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Hiring The Future

It was a delight to get the May issue of PM the other day, my first. I was especially taken by the series “Recruiting For The Trades.” As a former industrial arts teacher, I am always on the lookout as to how our society will continue without a vibrant trades education program.

A few days after reading the article, I was at a local high school presentation of senior scholarship awards. In part of the program, guests and students get to visit and, by chance, I found a young man, Randy Slater, who said he was going into a plumbing apprenticeship program. (This was such a shift from students stating a goal of going to a four-year university with no idea as to their area of study.)

Randy went on to explain that his grandfather, uncle and dad were all plumbers and he wanted to follow them. In another part of the program, the scholarship donor gets to meet the recipient of the award. Imagine my delight when Randy got called up to receive a scholarship that I had helped start five years ago.

If you want good recruits you need to cultivate and nurture them.
Wally Skyrman
Central Point, Ore.
P.S. Randy's family Don Slater, Cory Slater and Daniel Slater own D&D Plumbing & Repair in Medford, Ore. I have not met the family but others have told me that they are a class act.

Kelly Faloon responds: Thanks, Wally, for your response. I just wanted to clarify that this article is part of a series, and there are several avenues the industry can take to recruit and train more workers.

Because of the shift in population and the changing workforce, the old ways of recruiting and hiring just aren't working for the construction trades. We need to broaden the landscape of potential workers.

I'll be addressing the need to recruit students and young people into the trades in my last installment; the next installment in the series will be on recruiting women into the trades.

I hope you continue reading the series, and I'd be interested in your comments.

I'm not sure what to think of your primer (“Recruiting For The Trades”).

I am very close to this situation. I lay out plumbing systems for a living and we have many immigrant workers. A typical project is a multifamily apartment or condominium of between two and six stories, and up to hundreds of units.

I use specialized AutoCAD add-on software I have developed to create “erector set” plumbing systems that lower-skilled workers can install. The piping systems are pre-fabricated and delivered to the jobsite with detailed installation directions. The pipes are colored and numbered - piece No.1 goes to piece No.2, etc. - so, unfortunately, trained plumbers are no longer a necessity.

In the 1970s, this work would have been installed entirely by card-carrying union plumbers. I am not proud of the direction my trade has gone since then. It's now all about who will work for the least amount of money while quality of work is no longer a driving force.

This attitude is now permeating the business world and goes all the way up to the President of the United States and Congress. In my opinion, to compete with the EU we have been force-fed regional agreements such as NAFTA, and now (I hope not) FTAA and CAFTA.

This is not good news for the average American worker whose wages will continue to plummet.

Additionally, if enacted, President Bush's plan to match any willing worker with any willing employer will see a flood of even lower-waged workers than we are now seeing pouring in from Mexico.

I am an older guy who, as a nonunion plumber, was making $18 an hour in 1977. I bought a house around that same year for $29,000, which recently sold for $400,000. Now our “plumbers” make an average of $12 an hour. It's not hard to see the direction our craft has been going and will continue to go.

By the way, I'm not sure where the statistic came from that said 25 percent of construction workers are Hispanic. In Los Angeles and surrounding areas, the percentage is much closer to 80 percent or even higher.
Name Withheld

Don't Forget Women Plumbers

I enjoyed Ellen Rohr's column, “'Do I Look Like A Plumber To You?'” (May 2005). I've been in plumbing for 18 years. And maybe I'm not aware, but it seems that there is hardly a push for any high schoolers to pursue a vocational career, let alone encourage high school girls.

I would love to learn more about any efforts anyone is doing in this vein.
K. Leslie McNamara
Univ. of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, Ill.

Ellen Rohr responds: Thanks for your e-mail! Leslie, I know of a group in Boston called The Commonwealth Corp. They have been proactively training women, and others, for careers in the trades. You might call Elaine Fox for more info at 800/307-0760, ext. 1303.

Make A Fuss

I disagree with the “No Fuss Drain Cleaning” (“Tool Tips,” May 2005). Food and grease buildup in kitchen drains are not that easily removed. Sure, I'll run the pig to get the water out of the sink, but then I'll run a cable through to the main stack (twice to avoid callbacks). Customers appreciate the effort and are happy to write me a check for a service call when I break a sweat and get my hands dirty. It might not be me they call if their drain backs up again in two weeks.
Rich Cronin
Rich Cronin Plumbing
Dedham, Mass.