at the top and telling them how they can do it better without understanding does not create this. 

 

// Now, I imagine it can’t be all work and no play for you! What do you love to do outside of work that brings a smile to your face?

My husband Wayne is my best friend as are our two fur babies, Murphy our Cavoodle and Tigger our Mini Poodle. Wayne and I try to spend as much time together as possible.

We race cars together; we go to coffee and car meets. We are heavily involved with Nissan Datsun Car Club SA and we are also members of Sporting Car Club. We spend time up the river with amazing friends either on our JetSki’s, in or behind the boats, or just relaxing on the bank with a glass of bubbles and a charcuterie board. We participate in rides with the South Australian JetSki Club.

We love entertaining at home or going out and sharing a great meal and a bottle of wine with people who mean the world to us, we are so lucky to be surrounded by some of the most incredible people are who are our family and friends. Oh and hopefully we can travel again soon too!

 

// We’re so grateful for your ongoing support and willingness to help your fellow SAW members out! What do you love the most about being part of the SAW community and what have you gained from it?

I love how the community is one of passion, inclusiveness, understanding, is non-judgemental and one that wants to support each other.

Being in business can be very lonely hard road, knowing that there are other women out there who understand what it is like to juggle family, house, study, staff, suppliers, clients, technology, and everything else that comes with having a business and a life is amazing.

If you don’t have someone in your immediate network, you can speak to about a difficulty it is fabulous to know that you can reach out into the community, and someone will be able to assist.

I would love to see more companies from the construction sector as well as the traditionally ‘male driven’ industries join the group, I think they would get a lot out of it.

 

// Lastly, if you could have lunch with 3 other amazing South Australian women – who would you invite?

Hmm this is a tough one. There are so many women whom I think are incredible people from all forms of industries, that I would have lunch with everyday of the week. But if I have to short list it, can I please be cheeky to have 4? 😉 My picks would be:

Julie Bishop – Former Federal Foreign Minister

Bec Hardy – Bec Hardy Wines

Jenny Hurley – Hurley Group

Jane Doyle – 7News/Journalist

I find all these women to be strong, knowledgeable, determined, fascinating, poised and people whom I would love to listen to and soak up what wisdom they hold.

Thanks for chatting with us Kelly!!


Find out more about Hydro-Jet Solutions Australia:

Facebook: Hydro-Jet Solutions Australia

Instagram: @hydrojetsolutionsaustralia

LinkedIn: Kelly Dawson-Fitzpatrick

Website:

www.hydrojetsolutions.com.au