As Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC) puts the finishing touches on the CONNECT 2017 event scheduled for Oct. 3-6 in Milwaukee, one underlying theme has been bubbling beneath the surface, shaping much of the content and overall direction of the annual conference. The topic on everyone’s mind? A looming industry-wide workforce shortage.

While the conference will include many educational sessions on a wide variety of topics (see sidebar for more information), workforce development has emerged as the front-and-center topic of conversation. Many of the conference’s educational sessions address it, and it has been a top priority for PHCC for some time.

“Workforce development is a key part of PHCC’s strategic plan,” PHCC President Patrick Wallner says. “We are very proud of the progress we have made promoting the benefits of a career in the PHC [plumbing, heating and cooling] industry. In fact, the PHCC Educational Foundation recently received a Silver ‘Power of A’ award from the American Society of Association Executives for the accomplishments to date in a national Workforce Awareness Campaign.”

PHCC provides multiple tools in its online resource center to help contractors recruit and retain workers, and to help entice potential workers to the industry, PHCC has launched a new website,, which contains resources and youth-focused videos. In addition, PHCC’s chapters have many successful programs underway in their areas, including Ride & Decide, career fairs and other visits to local youth groups.

“These are just a few examples,” Wallner says. “At CONNECT 2017, PHCC members will have access to several options to explore additional recruitment and retention strategies. There will be seminars on how to find and develop a great team, engage with Gen Xers and millennials and create a positive culture. There also will be a Workforce Development Exchange, co-sponsored by the PHCC National Auxiliary and PHCC Educational Foundation, that will focus on ideas to be an employer of choice in your market.”

A little friendly competition

A large and important part of the CONNECT conference is the apprentice competition, which pits current HVAC and plumbing apprentices against each other in a head-to-head competition that lasts the duration of the event.

“The PHCC Educational Foundation hosts the plumbing and HVAC competitions each year as a way to showcase the skills of our trade on a national stage,” Wallner says. “The contests promote and highlight the best apprentice programs in the country and give competitors confidence and a chance to win valuable prize packages. PHCC is proud to support the industry in these events that help illustrate the career path an apprenticeship can offer a young person. After all, the contestants represent the future of our industry.

“We expect to have 20 plumbing and 12 HVAC apprentices showcasing their skills in Milwaukee,” PHCC Educational Foundation COO Cindy Sheridan says. “Support from the industry for these two competitions continues to grow.”

Incoming PHCC President Laurie Crigler says the PHCC Educational Foundation is trying to showcase the expertise and challenges that apprentices deal with in the field.

“What better place to see it than at CONNECT, where there is a captive audience, many of whom have never seen what these young people do every day?” Crigler asks. “We are so proud of our apprentices, and we want the world to see them as we do.”

PHCC Academy

To help promote workforce development and technician training, the PHCC Educational Foundation is launching a new initiative this month.

“In 2009, when we launched our apprentice eLearning program, we had 46 students enrolled; today, 200 or more students are enrolled in the program at any one time,” Sheridan says. “In September, we will be launching the PHCC Academy, a redesigned eLearning site that will ultimately host a broader range of online learning courses for individuals involved in the PHC industry.”

Additionally, the Foundation awarded $83,500 in scholarships to 40 students this year — a 30% increase over 2015. A record-breaking number of those awards went to apprentices.

“While we continue to offer our hallmark education programs for managers and contractor business owners, we now have a greater focus on students, apprentices and technicians,” Sheridan says.

PHCC’s training programs are already paying off, Crigler says.

“I would have to say the pendulum is swinging in our direction. Some states are really seeing results. Others are just beginning to get on the bandwagon. I think as the cost of a college education gets more and more expensive, and as we get better at delivering our message, parents will begin looking at alternatives for their children. We are on the cusp of getting them to realize that these careers are technical, admirable and financially rewarding.”

Bots on the ground

Despite PHCC’s ongoing efforts to build, train and maintain a solid workforce, it can only do so much without the ongoing help of its contractor members. Specifically, Wallner recommends contractors concentrate on four key areas:

  • Advocate — Ask for legislators’ help in increasing funding for training and raising awareness of the critical need of skilled workers;
  • Educate — Be proactive about letting educators, guidance counselors, students and parents know how lucrative and rewarding a PHC career can be;
  • Connect — Participate in job fairs, career days and job shadowing opportunities; and
  • Collaborate — Partner with other contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers to establish relationships with local schools by donating equipment, materials or classroom assistance time.

“In addition, we encourage our members to pay attention to what has worked for other contractors and replicate those strategies in their areas,” he adds.

Sheridan also says contractors should seek out opportunities to meet with students, teachers and parents to educate them about the unique opportunities the industry offers.

“They should work with their local school districts to offer job shadowing, work-based learning and job site visits that demonstrate the latest technologies,” she says. “They can serve as guest lecturers for an entrepreneurship class, work with teachers to develop curriculum lessons using real-life PHC work problems, partner with manufacturers and distributors to attend career days and provide equipment to start plumbing and HVAC programs. Contractors should leverage the workforce tools that PHCC and the Foundation have developed to raise awareness about careers in the industry.

“Finally, since many industries are facing workforce shortages and competing for the same workers, contractors need to figure out how to be the employer of choice in their market.”

Training and education goals

In the next year, Sheridan says the PHCC Educational Foundation is planning to add Fast Trac for plumbing and HVAC.

“Fast Trac is a condensed two-year online course for service and repair technicians designed for use in states that don’t require a four-year apprenticeship to work in the trade,” she says. “We will also be redesigning our website.”

Drawing people to the trades will still continue to be a top priority, and enticing younger workers to join the industry will be crucial for the industry in the years to come.

“My first instinct is to ask them what they would envision about the end results of going to college and what they would envision entering a trade would be like,” Crigler says. “Then I would explain that if they enter a trade, they can go to apprentice school and really learn all the fine points of that trade while working in that trade.

“These are great jobs offered through the plumbing and HVAC professions that are technical, varied and challenging,” she adds. “I would like to see our young people excited about going into one of these trades, and I would like their parents to be proud of them for choosing these professions.”

Educational sessions at CONNECT 2017

In addition to a Product and Technology Showcase, QSC Power Meeting and keynote presentations from Kohler Co.’s Chris Baldwin and White Hat Hackers Dr. Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, PHCC’s CONNECT 2017 event will feature numerous educational sessions for attendees.

On Oct. 4, PHCC’s Mark Riso and Chuck White will present “RISO, WHITE & Friends: Morning News … and Breakfast, Too!” — a report on all the latest legislative and regulatory news affecting plumbing, heating and cooling contractors. Other sessions that day include: “The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis: What went wrong, and can it happen again?” by IAPMO’s Sean Cleary; “Why All the Fuss About Hydraulic Separators?” by Caleffi’s “Hot Rod” Rohr; “Collections Start at SALE!” by David Turiciano of Turiciano Law S.C.; “Digital Collaboration and Workflow” by Dr. Jeong Woo of the Milwaukee School of Engineering; “The Residential Technology Trends You Need to Know” by Dave Pedigo, CEDIA; “Leveraging Technology to Right Size Your Business” by James Terry, GreenTeam Services Corp.; “Limitless Growth: Finding and Developing Great Team Members” by Zoom Drain’s Ellen Rohr; and “The Customers You’re Not Getting: How Better Online Exposure Can Get You More Business” by Scorpion’s Travis Carter.

Oct. 5 educational sessions will include: “Water Calculations, Sizing and Distribution Seminar” by Jim Davis and PHCC of Wisconsin; “Changing the Conversation” by Jeff Bledsoe, Daikin North America; “Game Changing Innovation” by Milwaukee Tool’s Jacki Beierle; “Prepare for a Sales Surge in Heat Pump Water Heaters” by A. O. Smith’s Arthur Smith, Kevin Binkley and Brandon Stepanek; “PEX for Profit: Maximizing the Billable Efficiency with PEX Systems” by Viega’s Bo DeAngelo; “Top HVAC Trends and Technologies to Improve Energy Efficiency” by Matt Ricker, Emerson Climate Technologies; “Web Marketing 2017: Simple Keys to Unlocking Maximum Profitability” by Market Hardware’s Alain Parcan; “Deal-Maker: Estimating from the BIM Model” by Quote Software’s Bret Jenkins; and “Growing Your Business with Leak Mitigation” by FloLogic’s Ian Greene.

Oct. 6 educational sessions will include: “Workforce Development Exchange: Be the Employer of Choice,” a discussion facilitated by Brenda Dant, CAE, PHCC of Indiana, and Cindy Sheridan, CAE, PHCC Educational Foundation; “The Digital Contractor: Disruption, Acceleration, and the Future of Productivity & Profit (Part 1)” by Kirk Alter, Fast Management and Purdue University; “Promises Kept: Planning Your Future” by von Briesen & Roper’s Marc Loden and Federated Insurance’s Dave Bostrom; “Take Stock: Smart Inventory Management Solutions,” a discussion facilitated by Susan Frew of Sunshine Plumbing, Heating and Air with panelists Chris Cannon of Sunshine Plumbing, Vahe Kuzoyan of Service Titan, and a Ferguson representative; “The Digital Contractor: Disruption, Acceleration, and the Future of Productivity and Profit (Part 2)” by Kirk Alter; and “Grow Your Business: Engage with the 160 million Gen Xers & Millennials” by FreshLime’s Bob Barnes.

Educational sessions may be subject to change. Visit for the latest information.

PHCC Auxiliary advocates for industry

The PHCC Auxiliary is made up of members who have very diverse backgrounds, including contractors, contractor employees, family members, association executives, manufacturers, wholesalers and representatives. The common denominator is an interest in the PHC industry and a willingness to contribute in support of that industry.

“For most of us, this industry represents our largest financial asset,” PHCC Auxiliary President Lynne Finley says. “We contribute our skills in support of the industry and the future of that asset.

“As we have for almost 100 years, the Auxiliary continues to provide additional resources to represent PHCC and the industry in the public arena and to market the PHCC logo to differentiate PHCC members from their competition,” Finley continues. “Our membership lends the weight of numbers in our Legislative efforts and multiplies the public contacts for the industry.”

The Auxiliary Strategic Plan, adopted in 2014, is placemat-style, offering a clear and concise focus of the Auxiliary’s path forward. Each year, the Auxiliary’s programs are gauged against that measure. The last three years have been dedicated to advocating membership in the Auxiliary as a way to contribute time and talents in support of the industry, and to representing the industry as an excellent career choice for the next generation.

Visit for more information on PHCC Auxiliary’s current programs.