‘How do I find qualified employees?’

Feb. 6, 2015
Attracting and retaining quality employees is the plumbing, heating, cooling industry’s latest challenge PHCC and the PHCC Educational Foundation are taking big steps to become part of the solution Presentations that focus on “the day in the life of a professional plumber,” would go a long way in giving younger people a broader sense of this career choice It is important to strengthen the image of these jobs as secure, prosperous professions We have to be willing to invest time in our communities and schools We all need to be involved in lobbying officials for CTE and workforce program funding

The quotation under Sam Dowdy Senior’s e-mail signature may offer a big clue to what has fueled his plumbing company’s success in serving the greater Austin, Texas, metropolitan area since 1980: “You don’t build a business; you build people and people build the business.”

Attracting and retaining those people, though, is the plumbing, heating, cooling industry’s latest challenge. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that 10 million new skilled workers will be needed by 2020, the profession is facing mounting pressure to address the crucial workforce shortage.

Dowdy, owner/president of S & D Plumbing, is so committed to giving back to his beloved plumbing industry that he has made improving the image of a plumber and preparing the next generation of workers his primary focus.

“A couple of years ago my sons took over the daily operations of [S & D Plumbing], so I committed to solving the burning question that every contractor in the United States is asking, ‘How do I find qualified employees?’ I told my sons that if they would focus on management, I would solve this problem for our business,” he said.

Likewise, PHCC and the PHCC Educational Foundation are taking big steps to become part of the solution at the industry level. This year, they formed a joint task force to address ways to recruit and train the next generation of skilled workers. They’re also working with the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation to develop projects, programs, and partnerships that support attracting and training qualified workers.

Dowdy reinforces the breadth of those efforts: “Recruiting cannot be done with just one tool; there must be a multifaceted effort using every tool in our bag.” With that, he and other industry representatives — including those involved with the PHCC Educational Foundation’s Apprentice Training programs — offer the following ways that contractors, educators and manufacturers can get involved.

Boost awareness, image: Brenda Dant, PHCC of Indiana executive director and administrator at Mechanical Skills Inc., the PHCC of Indianapolis’s plumbing apprentice school, said “People don’t understand what a plumber does and the broad range of career opportunities that are available in the profession. People think of the person that fixes the leaky faucet, but there’s so much more that happens within the industry … like many of the high-tech jobs available.”

Presentations that focus on “the day in the life of a professional plumber,” she suggests, would go a long way in giving younger people a broader sense of this career choice.

In addition, Dant urges others to strengthen the image of these jobs as secure, prosperous professions. One of the “real advantages in this incredible industry,” she said, is that these jobs can’t be outsourced.

“All of the things that people fear of a career or industry simply aren’t true of this industry,” she added, explaining that demand and job security will remain high. “We have a real opportunity here.”

Think nationally, but act locally: John Bain, a vice president at R.T. Moore Mechanical Contractors, is experiencing the shortage of skilled workers first-hand. His company hired 150 employees just this year and projects they will need to hire another 150 in 2015. With that challenge, he’s leading the charge to build momentum among today’s young people, but said “that must happen at a local level,” working with local trade organizations to develop materials and generate resources.

R.T. Moore is collaborating with PHCC of Indiana to generate tools that will help p-h-c contractors reach young people and educate them about opportunities in the industry. He encourages others to step up efforts in their local areas, suggesting they submit articles to local newspapers, create job shadow programs at local high schools, attend career days at local schools, and participate in community mentoring programs.

“We have to be willing to invest time in our communities and schools, helping to educate not only the young men and women we want to hire, but their parents and guidance counselors as well,” said Moore.

Use social media: Mothers hold the most influence in helping their children determine careers. They are also among the top users of social media. Dant urges industry reps to post messages on social media such as, “I know you’re looking at colleges for your child; have you thought about career and technical education?”

Dant also noted that the Indiana Department of Workforce Development recently ranked “plumber” as No. 7 among the state’s list of top 10 hottest high-wage jobs. Posting such statistics can boost the industry’s reputation, thereby attracting future workers.

Mentor students of all ages: Participate in career days — from elementary school through high school — to improve the image of p-h-c jobs, and talk about the important role of workers in those jobs to protect the health of the nation. Or, allow students to job shadow a contractor and see first-hand what he/she does.

“Some of our contractors,” said Dant, “have had really good luck offering high school students afterschool jobs, from working in the shop to going out on calls. Those things really begin to resonate.”

She noted that talk about careers in the industry should begin at the elementary school level. “Kids find things like sewer cams really interesting! Again, you get them thinking of a plumber as much more than the person who fixes the leaky faucet.”

Lobby elected officials: We all need to be involved in lobbying officials for CTE and workforce program funding. Involved with PHCC since the 1990s, Dowdy has engaged in numerous legislative activities on both national and local issues. According to Dowdy, PHCC helped get a bill passed that brought career and technical training opportunities back into public schools.

“This was a game changer,” Dowdy said. Together with PHCC and industry partners like Milwaukee Tool, Dowdy followed up with school boards about the demand for skilled workers in plumbing and how the high-tech needs in our industry incorporate much of the schools’ high-tech curriculum.

Amazing opportunities began to build as a result, noted Dowdy. One local school superintendent brought in representatives from Texas State Technical College (TSTC); the collaboration eventually materialized into a co-op among the local schools, TSTC, and the industry. Now, students in Texas can start taking plumbing classes as early as 11th grade, fulfilling not only high school credits, but college credits toward a degree. As a bonus, hours spent in class apply toward the required hours to obtain a plumbing license!

Invite manufacturers to help: Manufacturers have a vested interest in securing a solid future workforce. From Bain’s perspective, “Manufacturers need the skilled workers to properly install and promote their products in order to facilitate growth in their businesses.” Likewise, he added, “many of them have resources available to invest in developing awareness of career opportunities,” suggesting they can develop advertising, provide materials for tech programs, or sponsor scholarships for young people entering the industry. At the same time, they’re reinforcing that high-tech image for the profession.

“It is incumbent on all of us who have made skilled trades our career to ensure that the industry transitions into the future,” offered Bain. “Choosing to do nothing is a disservice to young people and every American who depends so heavily on what our industry does to provide a high quality of life and protect the health of everyone. It is our time to act!”

Merry Beth Hall is Director of Apprentice and Journeyman Training for the PHCC Educational Foundation. In this role, she is responsible for curriculum development, assessment testing, continuing education, and organizing the Foundation’s annual plumbing and HVAC apprentice contests. She also serves as co-chair for the national SkillsUSA plumbing contest. She is a graduate of James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University with degrees in education and nonprofit management.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Contractor, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations