Incoming PHCC President Laurie Crigler began her career as a teacher, but after marrying a master plumber, she found herself running a plumbing company — something she never thought she would do but has since grown to love.
Now, Crigler is preparing to take the helm as PHCC president. But before diving in, she was able to take a moment to answer PM’s questions about her plans for the contractor organization.
PM: Where’d you get your start in the industry, and did you ever think you would be president of an organization like PHCC?
LC: I absolutely had no idea that being president of an organization like PHCC was in my future. When I was growing up, the choices for a woman were basically nurse, social worker, teacher, secretary or homemaker. I chose, after attempts at other fields, teaching.
My days, for several years, consisted of teaching Kindergarten all day and working in the office of our home-based business in the evening. It was exhausting and something had to give, so I decided to take the plunge and work with my husband full-time.
In 1983, my husband Daniel and I opened our plumbing business. The first thing we decided was that we needed to be involved with an association to learn about how to run our business. My husband has been involved in the industry since 1959 and is a phenomenal plumber.
I continued teaching for a few more years but found I could not teach and run a business. I chose running our business with my husband and it was the best decision I have ever made. From that point on, I chose to get involved at the local level by meshing my educational background with my husband’s plumbing knowledge to provide valuable training for our employees.
I helped design a curriculum, approved by DOL, for our newly formed Apprenticeship School. After that, I choose to work on PHCC committees where I knew I could help without being a technical person — government relations, membership development, bylaws, etc. — and my love for the business, industry and PHCC grew from there.
PM: What are the top three items on PHCC’s national legislative/regulatory agenda?
LC: I would have to say that addressing the workforce shortage is our No. 1 priority. We need to continue to get the Carl Perkins Act reauthorized and promote increasing the funding of this very valuable Act, as this is where the money comes from that keeps apprenticeship schools in place. Apprenticeship is an additional avenue of education — neither better nor worse than college, though less costly — and we need to continually make legislators aware of this path to education.
Second, we are continuing to sign onto legislation that promotes the “WaterSense” label on water-efficient products. This has been on ongoing issue to continue to push forth water efficiency. We have signed on to the Water Efficiency Improvement Act of 2017 along with dozens of other industry associations as part of PILC (Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition). This a great example of how the industry has pulled together to protect our resources and our aging infrastructure.
Third, getting the energy efficiency commercial building deductions made permanent through the Internal Revenue Code. The deduction (179D) has been in effect since 2006, but PHCC is supporting getting this tax deduction made permanent instead of having to get it reauthorized periodically. Again, this is another way PHCC is looking out for our country’s resources by pushing forth efficiency standards.
PM: What, if any, changes have your members experienced in how they do business under the Trump Administration, and how do you think the new administration might affect the industry over the next few years?
LC: I think, at this point, since it is such a new administration, everyone is “watching” to see what path the president takes. Many are hopeful, as he seems to be a “business- friendly” president.
Of course, the health care issue is of concern to all our small businesses, and we are in a bit of limbo to see how this is going to affect the benefits that we offer as small businesses. President Trump also has been a champion of repairing our infrastructure and it will be important for us to make sure he understands the infrastructure is not just roads and bridges but all the underground water piping in this country that has been sorely neglected over the years. And President Trump is an advocate of apprenticeship.
PM: With a workforce shortage looming, what are some of PHCC’s latest development efforts?
LC: PHCC’s strategic plan incorporates a plethora of objectives regarding workforce development. PHCC has developed many collateral materials ranging from videos to pamphlets, advertising campaigns and banners. All of these can be used by our local and state associations to help when doing career nights at high schools, to run their own advertising campaigns about our professions, or to get in the hands of guidance counselors in schools to aid our young people in making choices about their careers.
Several states have rolled out “Ride and Decide” programs in which a young person can ride along for a “day in the life of a plumbing or HVAC contractor.” This gives them a taste of the actual daily experiences. Several states have also rolled out career websites to help those looking for jobs, find out about the plumbing and HVAC careers and how to get in touch with our state associations to find out more.
And, of course, we are trying to target messages to differing groups — not just the young people, but guidance counselors, and parents as well — alerting them to the fact that college is only one avenue of education and a career future. There are great jobs offered through the plumbing & HVAC professions that are technical, varied and challenging.
PM: Are you seeing tangible results from these workforce developments/programs?
LC: 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 band wagon. 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.
PM: Why does PHCC host an apprentice skills contest at CONNECT each year, and does PHCC have plans to expand it in the future?
LC: The PHCC Educational Foundation, which sponsors annual plumbing and HVAC apprentice contests, is trying to showcase the expertise and challenges that our 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? We are so proud of our apprentices and we want the world to see them as we do.
We have had a successful plumbing apprenticeship competition for many years, and now we have expanded into the HVAC apprentice competition. I know we have the capacity for 20 plumbing and 12 HVAC apprentices currently, and we will be at capacity this year. It is a complicated task to put these contests on, and our staff and volunteers do a remarkable job within their space constraints. We also have incredible sponsors that help with the financial constraints.
PM: Where do the greatest business opportunities lie for PHCC members over the next 3-5 years, and how is PHCC going to help them take advantage?
LC: Technology is the “word of the future.” There is so much that is technical about our industry now that was not before. I believe our greatest opportunities lie in adapting to that technology and adding business lines that are on the fringe of plumbing and HVAC to their repertoire.
There are so many avenues of business that “smart” technology has opened. For example, home protection, using cameras to inspect underground infrastructure, new “smart” houses that have their HVAC systems controlled by phones/tablets and much more.
PHCC has developed and introduced a BIG (Business Interest Group) in Technology, and it is our hope that as our members get into the technological aspects of their industry, this Technology BIG will serve as a sounding board to help them with questions or issues they may run into while also helping them further develop this avenue of their businesses.
PM: What other areas of growth do you see for PHCC member companies?
LC: Technology, water and energy efficiency, protection of our water supply and the infrastructure in this country are going to lend themselves to new business models and business avenues. We are going to have to be on our toes as the new business avenues develop, and be prepared to help our members adjust. Things tend to move at warp speed these days and it will be a challenge to stay on top of the changes.
PM: What is the No. 1 thing you hope to accomplish in your time as PHCC president?
LC: My pipe dream, so to speak, is that the plumbing and HVAC are as respected in the community as the medical and legal professions. I am not sure that will be accomplished in my year, but we are making great strides in showing the country that these are not only needed professions but desired professions. 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.
PM: What is one piece of advice you would like to pass along to the younger members of this industry?
LC: Best piece of advice? Join an association that can help you climb the ladder of success. By joining an association and becoming involved, younger members will find they do not need to reinvent the wheel to help them over the business hurdles they will encounter. They will also learn of effective ways of dealing with field experiences, and when they become business owners themselves, they will have a whole association of folks who have “been there, done that,” which will help them solve their problems and become successful business owners.
PM: What would you say to students who are on the fence about college or entering a trade?
LC: 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. 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.
Putting the academic learning in apprenticeship school into practice, daily, will help many of those students really grasp that knowledge. When they complete the 4-5 years of apprenticeship, they will be eligible, in most states, to sit for the Journeyman’s exam (which, in my opinion, is equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree).
Subsequently, they can work as a Journeyman under a Master and become eligible to take the Master’s exam (which again, in my opinion, is equivalent to a Master’s degree in college). They not only will already be earning while they are learning but, in most cases, come out of their apprenticeship debt-free. Not too many college students come out of college debt-free and employed.
The last point I would make to them is that there are many facets of both the plumbing and HVAC industries and many ways they can utilize their “degrees.”
PM: What are some of your hobbies outside of PHCC and work?
LC: Really? There is something other than PHCC and work?
Seriously, my husband and I love to travel and have gone with friends to many exotic places. We love exploring other countries and this wonderful U.S. We still have a few states missing from our “bucket list” and wish to see them all.
PM: What’s one thing about you that not many people know?
LC: I guess it would have to be that I traveled down a portion of the Amazon River with friends and one of the side trips was fishing for piranhas, which I absolutely loved doing. The crew of this small boat (only had 16 people on it) kept the piranhas that we caught and cooked them for us as an appetizer for our last night on the boat — they were interesting and not too bad.