While we have been collectively opining, worrying and wringing our hands about the absolute lack of available manpower entering the trades, events outside anyone’s control have seemingly brought the issue national attention. Of course, I am speaking of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and the wild fires in north central California, Montana and Idaho. The national economy is reeling from these devastating natural disasters. Our fellow citizens have been dealt knockout punches from which many may not recover and still many more will take years to get back to some semblance of “normal.” Moving forward, the amount of construction work that will need to be done to rebuild is staggering!
As if that were not enough, politics has once again reared its head in the form of the DACA debate. When taken in toto, these unrelated events have served to sharpen the issue of able manpower and the construction trades. As I have previously written, the absolute cascade of programs aimed at infusing new blood into the construction industry, in general, and the mechanical trades specifically has exploded, putting the issue squarely into the national spotlight.
In last month’s column, the breakdown of the work ethic and the poor result of general education, coupled with prevailing attitude of our younger generation, were highlighted. While my readers may disagree with my conclusions in this area (although I did not receive any mail disagreeing with the premise), the facts speak for themselves. What we are left with appears to be a ‘perfect storm’ of demand exceeding supply with no viable solutions in sight.
There is an answer to the severe problems besetting the construction industry and our trades. There is a solution out there. We just need to recognize it and embrace it and be flexible enough to implement it.
First, we have a huge amount of work out in front of us. It must get done! Whether or not we do it, someone will. I’d hate to see huge international companies import workers to do the things that need doing. Make no mistake, the work is critical and it needs doing. It will get done regardless of who does it.
Second, and perhaps this is more important, there is a labor pool currently available that can be tapped to help fill out our anemic ranks. For starters, we need to have the will to approach the problem like business people and not politicians.
Much has been made of the recent White House decision to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), putting these young people in jeopardy to deportation through absolutely no fault of their own. Getting Congress to produce legislation to standardize the law and codify it is what was sought. Whether or not that happens in the near term remains to be seen. What is not in dispute is that there are 800,000 DACA recipients currently in the program. Many other aliens, legal and illegal are integrated into our national economy. There is one thing that sets these people apart from our current crop of entry level people; by the numbers, they are much more likely to be amenable to the trades and learning the trades than their native-born counterparts and, if properly vetted, they are more likely to stay in the trades once they have been trained. Add to that a great work ethic and what’s not to like?
There is one thing that sets these people apart — they are much more likely to be amenable to the trades and learning the trades than their native-born counterparts.
Suppose, for the sake of discussion, we were to start a program whereby anyone who is currently in the DACA program, or who is in the country (legally or illegally) and who is willing to apply for a trade education, completes apprenticeship and graduates into the trade is able to work for their citizenship simultaneously and given a pathway to become a naturalized U.S. citizen? Of course, there would have to be caveats, such as no criminal activity, a cut-off date after which you would not be eligible (to prevent a new wave of illegal entries into the country), and things of that nature, but think about the prospects moving forward! Giving people who want to work, and who have the drive and ambition to do so, the opportunity to learn a trade has got to be a win/win for the country, the construction industry in general and our trade specifically.
As I see it, a program such as the preceding one is simply approaching the problem as a business decision, and leaves politics outside. I recognize that not everyone agrees with this proposal. All I ask is that you coolly and logically think about it. Give it serious consideration.
There are always concerns about condoning illegal activity, tacitly or overtly, access to social programs, public assistance and so forth. Politics has become so toxic that the chances of actually viewing a proposal like this fairly isn’t really a possibility, but it can be a solvable problem. The reality is there is a great need for people willing to work and there is a huge reservoir of available talent already here...with the work ethic and ambition needed. It would seem like a no-brainer to put that coincidence to work for the betterment of all concerned.
As a disclaimer, this is simply an idea that I think can benefit our trade and our country in our time of need. I recognize not everyone will agree and I’m sure that I’ll have more than my share of responses, but if you are fair-minded, please, just think about it.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a 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].