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Al Schwartz
Opening ceremonies with Douglas Green doing the ribbon cutting. He is flanked on his right by his wife, Heather and on his left by Daniel Orrantia, Principle of the Evergreen School.

Skilled Trades Centers – Up and Running

June 14, 2023
On May 17 I, among many others, stood inside the first of what will be many Skilled Trades Center buildings.

In last November’s column, I told you about Douglas Greene and his idea of getting a brick-and-mortar facility for teaching the skilled trades to high school and college students. As I said in that column, Douglas is not one to be put off when confronted with the intractable “powers that be” as regards trade training and education. So it was that Douglas invited me to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the first “Skilled Trades Center” at Evergreen High School in Vancouver, Washington.

An Idea Whose Time has Come

On May 17 I, among many others, stood inside the first of what will be many Skilled Trades Center buildings. The ceremony was brief and had the usual speakers when such a facility is inaugurated, but the one man who started it all spoke eloquently of the vision and need for such a facility. You can listen to his comments (12 minutes) here: .

The project has come to fruit because of the dedication of Douglas Greene, and others, whom he motivated to help bring the idea of trade education back to high schools and junior colleges. All this coming to fruition with not a little effort and a lot of money on his part. It was with a great deal of pride and satisfaction on my part to see the facility was fully functional and stocked with tools and materials, much of which had been donated by various manufacturers such as Home Depot, Harbor Freight, DeWalt and other big-name companies, to provide a true working environment for the students.

David and Goliath

Recently, there was an article in this magazine touting the UA training program. [Rebuilding American Infrastructure—and its Skilled Construction Workforce, May, pg. 35 – Ed.] As far as it went, there can be no doubt that the United Association has the best plumbing and pipe-fitting training program in the industry... full stop. However, the article didn’t stop with the quality of the training. The author went on to imply (paraphrasing here) that any plumbers who were non-union were grossly underpaid to the point of living in poverty and were not educated enough to be fully trained journeyman. Nonsense, I know, but that is what the article stated, in almost those words.

What was not mentioned was the politics involved with joining the union. The fact that once you join, politics becomes a fact of life. Not kissing the right ring can mean even an excellently skilled and trained journeyman will sit on the bench if he crosses the local business agent. If playing politics is your thing, and you are good at it, by all means consider the UA. As stated above, their training is first rate—the butt kissing isn’t.

Trade Education for Everyone

The beauty of the Skilled Trades Center idea is that it is egalitarian. The program is open to anyone, and every student who has the desire and has, or thinks they have, the skills can apply to join the program. Remember shop class in High School? Think bigger! I spoke with a couple of the students and was impressed with their commitment to a trade education. The program most discussed was something called “geometry in construction” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Every plumber I’ve ever known used geometry and other mathematics every day. Most learned, or perfected, the practical application on the job even when they might not have had the formal math education. Things like calculating pressure, volume, geometry, slope, and pitch are all things good journeymen do daily. If there is one formula every good plumber uses its the hypotenuse of a right triangle (A squared plus B squared = C squared). You can’t lay out a soil inside of a large building without that math, at least. How many outside of our trade use geometry in that way regularly? Few, I’m sure. The program associated with the Skilled Trades Center idea codifies that specific training and applies it to teaching trade skills.

More on the Way

While chatting with Douglas, and his lovely wife Heather, I was told that there are three other Skilled Trades Centers currently under construction in the Vancouver area. All are a result of Douglas Greene’s efforts and dedication to the idea of filling the manpower void in America today and preparing a new generation of skilled craftsmen (craftspersons?). Not surprising were the many young women who had signed on to the training program as well. “This ain’t your daddy’s trade training!”

These centers and the programs they engender are ideas whose time has come. There is a crying need in our industry for more and qualified apprentices to bolster the ranks of the quickly retiring journeymen and the Skilled Trades Center concept could just be the steppingstone to filling that need.

The enthusiasm for the program, by both the students and their faculty advisors, is palpable. If you listen to Douglas’ remarks, the magnitude of what we were in the process of losing becomes clear. There are few people who I have met that have the entrepreneurial abilities of a Douglas Green, but they are out there. Perhaps, after seeing what has been done by Douglas at Evergreen High School, they will step up and carry the ball. One can only hope!

The Brooklyn, NY-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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