CHICAGO — The Boy Scouts of America Chicago Council has partnered with the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland to honor UA General President William P. Hite as the recipient of the AFL-CIO George Meany Award on January 20, 2015, at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Chicago.
The partnership with the Boy Scouts of America is meant to address the industry’s long-standing problem with recruitment.
Most industry participants have come to realize that there is a growing skills gap crisis facing the construction trades sector and the many other critical fields relating to the plumbing and piping industry, including engineering and manufacturing. The latest economic figures estimate that nearly 1.6 million new skilled workers will be needed over the next decade in order to replace the retiring workforce. Yet finding eager and qualified prospective apprentices to enter the construction trades presents the industry with quite a challenge.
“Recruitment numbers in the Chicago and surrounding suburban counties are at an all-time low,” said Robert F. Melko, chairman of the Plumbing Council and owner of Bishop Plumbing Inc. “By my own estimate as the UA Local 130 Joint Apprenticeship Committee Co-Chair, our plumbing apprentice numbers are significantly down by more than two-thirds this year alone. Plus, our efforts to reach kids at the high school level are often thwarted by well-intentioned yet uninformed guidance counselors trying to boost their college acceptance rates even though 75% of these students never complete their degree despite the astronomical costs of a higher education. Thinking ‘outside the pipe’ is our only viable option in this matter, and fortunately one answer has been right in front of us the whole time.”
That answer is the Boy Scouts of America.
The Boy Scouts has a long-standing relationship with the American labor movement. The two entities share many common goals, including the pursuit of preparedness, economic justice and the value of hard work. This is especially valid when it comes to training the next generation with the critical STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — skills and apprenticeship education needed to boost the nation’s competitiveness. It’s also evident in the merit badges of the various labor trades and their ability to foster a genuine interest in construction industry careers among today’s youth and tomorrow’s construction leaders.
Through the joint efforts of the Plumbing Council of Chicagoland and the Boy Scouts of America Chicago Area Council, the plumbing and piping industry is trying to rekindle a spark that will, it is hoped, ignite a flame for the construction trades and, in turn, close the skills shortage.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council established the George Meany Award in 1974 to recognize union members — men and women — who have made a significant contribution to the youth of their communities by volunteering in the programs of the Boy Scouts of America. The award is named for the AFL-CIO’s first president, who demonstrated strong support to Scouting over the years.
The George Meany award has not been bestowed upon a Chicago labor leader for many decades. If the January event is successful, UA General President Hite, a former Boy Scout and Sea Scout and native of Wheaton, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, will be the start of a long list of labor leaders to receive this prestigious recognition. More importantly, the event can help reconnect the construction trades with the Boy Scouts in a way that will benefit both organizations.
This past August, the local Boy Scouts Council in Michigan was invited by the Plumbing Council of Chicago to attend the UA Instructor’s 61st Annual Training Program at Washtenaw College in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Not only did the scouts present the colors at the opening ceremony, but they toured the campus facilities and spoke directly with contractors, instructors, union leaders, industry professionals and apprentices as they participated in hands-on training to explore plumbing and pipefitting as potential career options.
Tellingly, one of the scouts even commented that, “this was the best event that he has ever been forced to attend.”
“The launch of this inaugural event and rediscovered partnership with the Boy Scouts will allow us to maximize our already successful Boy Scout merit badge programs in Plumbing, Welding and American Labor,” Melko said. “In addition, I am excited to announce that the research of an HVAC merit badge is currently in the works.”
The inaugural “Celebration of Labor and Scouting Unity” gala event honoring UA General President William P. Hite is on January 20, 2015, in Chicago. Tickets, commemorative book ads and sponsorship opportunities are available for purchase.