Are we preaching to the choir?

July 8, 2013
It is interesting to note the ways one word can be construed; Leg*a*cy (noun) – 1. Something from the past: a. Something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation or time (bequest, inheritance, heritage). b. Relic, vestige, residue, remnant.

It is interesting to note the ways one word can be construed; Leg*a*cy (noun) – 1. Something from the past: a. Something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation or time (bequest, inheritance, heritage). b. Relic, vestige, residue, remnant.

For the past few months, this column has been about the looming manpower crisis in our trades. We’ve looked at where we have come from, where we are and how we got here. It’s time to look at where we are going.

The subject of our woeful lack of new blood has become the topic of conversation at all levels of our industry. The problem, as near as I can tell, is that damn little beyond talking is being done about it. To be sure, there are people and organizations that are getting their collective hands on the problem, but as a whole, our industry lacks the concerted, concentrated effort that the problem requires.

In researching the issue, we have already noted the Construction Career Days idea as a huge step in the right direction. Suggestions about utilizing existing mothballed military facilities as trade schools also are viable. The real answer, though, lies with the industry itself.  All these great ideas (and many more which have not been delineated) need someone or something to champion them. More, they need that advocacy at the highest decibel level possible! We need a focal point; someone or some group to be the “tip of the spear” on this issue, in order to thrust it into the national spotlight.

When last I checked, we were still a capitalist country. The mantra of capitalism is “for profit.” Everyone who is in business is in it to make a profit. You spend capital with the idea that it will return a profit, providing more capital for more growth and profit, ad infinitum (one hopes). So the idea of spending some capital on the present problem should not be anathema to a businessperson.

A great example of this attitude is Nexstar Network. The Nexstar membership has created a non-profit organization called the Nexstar Legacy Foundation. Founded by John Ward of Applewood Plumbing, Heating and Electric, located in Denver, in 2005, the foundation’s guiding principles are to recruit and encourage quality applicants into the mechanical trades. This is their mission statement: The Nexstar Legacy Foundation is dedicated to attracting talented individuals to the heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical industries, by inspiring these people to discover the prestige, earning power and stability of careers in these fields. The foundation accomplishes this by being the leading resource for information on careers and training, as well as a source of financial aid.   

I interviewed the foundation board president Julie Wieman (Owner of MacGregor Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning and Electric of Northern Michigan) and executive director, Renee Cardarelle. The foundation has an outreach program called Troops to Trades that specifically targets our returning, and already returned veterans. Additionally, it provides scholarships to worthy candidates who want to go into management and engineering as well as entry-level personnel. The foundation works with independent service contractors from both the Nexstar membership and the trades at large. Renee told me, “We have a number of scholarships available for students entering the plumbing, HVAC and electrical industries. We also have some training opportunities for veterans. Please let your readers know about these opportunities.” You can also learn more about their program at

The following Nexstar legacy scholarships are available: Jill Reed Women in Business, closes July 26, 2013; Technicians in the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling and Electrical Industry, closes July 19, 2013; Troops to Trades Professional Training Scholarships; closes November 2013; and Troops to Trades Build-a-Tech Scholarship, closes July 31, 2013.

To date the foundation has awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships. The foundation is looking to partner with other organizations too. The idea is to broaden their outreach and bring more quality people into the trades. To that end, they have begun, or are in the process of working with, Opportunity Nation, Opportunity Nation’s main thrust is reaching prospective applicants for all types of jobs, but the exposure for the trades can’t hurt.

People and programs like Construction Career Days, Nexstar Legacy Foundation and Opportunity Nation are leading the charge to help solve our great and growing problem of manpower in the trades. They are a good start. We, as an industry, need to not only applaud their efforts, but assist them at every opportunity.

Based on the foregoing, the title of this column points to an interesting question; are we just ‘preaching to the choir?’ Since you, our reader, are already reading a trade publication, we can assume that you are already aware of the magnitude of the problem our industry faces, and that would imply that you know that something needs to be done…NOW!  Are we wasting paper and ink in urging you to take action?  How do we get national media coverage? The problem is too big to ignore.

The common consensus is that we must make the education establishment aware of the dire need for curriculum changes and a concerted effort to give students the opportunity to have an alternate path to career choice. Showing them the opportunities available in the trades and nurturing their innate aptitudes for trade craft is critical to our future success.

We must also make our legislators aware of the problem in no uncertain terms and get them on board to finding a solution to the problem. That will be the difference between which of the two definitions of the word legacy (a. or b.) we choose.

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].

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