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Contractormag 11488 Quality

Does Quality Matter Anymore?

Aug. 20, 2018
Some of the solutions to the plumbing problems folks have come up with run the gamut from horrific and dangerous all the way to ingenious, even if they aren’t quite to “code.”

The “plumbing nightmares” feature in Contractor Magazine is pretty funny, isn’t it?  I mean, really! Some of the solutions to the plumbing problems folks have come up with run the gamut from horrific and dangerous all the way to ingenious, even if they aren’t quite to “code.” I mean there is no attempt, even marginally, to fix things the right way. The solutions highlighted might fix the problem permanently, for a little while, or not at all. The one thread that runs through all of the haphazard solutions is that there is no attempt at quality. Not in materials. Not in craftsmanship. Not in anything, save functionality.




1.  1. the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of    excellence of something. "an improvement in product quality"

2.  2. a distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something. "he shows strong leadership qualities"

On the road to becoming a craftsman, one of the most often repeated lessons taught while apprenticing was doing the job right. Making it look good. Showing your trade craftsmanship. Taking pride in it. Living it. The journeyman, or master, would look at your work and critique it, not for functionality (because that was expected), but for how it looked. Was it plumb/level? Piping hung parallel? Were the joints clean and neat? Was it strapped and/or supported properly and neatly? Rough-in dimensions correct? Sound familiar? If it doesn’t, who taught you the trade?

Today you are more likely to “offend” your apprentices by critiquing their work. Praising one person’s work, while criticizing another’s will likely get a discrimination complaint filed against you. Such is the labor market at the dawn of the 21st century. Still, the drive for quality product and craftsmanship should not be a casualty of political correctness.

Quality is a casualty of a waning emphasis on learning the WHOLE trade as opposed to compartmentalizing sections of it.

Becoming an apprentice used to mean dedicating four or five years to learning the trade from a journeyman or master. That meant learning as much of the trade as you could...all of it. After apprenticeship, when you became a journeyman, your skill level was judged by other journeymen and/or masters, as well as the boss. Further, those skills are perishable, meaning that if you don’t use them, you lose them. So, as a journeyman, you were expected to hone those skills and get better as time went on. It didn’t always work that way, but it was supposed to.

Today, it seems, quality is falling by the wayside in much of the industry. To be sure, there are quality professionals out there. Those people who do it right each time, every time. Those craftsmen who can diagnose a problem, plan the repair, installation, routing or whatever it takes to do it right, and then get it done...and make it look good! Unfortunately, in my opinion, those folks are getting harder and harder to find. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be any more coming up to take their place. More is the pity.

Quality is a casualty of a waning emphasis on learning the WHOLE trade as opposed to compartmentalizing sections of it. Whereas the trade used to be taught in its entirety to an apprentice who signed on to — and was willing to — learn it all, today we teach only enough of it to get the immediate job done. I’m reminded of an incident that happened some years ago, during the last residential boom cycle in the greater Phoenix area.

We were hiring journeymen plumbers for a large industrial project. My field superintendent was interviewing potential employees and came into my office to relate the following true story:

He was interviewing a young man who said he was a plumber. How much experience did he have? “Four years,” he said. Did he have any experience in industrial piping? “No.” He had worked residential projects. Now, because of the large amount of tract housing being done, it was not uncommon for some shops to field crews for each phase (underground, top out, trim set) to maximize production, so my super asked the young man what experience he had. “Bathtubs” was his answer. The long and short of it was, this young man had worked for four years, at least 40 hours a week, installing one-piece fiberglass tub/shower combinations in new houses. That was all. No other training or expertise, no trade craft, nothing but installing bathtubs. He was applying for a job as a journeyman plumber with that resume.

As funny as that story was at the time, not too many shops are laughing now. The question stands; does quality matter anymore? Has it been co-opted by “get the job done anyway you can?” Is a less drastic version of “plumbing nightmares” becoming the norm these days?

As difficult as it is to find, and retain, good help in today’s America, are we throwing in the towel on trade craft? Is catering to the lowest common denominator the way to go? Attracting new blood has been our battle cry for many years now. In going back over my columns of the last ten years, the subject of manpower, recruitment and training was the topic most covered.

Quality does, indeed, still matter. Trade craft and excellence still matter. Turning out good, well rounded journeymen from green apprentices still matters. Adapting that criteria to the current labor market is where we need to focus. With the lack of a large available manpower pool, we need to sharpen our search methods. Utilize today’s technology with things like psychological testing and don’t be afraid to try something, or someone, new.

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].

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