Last month, Plumbing & Mechanical spoke with Patrick Wallner, incoming president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, about issues facing the plumbing industry and PHCC. He is the president, of Wallner Plumbing, Heating & Air in Redding, Calif., which is 150 miles south of the Oregon border. Wallner has worked for 30 years for the company founded by his father in 1968.
Today, the company has 10 service trucks and employs 15 people, including Wallner’s wife, Deanna, who is the office manager, and brother Andy, who runs the service department. The company’s service area is about 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, much of it rural.
PM: What’s the top item on PHCC’s national legislative agenda?
PW: Contractor advocacy and government relations have always been a huge part of our focus. This year we started with a workforce development roundtable in Washington, where several PHCC members, corporate partners and staff testified before the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus. Issues such as workforce development and career and technical education were discussed, largely due to the projected shortage of 138,000 skilled tradesmen in the construction industry by 2022.
I can personally speak to the difficulty in finding skilled workers. It is a huge challenge the PHCC National Association is taking seriously, and we are focused on improving this issue for all PHC contractors, members or not.
Recent legislative emphasis has been on the increased funding of the Carl D. Perkins Act, which funds career and technical education, formerly known as vocational training.
PM: A year from now, what would you like to say was your crowning achievement as PHCC president?
PW: My theme for this coming year is, “Collaborating for Success.” I’m focused on implementing our strategic plan and making sure we include all the stakeholders in our association to maximize our communications across the spectrum. One item where we’re seeing movement in our new strategic plan is the increase in HVAC products, services and education we offer to our members. We will have several seminars this month at CONNECT 2016 in San Antonio. Membership, public awareness and workforce development are also a part of our strategic plan. Our biggest goal is to increase our membership. We have set the bar pretty high, which is to double our membership by 2020.
PM: How is PHCC going to continue to build its brand as an association?
PW: This is where the collaborating for success falls into place because we want everybody to be on the same page. Each state and each local association, for instance, might do things a little bit differently, but if we can all focus, we can succeed.
PM: Where do the greatest business opportunities lie for PHCC members over the next three to five years, and how is PHCC going to help them take advantage?
PW: Our focus is on increasing our offerings in skills training and workforce development. Our Educational Foundation invests in Skills USA, which is an excellent program. Another worthwhile program is the ride-and-decide program, which brings in high school students to ride with a PHCC member business. They can experience the challenges and rewards of investing a small amount of their time in the trade. They experience the kind of work we do and learn we offer well-paying jobs that will keep them employed for a lifetime. They and their parents learn the education and training typically is paid for by the employer without them accumulating a huge educational debt, and they get paid while they are learning the trade.
I recently attended the PHCC of California’s board of directors meeting where parents of a local high school student came in and personally thanked the board for this great opportunity for their son. They are relieved to know the direction he’s going after high school. It was very exciting to know we are making a positive difference in the lives of these young adults and also helping to fill the shortage of our skilled workforce.
PM: What other areas of growth do you see for PHCC member companies?
PW: One of the biggest opportunities for our plumbing-only members lies in adding HVAC to their business. The biggest opportunity for our HVAC-only members is to add plumbing to their business. Whether construction or service and repair, our member companies have plenty of opportunities to expand their scope of business. Doing so works well for many of us, and the PHCC National Association has been positioning itself to offer the training programs to make this a reality.
The HVAC portion of our strategic plan includes increasing our collaboration with HVAC organizations, supporting our plumbing contractor members looking to expand into HVAC, bringing more HVAC education to CONNECT 2016, and developing additional resources and opportunities for HVAC contractors.
We are the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association: 45% of our plumbing members are also HVAC contractors. As a matter of fact, my involvement with PHCC is what led my company to add HVAC to our contractor’s license more than 20 years ago.
PM: Does PHCC still offer its certified water auditor program? Are other programs planned to help contractors get on the cutting edge of water conservation?
PW: The Foundation is our educational branch and it focuses on providing the seminars and the training at state and local levels, as well as at the national convention. We do have a certified water auditor program and certification exam. The program is available in a seminar type format or in modules, which allow members or their employees to complete it at their own pace. The course focuses on applying building science principles to evaluate water usage in facilities.
My company was actually the first licensed GreenPlumber in the nation. We sent all our employees to the courses they offered.
PM: What’s one piece of advice you would like to pass along to everyone in the industry?
PW: A quote from Theodore Roosevelt from 1908 states: “Every man owes a part of his time to the business or industry which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere." That really sums it up. I picked this up in an email from our past national president Keith Bienvenu. The PHCC represents the entire industry, whether contractors are members or not. Why not consider giving back to the industry by getting involved?
That’s just the way I was raised. To support my industry and my community that has helped make me, my family and my company successful over the years.
With that said, my message is this: If you don’t belong to a trade association, consider joining the PHCC or one that represents your business interests. If you’re unable to join, please help support our foundation and our efforts through our government relations or our political action committee. Your voices are heard and we are more effective with your support.
PM: Where did you start and how did it lead you here?
PW: I grew up around the business. Dad started the company when I was 7 years old. The shop and office were at the house until about 1976 when my parents moved the operations to Redding and opened a bath boutique, too. It was one of the first plumbing showrooms in our area. When we were old enough, we worked during the summer months. Dad passed in 1995 and we moved the shop to a new and larger location about six or seven months later.
I studied business administration and accounting in college and went to work full time for the company in 1986. My brother Andy has been with the company more than 32 years now. His wife, Deanna, recently celebrated her 26th year with the company. The majority of our employees have been with the company for over 20 years. We treat all of them just like family members.
I have served in many leadership positions in my industry and my community. I really started my leadership service with the PHCC of California when I was elected to the board of directors in 1992 and served as the state president in 2007.
PM: What made your Mom open a showroom?
PW: I live in far Northern California. Redding is the hub of several surrounding counties for shopping and service. As such, Mom opened a real high-end bath shop and, at that time, it was the only one in town. She called it The Elegant Bath. We carried high-end fixtures such as Phylrich Faucets with gold and crystal handles, soaps, luxury towels and knick knacks for the bathroom. That was really her hobby part of the business. She shut it down after about seven years when several other showrooms opened across town and in the shopping mall. Most of them sold higher-end bath accessories. Shortly after that is when we started to see suppliers opening showrooms.
PM: What would contractors need to know about increased funding of the Carl D. Perkins Act when it’s time to head to the polls next month?
PW: Congress recently increased funding for the Carl D. Perkins Act. A couple hundred members of PHCC came together in May in Washington like we do every year and lobbied our legislators during our Legislative Conference. The efforts we undertake benefit the construction trades as a whole. We have a very active and skilled Government Relations Committee led by my PHCC mentor Mark Giebelhaus and our Director of Government Relations Mark Riso. Almost every day we conduct business in the capital representing our industry in Congress, the Department of Energy, OSHA and EPA. Our mission statement is, “The Plumbing-Heating Cooling Contractors Association is dedicated to the advancement and education of the plumbing and HVACR industry for the health, safety and comfort of society and the protection of the environment.”
PM: Is SkillsUSA’s outreach to students showing positive results?
PW: We really focus on the plumbing and HVAC apprenticeship contest that is held during the event, which is just a portion of what SkillsUSA is all about. When I attended a few years ago, the apprenticeship contest was held at offsite location from the main event in a venue more than 100,000 sq. ft.
PM: What would you say to students who are on the fence about college or entering a trade?
PW: Earn a living while you learn a trade, and we will keep you employed through retirement. We also need to get the word out to the parents. Typically, the employer pays for the training. And so, in about four or six years of getting paid while you work and learn, you will not have a problem getting a great-paying job anywhere in the country.
The dirty part of the job is a small part of what we do. And you need to know math including algebra and even some trigonometry. When you go to the code books and start trying to size gas systems, for instance, that’s not something you just say, “Oh, I'll run a one-in. gas line over there.” You have to calculate it. Math ability is one of the first things students are tested for. They’ve got to pass that math test to get into the training programs.
The new construction side is a little different than the service end, so instead of working outside or in an open building in the hot weather or nasty cold weather, we’re inside the house, for the most part. We want to make sure we have people who can pass background checks and have no criminal histories.
The kids and parents need to understand that learning or working in the plumbing trade is not about swimming through cesspools. Nowadays, because of all the health regulations and the safety issues, we really don’t expose our employees to this like we used to do. Employee health and safety is by far more important than risking that exposure. We make a substantial investment in our workforce to train them and keep them safe and healthy.
PM: What’s one thing about you that isn’t widely known?
PW: I am a private pilot. I own a Cessna 182. My hobbies include photography and aviation. You put the two together, and I’ve taken some phenomenal pictures.