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Sustainably Speaking

A career in plumbing can lead to many paths

In the past few weeks, I’ve crossed paths with a variety of individuals involved in the plumbing industry. About a month ago, I had a conference call with Mr. Rooter LLC President Mary Kennedy Thompson. I was interviewing her for an article, which will be in the August issue, about The Dwyer Group saluting veterans and public protectors through franchise opportunities. Click here to read the online article.

During the phone call she told me how after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps she became involved in franchises, then Mr. Rooter. She believes that veterans make really good franchisors. “I always say franchising is good for vets, and vets are good for franchising,” said Thompson. “I live that. When I got out of the Marines I knew I needed to be in a group and be a leader, and franchising was the perfect place for me to be.” 

She also believes that Marines and plumbers are very much alike. “I felt like I was coming home when I came to this company,” said Thompson. “Plumbers do a really hard job people don’t want to do and so do marines. When we go to someone’s home they are not having a good day, and our job is to turn it around for them.”

When on vacation visiting family and friends in Michigan a few weeks ago, I experienced firsthand what Thompson told me. This was not on my vacation agenda, but a half day on Saturday was devoted to dealing with a backed up sewer system in my mom’s and grandmother’s condo, so we called Mr. Rooter, the company the condominium association suggested.

During the experience, not one, but two service technicians came out to the condo to get us out of the mess we were in. Both technicians were polite, courteous, and very young — they were both only 22-years-old. Each of them talked highly of their profession and had very good things to say about Mr. Rooter. They discussed with me how plumbing is a stable profession and a good way to make a living. One technician told me that while in trade school he participated in SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Contest, winning first place in a couple contests. He was very proud of this and said that plumbing is one of the best trades to be in, that there is always a need for it, and that you can go far with it depending on what you want to do. It was very good to see these young men excited about their careers. 

Then, just last week, I went to Viega's continuing education media event in Nashua, N.H. This was a great experience to learn about Viega’s products and systems solutions. We (members of the media) had an opportunity to install some of these solutions in the educational facility. We also learned about Viega’s MegaPress System and each one of us pressed black pipe. We also used a pipe threading machine, so we could understand the different processes available, and the amount of time involved when a contractor is on a job, threading pipe. We were assisted by Jason McKinnon, manager of training and technical support, and Andy Richards, product trainer, when utilizing the tools and working on installations.

McKinnon was actually never a plumber in the field, but became involved with the plumbing and HVAC industry working for Trane while going to school to become an engineer. 

McKinnon told me that it is crucial we continue to promote the field side of the plumbing industry.

“Many of the people that I have encountered in sales, technical and training positions all have backgrounds beginning in the field,” explained McKinnon. “The installation and service of plumbing and heating provides experience that is most easily learned by doing and allows the opportunity for the individual to continue to advance in the field or transition into another role within the industry, utilizing their years of real-world experience.”

Richards worked as a Master Plumber before working at Viega, and has positive things to say about a career in plumbing. Richards became a product trainer at Viega after he was laid off from his job in 2010. “I saw the opening for the trainer position with Viega and after using their products for years as a plumber, I felt the position would be a good fit,” explained Richards. “I am comfortable speaking in front of groups, especially about topics (plumbing and heating) I have a lot of experience in.”

Even though plumbing is not a glamorous job, there is a lot of reward to it.

“The work is rewarding if you like a sense of accomplishment and like to see a finished product as the result of your labor,” said Richards. “Most successful plumbers will earn a similar salary that someone with an average college degree could earn. If you are willing to work hard you can make really good money.”

Richards pointed out that there are many different aspects of the trade that someone can get involved in, such as new construction, residential, commercial or industrial sectors.

“You could work for a management company as an in-house plumber or even own your own company,” said Richards. “Someone could get into estimating for a company once they have learned the business side and understand how to bid jobs or you could become a project foreman and lead a crew. One could even get into sales and/or the training side of the business if you work for a large plumbing or mechanical company, a wholesaler or even a manufacturer.”

According to Mark Parent, director of product management heating and cooling, most plumbers today are well educated and many of them are successful business people.

“If I was to enter the plumbing business today I will further my education beyond the field knowledge and find every advantage I could to become successful as the business world is changing and becoming more and more competitive no matter what the business is, plumbing or working on Wall Street,” explained Parent.

Parent’s career in plumbing started out in the field as a plumber, then evolved to working for a manufacturer in a technical capacity to sales management, training and product management.

“I have actually worked longer in the corporate world than in the field as a plumber, however, without first working as a plumber I probably would have not taken the career path I did,” said Parent.

So by these examples, it’s easy to see that plumbing can be a profitable career. The industry just needs to figure out a way to get its foot in the door at high school career resource centers, so kids know that plumbing is a good career choice and can offer just as many career options as a four-year college degree. The only requirement is that you have to be willing to work hard and sweat to have a fruitful career, but isn’t that the case with any career these days?


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