Last month’s column garnered some interesting feedback. Thus far, this series has dealt with the woeful lack of available manpower to the trades. Programs and ideas from all corners of the nation to help meet and solve the critical manpower issues that the trades face have been addressed and debated. Finally the type of training methods which are required in order to teach the trades to apprentices was aired.
These arguments, debates, suggestions and ideas beg the real question; who are we going to attract to the trades? By that, I mean to say ‘who in the general population do we need to target for trade craft training and apprenticeship?’ The answer, unfortunately, is much harder to define than you might think. Our situation is dire enough without bringing up the subject of just who will we get into apprenticeship programs. This entire series of columns has attempted to shine a light on the problem and to, hopefully advance some real-world, real-time solutions (or at least point in the right direction) to the problem.
Readers and other trade professionals have had some good, practical solutions. Through the platform that this column and others provide, it is possible those ideas have been given enough exposure, and may take root to grow into positive steps toward a brighter future for our trades.
Where we’re going
I hate to use absolutes, but everyone is in agreement that the problem is severe. Everyone knows that we are experiencing a manpower shortage of epic proportions. Everyone knows that it is going to get worse before it gets better. Not everyone is in agreement on what will work to stop the slide or to reverse the trend. The fact of the matter is that there are many avenues to be explored and, as with most trial and error methods, those that work can be expanded while those that fail can be discarded. Those methods must be advanced immediately and their results quantified as soon as practical so that a positive, successful approach, or approaches, can be found and implemented.
Trade groups, trade publications, manufacturers, suppliers, contractors, academicians and politicians need to embrace the initiatives and propel them forward before the inevitable results of doing nothing come to fruition.
In actuality, who to try and attract to the trades is going to be a much harder question to answer than all of the previous discussions. Russ Smith of Applewood Plumbing, HVAC and Electric, located in Denver, shared an interesting statistic with me. It seems that his company has been trying to recruit qualified people from across the country. After initial contact, they are hiring only one person in 70! Further, there is no guarantee that the ‘one’ will make it all the way through their in-house training program!
This scenario is typical of the labor pool available nationwide. A plumbing contractor acquaintance of mine related this story; he won the bid on a new high school in a small Southern Arizona town. The project was far enough removed from his normal territory that he needed to hire local manpower to augment his crew. He placed an ad in the local paper and contacted other employment venues. The response he got from entry level people was that they would rather (his words here), “Stay home and collect welfare and unemployment than to work.” Keep in mind that his starting wage was $20 an hour!
Do you think this is an isolated case? Think again! Another friend of mine is working in North Dakota. He is trying to fill his crews from the young people available both locally and those who have migrated to the area in search of work. He says, “If these kids last a week, we consider it average!” The most common reason is that the “work is too hard!” The best prospects? Employees in the 40- to 50-year-old range!
It is difficult to say this, but there is no longer any doubt about the conclusion that the real problem we face, not only as a trade but as a nation, is that we have bred a generation of young people who, for the most part, have never had to work for anything. They have never been told that work is a requirement of living a fruitful life, and they eschew employment in any form that requires ‘work!’ Between their home life experiences, government handouts and the utter failure of our society to address the problem, we have been left with a gap in productive members of society that will be hard, if not impossible, to fill.
This issue cannot be swept under the rug or dismissed easily. It is true, it is real and it is here. There may be some quibbles from different people whose personal ox has been gored, but the truth is there for all to see and it cannot be denied. This is what we must address in order to survive into the new century. Do we have what it is going to take to do it?
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at[email protected].