In December’s column, I asked my readers how they were handling several issues facing our industry, and to share how they were mitigating the impact the supply chain, manpower and economy issues were bringing with them for 2023.
First, I want to thank those of you who responded to my requests. Taking time out of your business day, if you did that, is greatly appreciated. Your insights and solutions speak of people engaged in a business that requires a great deal of “out of the box” thinking, planning and courage.
Solutions, Not More Problems
Sadly, the responses I received put a fine point on the problems outlined in December’s column while providing no innovative tips that I can share. How all you handle the supply chain issue is a good example. Many of you are using “common sense” approaches (although common sense is not too common any more).
Most businesses that can, are finding sources for the materials that are in short supply and are bulk ordering them. Those of you who can’t bulk order are, similarly, locating sources and ordering small quantities with recurring shipping dates to keep yourselves supplied. Setting a “re-order” calendar up on your smart devices seems to be gaining ground as a way to keep ahead of the problem. Having an electronic reminder to keep you informed while you run your business is a good idea.
Beyond those methods, there doesn’t seem to be a panacea for getting ahead of the curve on material shortages. The interconnected nature of our world today, especially as it relates to materials manufacture, makes any one-size-fits-all solution unobtainable. You are just dealing with the problem as you would with any glitch... tackling it head-on and making it a non-issue where you can.
The Eroding Economy
As inflation eats up more of our purchasing power, and your profits, and the Federal Reserve continues to tilt at windmills by raising interest rates to try to tame it, our industry as a whole has been dealt a one-two punch to the gut. While construction is considered by many to be the backbone of a robust economy, it seems that it is always the first to feel the effects of a downturn. I suppose, in some perverse way, it makes sense. Construction takes money, manpower and material... everything that feeds the economic engine.
You can read, watch or listen to any number of “experts” predicting this problem and that outcome, but they are, for the most part, relying on data and past performances. Sort of like listening to the color commentators at a pro football game. They fill the air with a lot of talk about what is obvious, but provide little of substance about the future. The economists can’t predict what is going to happen tomorrow any more than the color commentators can predict that interception or recovered fumble. It’s all a crapshoot.
Most of the responses I received on this issue say as much. The best you can do is to anticipate and prepare. Worrying about it doesn’t do any good, but dismissing it entirely isn’t a good strategy either. Somewhere between “Pollyanna” and “catatonic” is where we all need to keep our expectations, according to what you wrote.
Every single response I received said the same thing: “We can’t find anyone who wants to work, will show up on time, put in a hard day’s labor and stay with us long enough to train them.” Trying to avoid generalities is difficult when the obvious is staring you in the face. We, as a nation, have raised an entire generation of layabouts! There, I said it! You all said it to me, now I’m saying it in this magazine, in print and digital format (assuming it gets published).
The stories I have heard are not apocryphal, they are real. I do not enjoy disparaging young people, but if the shoe fits…
From reading articles on some social media platforms, to the news feeds on my cell phone, about “quiet quitting” and such, it is obvious to anyone with a modicum of intellect, that the pool of people we are relying on to save the trades have been poisoned. They have been taught that they are the “be all and end all.” Their whims, likes and dislikes are paramount and any attempt to get them to actually do something other than that which they want to do is some sort of oppression.
We could probably fill volumes with stories from the younger generation about how their teacher, boss, server, etc., was “mean” to them and, therefore, they can respond in any way their little (spoiled) hearts desire.
Tell me I’m wrong!
The real problem we in the trades have, and will continue to have for years to come, isn’t supply chain issues, nor is it the economy (let’s face it, even during the great depression, people found ways to cope). The biggest problem the trades, and the country, face is a population that is growing up to believe that work is indeed a four letter word. So, do your best to find, cultivate and retain your new hires where and when you find them. If you find people who want to work, can be taught the trade and stick around long enough to learn it, you are blessed! If the responses I got to my question are any indication, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Remember, these people will be running this country in the not-too-distant future. Think about that for a minute.
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].