Newsflash: The United States is facing a skilled trades labor shortage. Unless someone has had their head buried under a rock the past few years, most Americans are aware of this ongoing problem. With the majority of the industry workforce soon to-be retiring, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects better-than-average employment in the building trades, at least through 2026. However, there may not be enough workers to employ.
Many companies are working together to rectify this problem. Viega is one of them with its Press into the Trades program. Press into the Trades is a training program that provides supplemental aid to vocational schools offering alternate, enhanced training sessions geared toward innovative technologies and tailored to each school’s needs, notes Erica Levasseur, associate technical trainer, Viega.
“Viega’s training team has always made an effort to offer local schools, with plumbing and gas fitting programs, an opportunity to train their students on Viega’s plumbing and heating solutions, and mainly teaching students about our innovative press technology,” she says. “In 2019, we gained resources that allowed us to expand our region, and develop dedicated trainings that catered to both high school and post-secondary students.”
Viega trains students of all ages about pipe joining methods using new tooling platforms to get them excited and wanting to work in the industry.
Viega began traveling throughout New England, visiting schools in person in addition to hosting local schools with field trips to its New Hampshire Seminar Center in Nashua.
“We give the students hands-on training for Viega products, including features and benefits and proper installation methods,” Levasseur says. “We also speak about the trades in general with the students. We want to release the stigma they might have about entering the trades. We offer success stories and get them excited to try something different beyond the traditional college path.
“The baby boomer generation is retiring, and high school students are still be directed toward the path of a traditional bachelor’s degree,” she adds. “This is leaving thousands of jobs empty and companies searching for help. Our industry knows press technology is the future of plumbing and pipe fitting, and if kids are not entering the trades, what will the future look like for innovation? By training students of all ages about this ‘new’ pipe-joining method — one that is safer, faster and comes with some really cool tooling platforms — it not only gets them excited to want to work in the field, using our products, but it also gives them a leg up when applying for employment in the industry. There are so many opportunities in the plumbing and heating industry; parents and students are unaware, and we want to paint that picture and highlight the value of being in the trades.”
Taking a stand in workforce development
Viega is actively working with 30 post-secondary and high school career and technical programs, Levasseur notes. The company endeavors to build a direct relationship with instructors and cater to their needs.
“We build curriculum with intentions of complimenting their programs, and all we ask is we get invited to work with them again the following year,” Levasseur says. “All programs are different and benefit from Press into the Trades in a different way. Some schools benefit from in-person trainings where all of their students have an opportunity to make their own press connections and use the tooling platforms. Some programs have a very low budget and cannot afford brazing rods or threading and grooving equipment, so we supply those to the schools during our in-person training sessions and help teach traditional methods as well as our own joining methods.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Viega had scheduled two Vocational Instructor Summits where it planned to host instructors from around New England and provide training and networking opportunities. Those dates had to be postponed and the company is waiting to reschedule them.
“Without career and technical instructors, we would have an even bigger shortage of people entering the trades — Viega recognizes that and wants to make an effort to help these instructors in any way it can,” Levasseur adds. “We want to help make their progams become more attractive so more students enroll and start their journey towards this career path.”
Paul Chapin, a plumbing and HVAC instructor at Portland Arts & Technology High School in Portland, Maine, is one of the instructors who has worked with the program.
“ProPress and MegaPress are huge in the industry,” he says. “My program budget is small, so affording consumable materials like the fittings was not possible at that time. Viega offering to come in, educate my students about a product they will absolutely see in the field and also provide the tools and materials to teach a hands-on lab was amazing. I learned quite a bit myself.”
Press into the Trades provides hands-on training for students using Viega products, and also focuses on proper installation methods.
Chapin notes Viega has only been able to visit once last fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now that Portland Arts & Technology High School is partially remote, he will be adding the video presentations Viega published online to his curriculum.
“There is a lot to know in this industry — I can give my students the basics on certain things, but to have a company come in and speak about the range of what they offer, tricks of the trade pertaining to scenarios they’ve encountered in the field and know the ins and outs of the new products and technology they offer is an incredible bonus for my students,” Chapin says. “Plus, I have taught my students a lot of what Viega spoke to them about, but in their minds, I’m just their instructor so what do I know? But a guest speaker says the same thing, and suddenly it’s the most amazing fact they’ve ever learned!
“High school CTE programs like mine are often mislabeled by society as a place for troubled kids, or the ones who cannot ‘cut it’ in college, instead of looking at the trades as a viable option for a successful career,” he adds. “It is companies like Viega offering their support and knowledge that helps break down that stigma these kids have been fed and strengthens not only their experience, but boosts their confidence in the path they chose.”
Dan Couturier is an instructor at the New Hampshire School of Mechanical Trades in Manchester, New Hampshire, and previously worked for a plumbing and heating distributor where he was exposed to Viega products.
“They are very informative — they tell you how to install, what the procedures are and show you step-by-step,” Couturier says about the Press into the Trades program. “They do visual, hands-on presentations. These guys just coming into the trade, if you show them something, it’s worth a thousand words — it’s like that old cliché, a picture’s worth a thousand words. Well, a demonstration is worth even more.
“This product is not inexpensive — it’s a product that costs a lot of money, and they are willing to take that product, let our students touch it, feel it and put it together,” he adds. “And once it’s used, they have to scrap it. So there’s a lot of money invested in the trades by Viega to instruct in a proper manner. The Viega team is unbelievable.”
Adjusting and adapting to the times
The pandemic has had a huge impact on many industries, and K-12 and post-secondary schools have not escaped unscathed. Viega’s in-person trainings ended in March, and the company pivoted to remote learning, along with most of the schools in the country.
“Viega immediately reached out to the CTE instructors to see how we could help,” Levasseur says. “We knew it would be a struggle to have a program that was primarily hands-on suddenly become virtual. Knowing these programs were in need of online content, we created a CTE webpage with short modules that can be watched on-demand by students, accompanied by short quizzes for the instructors to assign to them. The response from the instructors has been very appreciative.”
After observing the uncertainty of the new 2020-2021 school year, Viega made the decision to expand its CTE library by creating new modules. Press into the Trades has also used this platform as an opportunity to expand outside of New England and reach more schools and instructors in new regions.
“These students are the next generation of plumbers, pipe fitters and HVAC technicians,” Levasseur explains. “Going into the field, they are only going to be skilled at what they have been taught. The more resources that manufacturers provide to these programs, the better these students are going to be at their job, and the more skilled our trades will become.”