Earlier this month I found myself squeezed into a firesuit and five-point-harnessed into a racing car, with a voice on my in-helmet radio yelling, “Stay five feet above the yellow line!” while I did laps around the track of the Atlanta Motor Speedway at a highly unsafe speed.
My trip to the track was part of the Rinnai Experience, a junket the company offers to builders, dealers and contractors — and sometimes to lucky members of the trade press — as an opportunity to get to know the company, its people and its products and services a little better.
We took tours of Rinnai’s new manufacturing facility, of their training center, their R&D lab and their warehouse. We heard from experts about their latest and greatest offerings (the Sensei tankless unit impressed a lot of the guys, and I got to talk with their head of training and turn it into an article). And we all got to hang out over dinner and drinks.
Most of my fellow attendees were in new home construction out in sunny southern California, and everybody I talked to was in the same boat: business was brisk. In fact, almost every person at the Experience I talked to said they would be happy to take on more work – if only they could find the people to do it.
It’s a tough time for the owner of a contracting business who wants to expand.
The urgent need for skilled workers has everyone scrambling for solutions. Most of the larger mechanical contractors have begun in-house training programs. A prime example is Shapiro & Duncan, a commercial contractor based in Rockville, MD (and ranked at #53 on our 2018 Book of Giants). You can read about some of the solution’s they’ve come up with here.
No matter what size the contractor is, everybody is turning to the manufacturers — which brings us back to Rinnai. In addition to training programs the company offers all kinds of technical assistance, both in designing and troubleshooting systems. They’ve gone out of their way to make products that are easy to install and service, meaning contractors can squeeze more value out of every man-hour. You can read all about it in this article on the manufacturer's role in workforce development.
And then there are those who are cutting corners. Trying to do more and more with workers who are half-trained or sometimes right off the street. And the quality of the work necessarily suffers for it. Columnist Al Schwartz has a LOT more to say on the subject.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. There are more and more resources to turn to. There’s money in the pipeline from the federal government, there are programs at the state and local levels, and trade associations like the PHCC-NA and the MCA are all stepping up. Kelly Faloon’s feature Developing the PHC Workforce has an impressive list, and we are going to keep building that list into an exhaustive, comprehensive guide.
So yes, it’s a tough time for the owner of a contracting business who wants to expand. But – silver lining – it’s a great time to be a contractor! There are good-paying positions to be had almost everywhere in the country, and companies are offering all kinds of perks and incentives for joining, for staying, and for furthering your education in the skilled trades.