I am lucky enough to talk to contractors, both large and small, all across the U.S. Inevitably, when I ask them about their greatest challenge or greatest future challenge, the answer is always the same: The skilled trades labor shortage. 

Much of the problem lies in public perceptions of plumbing and HVAC contractors, and that most people look upon these jobs as being dirty. Couple that with many high schools eliminating their career and technical education programs — often students’ first exposure to hands-on experiences which could influence their decision to choose a career in the trades — and school counselors pushing for college placement, often not even informing students of non-collegiate options, and the message to kids becomes: “You must have a college degree to succeed in the world.” Which, we know, couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

So how can contractors change the narrative? They need to talk about the trades and share their success stories. I came across a recent PBS News Hour interview with Vinnie Sposari, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing in Seattle. Sposari discusses the labor shortage, and how he has plumbers working for him making more than $100,000 a year, and some even making more than $200,000 a year. Read more of his interview here

Chris Roth, a former HVAC contractor turned trade school owner and operator, also tackles this problem in a guest editorial in this month’s issue. 

“Arizona is a good example of trying to get students — and parents — to see trades differently by giving students a chance for hands-on learning in high school. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proclaimed February as Career and Technical Education Month in 2019 to recognize the importance of preparing students for college or a career after graduation. In a State of the State speech, Ducey called for a renewed focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE) to expand Arizona’s competitive workforce and prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow and has provided funds in his budgets to expand trade education classes.”

Roth goes on to say if a certain state is not doing its part to solve the problem, then advocate, advocate, advocate! Get other plumbers and tradesmen and women involved. Bring more attention to the problem. Get out there and tell your success stories, so high school students and young adults realize there are other, well-paying alternatives. Read more tips on recruiting from Roth here.

Some help may be on the horizon from the federal government. The plumbing industry recently applauded the House of Representatives for the bipartisan passage of the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 — the bill seeks to reauthorize the 1937 National Apprenticeship Act, which established the registered apprenticeship system, for the first time since its inception 84 years ago.

Introduced Jan. 25 by Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-VA), H.R. 447 invests in increasing access to Registered Apprenticeships (RAs). It codifies and streamlines existing standards that are vital to support RAs and expands the successful RA model to youth apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. Based on Education and Labor Committee estimates, passage would create more than 1 million apprenticeship opportunities over the next five years.

“PHCC, as one of the leaders in apprentice education, has recognized the value of apprentice training throughout its 138-year history and welcomes this legislation that reaffirms and streamlines the Registered Apprentice Program,” PHCC National President National President Hunter Botto said in a news release. “PHCC and the PHCC Educational Foundation will continue their educational efforts utilizing Registered Apprenticeships in furthering their Pledge to America’s Workers goal of preparing 75,000 future industry professionals over the next five years. We are grateful for the introduction of this legislation and urge prompt consideration and support of its passage as a signal that apprenticeship can lead to good jobs, with good pay, and a future for advancement.”

The bill still needs to pass in the Senate. In the meantime, plumbing contractors need to do their part to get out and talk to people about the trades. Reach out to local high schools to see about partnering for a career day. And thanks to the internet, there are a million ways to get your message out. Get your employees on camera to talk about their jobs and how great it is to work for your company — post them to your company’s social media feeds. You may end up recruiting more than just beginners! 

Does your company have any creative recruiting strategies? I want to hear about them. Contact me at krawcken@bnpmedia.com