From Microbiology to Plumbing

Arizona plumber is a prime example of how rewarding a plumbing career path can be

From Microbiology to Plumbing
Travis Mullins with his children.

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The skills gap is often mentioned in plumbing — a lot of experience is reaching retirement age and not enough young people are entering the industry and properly learning the trade. A factor playing into that is that a traditional college track is commonly encouraged for people coming out of high school. Skilled trades like plumbing — while still every bit a solid career path — fall by the wayside.

Travis Mullins was once on that traditional pathway. Now he’s an example of why plumbing can be a great career.

Mullins, a service technician for TCR Rooter and Plumbing in Flagstaff, Arizona, knows plumbing and walks around with the confidence of years of experience, and one would be correct in assuming that he had grown up in plumbing. His dad, John, owned his own plumbing company, All Service Plumbing in Phoenix, Arizona. However, it wasn’t a straight shot to the plumbing profession for Mullins.

“As I grew up, [my father] never wanted us to become plumbers because he thought it was a hard trade. He pushed us to go to school, he wanted us to go to college,” says Mullins.

So he enrolled at Northern Arizona University and graduated with a degree in microbiology and a minor in chemistry. He then moved to Alberta, Canada, for graduate school at the University of Alberta for medical microbiology. He did lab work for about a year there before deciding to quit.

“I was fed up with being in a crammed office and cubicle all the time with computers and equipment. It felt unhealthy, and I wasn’t happy with life at that moment, so I withdrew from graduate school,” Mullins says.

He decided to return to Phoenix, where his family still lived. At first, he continued to pursue what his college education had trained him for, putting in applications for lab jobs in the area. In the gap of looking for work, his father offered him a job at the plumbing company.

“So I went into the shop and started helping, in the warehouse, organizing parts, learning the parts, delivering stuff, or doing whatever he needed me to do. And he would pay me to help me out because I was in between jobs,” Mullins says. “A few weeks went by, a month and I had a couple interviews here and there, and I just didn’t want to go back to the lab. So then I started working for him full time.”

After four years, Mullins secured his journeyman’s license. After a couple more years, his father was getting ready to retire and wanted Mullins to take over the company.

“I started doing more of the management role. I drove around in a truck, I took bids, I did estimates,” Mullins says.

While doing that, though, he decided he didn’t want to be a part of the business side of the company. He chose not to inherit the company, and when his dad retired, the company closed down.

From there, Mullins and his family decided to move from Phoenix, but still stay somewhat close to family. They chose Flagstaff, and Mullins began looking for plumbing jobs. TCR Rooter offered him a job, and he accepted.

“He has a different style to incorporate, experience in the plumbing industry and the ability to communicate to owners, co-workers, and customers,” says Donna Meusch, a co-owner of TCR Rooter.

Mark Meusch, the other co-owner, and Donna hired Mullins as a service technician — his official title — but because of Mullins’ background, he is able to help out with many other aspects of the business.

“He is always helping me understand what the customers are needing and how we can help them,” says Brittany Havens, a customer service rep. “He helps me manage the schedule on super busy days.”

“I do a lot of everything. I help Mark, I can do estimates and bids and stuff, I know how to do the work,” Mullins says.

“He is knowledgeable in the field, willing to continue to learn, honest, smart and a hard worker,” says Donna.

What people see in Mullins is largely a result of him enjoying his work, something that wasn’t the case when he was still pursuing a career in microbiology. Whether he is helping in the office or servicing a customer, Mullins says he enjoys the work and getting to help people.

“I was never not happy plumbing,” says Mullins. “I get to go help them out and solve problems. That is one of the things that I like about it — going out, using my hands, but then I also get to use the training and problem-solving that I learned from higher education.”


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