The labor shortage is an ongoing problem for the plumbing, HVAC and other skilled trades industries. Many companies are developing creative strategies for promoting careers within the skilled trades. The latest is Reliance Worldwide Corp. (RWC), which has partnered with Trade Talks USA, an independent platform promoting skilled trades jobs and technical education, to promote plumbing career opportunities. Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke had a chance to chat with Chris Carrier, director of marketing for RWC, and David McCulloch, executive director of Trade Talks USA, about their partnership and campaign to attract new blood to the plumbing industry.

PM: What is Trade Talks? What does the organization do?

DM: In a nutshell, Trade Talks is a nonprofit organization that introduces aspiring students and others to career opportunities and jobs within the skilled trades and helps them develop personal individual pathways that lead them through training and into entry point jobs. We do that primarily through an interactive online knowledge platform that we promote. We have relationships with the key stakeholders within the skilled trades industries, and we work closely with educations and training providers to provide the links we need to connect our students to those training opportunities. Then, we work closely with the hiring employers and folks within the industries, such as RWC, to stay on top of the economic and employment trends, and gain insights to share among our employer partners.

CC: Trade Talks also has a huge platform that wants to assist veterans and career changers. It’s not only potentially a younger generation of a new skilled trades workforce, but also those who may be looking to completely change their career pathway to the skilled trades or veterans coming back from active duty. Trade Talks provides the right resources and educational information for them to know what the skilled trades has to offer for when they returned to civilian life.

PM: Tell me about RWC’s campaign with Trade Talks. What does RWC hope to accomplish with this?

CC: We started a “Careers in Plumbing” campaign last October during Careers in Construction month. It fits with the theme and we’ve created content and have done a lot of like targeted advertising. Part of that is when we talk to our customers — the plumbing contractors that use our products — it always comes back to the fact that labor is their biggest challenge. It’s one of the hardest things they’re facing. If you look at our products — such as our HoldRite pipe supports, fire stops, DWD short-line fittings and more — they are all about helping contractors work more efficiently so they can do more. We can design our products to give them more efficiency, but we started thinking, “What else could we do for the trade to help address this huge problem?”

The plumbing contractor is the core of our business. So we started our advertising campaign trying to build some awareness. But then, we started looking at organizations like Trade Talks, which really fits with what we’re trying to do. We are working behind the scenes to do things and partner with them to help recruit more people into the trade and maybe change some of the stigma people have around the trade and construction in general. There are some really lucrative careers people can have in the plumbing trade. And there’s just not enough awareness of that. For veterans returning to civilian life or even young kids coming up through high school, nobody says, “Hey, why don’t you look into plumbing?” They just push them toward college. And most of the plumbers I know make more money coming out of trade school than I ever made coming out of college. They don’t have a four-year degree, and they have really nice houses and cars. They live good lives and have a great quality of life. There’s much better job stability because when there is a downturn, plumbers are still needed. They were considered essential during COVID-19. There are a lot of benefits to being a plumber, but most people don’t realize it. They kind of look down on people who go into a trade versus a four-year school. We’re just trying to change that stigma and help improve the industry by attracting more people into the trade.

PM: What exactly is the campaign? How are you getting this message across?

CC: There’s a couple of facets to it. We started out with some content that we produced last year — we did a video trying to appeal to the younger generation talking about the trade and trying to make it look, let’s say, a little hipper. Then we use our social media platforms and paid social advertising to target those groups. We’ve also been working with Trade Talks, which has done the same thing. They produce some video content and we’re starting to sponsor it. Trade Talks is trying to do a good service for a trade. There are some other organizations we’ve partnered with as well. And we’re continuing to produce more content and even work with plumbers and contractors directly. We interview them and they go on to tell others what plumbing has done for them. We’re showing them on the job, but they’re not talking about our products or anything. We’re also showing them off the job, and what that looks like. They have families and hobbies and do all the same things everyone else does. We’re just starting to release these videos.

The best way we can reach some of the younger demographics is by targeting them through social media. So a portion of this content is going to be pushed out there, as well as on those types of organic channels to tap into what the next generation of workforces are using to connect, learn and educate themselves on what’s out there. We know Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, etc., have been major points of education platforms. Teens and career changers get their information from a lot more sources than just guidance and school counselors at this point. We want to engage them with different types of original content that follows some of the trends that you’ve seen on social. And we’ve partnered with Trade Talks because they’re targeting the same demographics. We’re also doing display advertising. We’re looking at any lever we can pull. If we can get out to some campuses, we’re going to do that as well. We’re actually sponsoring some plumbing schools. We’re looking at several different means so we can get our message across to the right audiences. We’ll take what Trade Talks is doing and try to push it back out there as well. We’re working together to help amplify that content.

DM: We’ve created videos and pathway profiles to use as tools to continue to build awareness about the skilled trades. We’re also reaching out and trying to build relationships with high school counselors.

I’ve had candid conversations with high school counselors who have said, “I just know this student would be an ideal candidate for your programs.” This was when I was with the technical college system with one of the skill trade programs. This is where parents become the problem. Mom and dad insist on holding on to that stigma about the skilled trades not being the desired and attractive career channel. So they push their children into four-year schools. We’re hoping through these tools and through the outreach initiatives, we will be able to push down the stigma, build interest, dispel the rumors and really build the pipeline we need to address the shortage of skilled workers.

PM: How does partnering with companies like RWC help Trade Talks?

DM: Well, we’re honored to have partners like RWC, in particular, because it has an international footprint, which makes the company highly recognized and adds tremendous credibility to our messaging when we’re reaching out to those audiences that we’re trying to build relationships with and get interested in the skilled professions. Today’s student also is very environmentally conscious, very committed to diversity, inclusion and inclusiveness, and is interested in careers that involve using advanced technologies. Those three categories perfectly fit RWC. The company has a phenomenal program and approach as it relates to in being environmentally conscious, it has a strong commitment and social responsibility of corporate responsibility platforms for diversity and inclusiveness. And it is producing the cutting edge tools and types of materials that make the skilled trades very attractive to the younger candidates.

PM: What do you hope the industry takes away from this campaign?

CC: It’s more about how we’re helping the industry. For us, we’re of course using some of our advertising to help promote the trade and hopefully bring some awareness, at least to some of those looking for their careers or even a new career. It’s also about helping and partnering with organizations like Trade Talks, because they can take action and do it much more effectively than maybe we’re set up to do. That’s where we are taking action with sponsoring — going a little bit beyond “here’s some advertising.” It’s about actually getting out there and helping those that can help the trade by taking action, and really, hopefully, make a difference in bringing more people into the trade.

There is a lot of opportunities, especially from a diversity standpoint, to bring more people into the trade. One area we’re going to try to focus on is bringing more women into the trade. We’ve seen the statistics, and they are really staggeringly low, and again, it comes from that sigma. We’re working on content there. I think there are a lot of young girls who would like to be in a trade, work with their hands, solve problems for people and get a lot of satisfaction from it. I think that’s another place we’d like to see start changing as well. There’s a much bigger talent pool out there than what has traditionally come into the trade. We need to think about how to tap that much larger talent pool, which is going to be much more diverse.

DM: I’ll add to that because I think that Chris was right on point. When you look at it, the average age for plumbers is 41 years old — actually in the upper 50s if you’re looking at master plumbers. And if you look at the profession demographically, less than 30% of the workforce is workers of color. And just 5% of the workforce is women. When you overlay that into our national demographics, the opportunities are tough to see. There is an opportunity to advance the profession by introducing more women into it and by introducing more students of color.

When you look at the tools we’re developing, the diversity you see in our videos and pathway profiles, you see that they are inclusive, and that’s by design. They are reflecting what we know to be the future and upcoming workforce. We want to do everything we can to present the opportunities in a way that shows that the industry, and certainly the plumbing profession, is more open toward bringing in diverse workers.

At Trade Talks, we really see four huge buckets to go after. One is certainly veterans. Another is career changers. A third is probably the under-skilled or under-employed talent pool. The last is where you will see us doing a lot of our initial focusing on, which is that high school audience. The reason why we went after that last audience with the tools we’re developing is because that’s the toughest nut to crack. But again, we need to build more awareness and share information about the opportunities. I think to some extent, the reality is setting in as it relates to the four-year college experience and for community college students as well.