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Shapiro & Duncan and the Challenge of the Commercial Contracting Workforce

Aug. 21, 2018
The company employs about 415 people, some 200 of which are members of the skilled trades, including plumbers, pipefitters, welders, HVAC-techs, helpers and apprentices.

ROCKVILLE, MD — Mechanical contractors working in the commercial/industrial space are facing the same workforce challenges seen by contractors on the residential service side. However, due to their projects often having a larger scale and sometimes requiring highly specialized skills, finding the right workers they need can sometimes prove more difficult.

“It’s hard for us to find qualified candidates with the technical skills we’re looking for,” Jesus Yactayo, Sr. Human Resources Generalist for mechanical contractor Shapiro & Duncan says. “[Most of] the plumbers out there are residential, and the work that we do is 100 percent commercial.”

Shapiro & Duncan is headquartered in Rockville, MD, with a fabrication facility in Landover, MD. The company employs about 415 people, some 200 of which are members of the skilled trades, including plumbers, pipefitters, welders, HVAC-techs, helpers and apprentices. Serving Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia in an area about 50 miles around the District, the company’s portfolio has ranged from commercial, institutional and educational to healthcare, data centers and more.

In two respects their workforce is showing some security. First, for various reasons, not too many of their older employees are retiring out. Second, they are getting plenty of young blood into the pipeline. The company has a strong outreach program that visits high schools, trade schools, and local community colleges. Shapiro & Duncan has, in particular, made a point of reaching out to women and minorities, as well as participating in veteran-focused job fairs.

During training, apprentices are full time, 40-hour-a-week employees drawing paychecks and gaining on-the-job experience.

The company offers a four-year apprenticeship program to prepare new hires for a career in the trades. “We hire them and enroll them in a specific program,” says Yactayo. “It could be plumbing, it could be HVAC, it could be welding or pipefitting. [It usually] takes four years and at the end of the program they receive their journeyman license.”

Shapiro & Duncan also offers its apprentices – mainly those entering the plumbing field – a Boot Camp program. Individuals are separated into small groups of eight to ten and receive intensive training for a week at a time, moving through different levels.

Whether it be standard classes or the Boot Camp, the company picks up the tab for all training and training materials. When it comes time to test for any licensing or certification, the company is there to help as well.

“We will pay for it ahead of time,” Sarah Mueller, Director of Human Resources, says, for any testing-related fees. “Or, if the employee wants to pay for it on their own we do reimburse them as well.”

The company’s investment in training includes on-site facilities. “At our fabrication shop we have a big training room and conference room where we can comfortably fit probably 20 to 30 people,” Mueller says. “We have all our safety training out there.” In addition, the company has transformed a shipping container into a facility for hands-on training that allows people in the program to practice all the elements of the trades.

And of course, during training, apprentices are full time, 40-hour-a-week employees drawing paychecks and gaining on-the-job experience.

The training doesn’t stop once the employee makes the leap from apprentice to technician. The company’s in-house continuing training program is called S&D YOUniversity. Employees are required to take three credits a year, with classes held at the Rockville and Landover locations. Topics include Intro to HVAC, Plumbing, Pipefitting, Basic Electricity, Basic Refrigeration, Blueprint Reading, Torch Cutting, OSHA 10, OSHA 30, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, BlueBeam and many more.

Moreover, the company has numerous partnerships for external training: Plumbing, HVAC and HVAC Controls through Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Metro Washington, Virginia and Chesapeake Chapters, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Adult Education, D.C. Apprenticeships and others. For those employees pursuing Associates, Bachelors, Masters or beyond degrees the company offers tuition reimbursement of up to $5,250 per year.

“I haven’t met a mechanical in the area that takes training to the level we do,” Mueller says.

The focus on continuing education is seen as a win-win-win: good for the employees who get to develop their skill sets and further their careers; good for the company which benefits from a trained workforce; and good for the clients who are ensured high-caliber, professional service.

But for all the people that are in the development pipeline, the payoff is still months and years away. In the meanwhile, the company – like just about everyone in the contracting space – has an urgent need for more trained specialty people NOW.

The company posts on job sites like InDeed and even Craig’s List in its ongoing search. But the company’s employee referral plan has, in recent years, proved more effective. Mainly, Mueller and Yactayo believe, because employees are more able (and more trusted) when it comes to talking about what the experience of working for Shapiro & Duncan is like.

“It’s not just talking to people saying, hey, Shapiro & Duncan is looking for people,” Mueller explains, “it’s at the same time that Shapiro & Duncan is a great company to work for.”

As a family company, Shapiro & Duncan puts an emphasis on work-life balance. The company offers a wellness program and fitness center, team activities such as sporting events and golf outings, “Happy Hours” for young professionals, and numerous employee discounts through various member associations.

Because after all, for all the money you might earn and all the professional opportunities a company can offer, we all have to go home at the end of the day. 

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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