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Help… I Need Someone

Aug. 23, 2019
So how are we to get young people into the trade?

By Scott Milne

That’s what the Beatles sang in 1965. Many plumbing companies could be singing the same thing right?

Here in Massachusetts I was told the average age of a plumber is 59 years old. Where are the young kids getting into the trade? I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. They are all in college getting fat loans that will dog them for year and years.

I think (I hope) it’s slowly coming around; I have gotten two great apprentices from the trade school. Nice young men. But I count myself lucky to have found them—the pickings are slim. So how are we to get young people into the trade? We older guys talk about getting mechanical experience working on our cars in the front yard of our parents’ house. Cars are not so easy for the front yard mechanics any more. How do we find young people who are mechanically inclined? It’s tough.

I think we as plumbers can teach this or that individual youngster the ropes, but the real important teaching comes from mom and dad first, right?  I find that a young person who comes from a family that taught them manners and respect are the best employees. I mean, really, we’ve gotten some bad rap as tradesmen. It goes back as far as Norman Rockwell’s classic painting of the plumbers in the ladies bedroom spraying her perfume. Even my Favorite, the Three Stooges don’t help (“Hey these pipes are all filled with wires!”).

When I interview a potential employee I look at manners first. How do they speak to me? Do they reach out and shake my hand? Look me in the eyes and speak clearly? Are they dressed well? Like many of you I hate the low hanging pants. Sure they need to have some mechanical ability but the manners … that’s first for me. If I am sending a young person into my customer’s house, I want them to represent me well. I have one young man who has worked for me for a number of years now. I recently watched him shake a customer’s hand and introduce himself. I couldn’t have been happier.

Image is so important and as the saying goes you only gets one chance right? We provide our techs with clean shirts and sweatshirts. We reimburse them for boots once a year. Knowing that they purchase new boots more often than they otherwise might.

Most important in my mind is how we treat our employees. I like to say employees are like really expensive tools; if you don’t take care of them then they aren’t there when you need them. Show them respect and that they are important to the company. I try and say thanks at the end of every day. Small things make a difference.

Like the Beatles sang, “Help, I need someone ... not just anyone.”

Scott Milne is the owner of Milne Plumbing and Heating. He and his company have been serving the greater Boston area for nearly 30 years. He specializes in high-efficiency heating systems for custom homes.

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