By Jo Wagner
Special to Contractor
THE MAY ISSUE of CONTRACTOR did a wonderful job of addressing the workforce development issues facing the p-h-c industry. Publisher and Editorial Director Bob Miodonski's Editorial summed up the situation perfectly: "The industry clearly needs more innovative, long-term solutions" ("Giant labor shortage needs educated solution," pg. 82).
As a contractor owner of CTO Inc. in Harlingen, Texas, and also as the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association president, I'd like to share with you some of my perspectives. I hope you will read what I have to say and reach the same conclusion I have: No entity is better suited to address workforce issues than your trade association.
Training help is nearby
For an infinite number of years businesses have banded together through organizations such as trade associations for the sole purpose of training prospective employees to do a particular job, and do it in a professional manner. This mainly has occurred at the local level because the prospective employees are needed to fill positions in towns and cities. PHCC's local chapters have taken the lead in these cases with many successes.
Our goal is to never water down training.
In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, for example, we have been training apprentice plumbers through the PHCC program for more than eight years. It is a source of pride that I am able to grow my business while giving deserving young people an excellent education. We are always thinking of ways to improve the way we train to make the process even better. But our goal is to never water down training, or we will hurt young people and our ability to protect the health and welfare of society, which is our first responsibility.
I encourage all p-h-c contractors to become a part of their associations to assure that these training efforts are exactly what are needed and are successful. Particularly in areas where there is a temporary slowdown, we dare not wait as we have in the past. To do this only exacerbates the problem when a full workforce is needed to regain profits and ensure our ability to bid and perform the work that comes our way.
Look for alternate solutions
I encourage everyone to think of workforce solutions you may not have thought of before. This can go a long way toward alleviating our worker shortage. Here in south Texas we have predominately an immigrant workforce. There are certainly ways to acquire-a legal immigrant workforce that will help fill the needs of our industry. In fact, PHCC is working on expanding that labor pool through immigration reform legislation that is being considered by Congress now.
We also need to address the need for women to embrace our industry as one that can give them a wonderful future with work they are more than capable to handle. Women rose to the occasion during World War II and found they were very good at their tasks.
Today's plumbers and HVAC techs seldom do anything that these wonderful women did not take on. Given the salaries in the industry, and the fact that these jobs cannot be outsourced, this would be a really smart move for any woman. Men don't mind women in the industry, as long as they can do the job, and do it well. It may seem strange for a while to have women working side by side with men, but it's getting more commonplace everyday, especially in larger cities.
Contractor support needed
In the final analysis, I suggest that all p-h-c contractors support PHCC and its great Educational Foundation in addressing the workforce needs of our industry. Did you know that 3,200 students are enrolled in four-year post-secondary programs using the PHCC/ Educational Foundation plumbing apprentice manuals? And that figure does not include the 500 home-study apprentice students who have chosen a more non-traditional method of study. Those are impressive numbers and, with your help, we'd like it to be even higher.
PHCC already has the curriculum, instructor training and a good working relationship with the United Association for its union contractors. Plus, many activities are going on at the national level designed to help solve the industry's current workforce development challenges. We just need the support of the contractors in the local areas to make use of the tools we already have available.
Come on board with us to make some things happen!
Jo Wagner can be reached at [email protected].