Recently, Plumbing & Mechanical spoke with Charles E. “Chip” Greene, president of Macon, Ga.-based Greene & Associates and incoming president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association. Greene, the third generation of his family in the industry, learned about PHCC at an early age working in his father’s business. Greene officially started his career at a large mechanical contracting firm, then started his own business 25 years ago. President of the Georgia PHCC from 2004 to 2006, Greene was elected vice president of the national association in October 2013 and will be inducted as president during the national convention in Hollywood, Fla., Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
PM: What is PHCC doing to help attract workers to the trades?
CG: The primary arm of PHCC to spearhead this is the PHCC Educational Foundation. We’re working on a couple different fronts. The PHCC Educational Foundationhas a very rigorous apprenticeship program. But some people believe we need some kind of introduction to the trades. So we’re in the early stages ofdeveloping a certificate program where a student would take a course over a short period of time, which would give him a broad introduction to the plumbing-heating-cooling industry. The course would cover topics such as jobsite safety, familiarization with types of materials and how they’re applied, the various plumbing, heating and air-conditioning systems, introduction to the types of tools (hand tools and power tools) and how to use them.
Once someone completes the course, he would take the certificate to a contractor, preferably a PHCC member, who would recognize the certificate holder as someone who has an introduction into the trade. It might allow that person to be hired at a level just above a normal introductory level.
Another tool that the PHCC Educational Foundation will be incorporating into its eLearning program is simulation software that uses gaming technology to troubleshoot HVAC troubleshooting scenarios. We were introduced to this in April during the Foundation board of directors’ meetingin Washington, D.C., by Merry Beth Hall, PHCC Educational Foundation director of apprenticeship and journeymen training. The player is actually a virtual technician who is troubleshooting a residential HVAC system. Through interactive feedback in the game, the virtual technician is prompted to check different things, which leads him to a diagnosis of the problem. The idea is to use that as a tool to attract interest into the industry at an earlier age.
We’re also working on marketing strategies to raise the awareness of what a great career thePHC industry can be for an individual. A national advertising campaign is cost-prohibitive, so we decided to deliver our message by focusing on high-school counselors and those at career and technical colleges. As part of this awareness campaign, PHCC is developing a website with messages for parents and students, educators and contractors, and also is sharing best-practice ideas through PHCC publications. The website will appear as a navigation option on PHCC’s home page at http://www.phccweb.org and allow people to see the various opportunities in our industry they can pursue.
PHCC is working on many levels to raise awareness for career opportunities because we have a big void to fill in the amount of skilled workers that we need. And we’re not doing it alone. PHCC Executive Vice President Gerry Kennedy and PHCC Educational Foundation COO Cindy Sheridan have reached out to other industry associations that are in the same situation we are and have received help on the marketing initiatives. Working with our industry partners is something PHCC is always interested in.
PM: How important is it for members to get involved in local, state and national politics?
CG:I think it’s hugely important. If you’d asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have said that I am not into politics. But then I got involved at the state level. I was at the state capital to support legislation that would require general contractors to be licensed. I mentioned it to my local representative; he didn’t see why it was a problem. When I explained to him that there was nothing keeping him from pulling a permit for a 10-story building in downtown Atlanta, he was shocked. He had no idea. Then he agreed the legislation was a good idea, that GCs need to be licensed.
The moral to that story is that the legislators don’t know what they don’t know. And they need to hear from people that are in business and people who do this work every day. Legislators are going to make decisions based on what they know, and if contractors can take the time to educate them on a particular topic, the hope is that they will make a better decision with that industry knowledge.
Every year when I go to Washington, the legislators thank us for taking time to talk to them because they want to hear from us. I once told my state representative that if he had any questions about the particular issue we were talking about, he could call the government relations person at PHCC. He told me that if he had a question, he wanted to talk to me, to hear my point of view. It’s very important to get involved. And for a business person to say that politics is not for him or her — legislators are going to make decisions that affect your business, with or without your input.
PM: What are the biggest challenges facing PHCC members today and how is the national organization helping them address these challenges?
CG:One of them is the lack of skilled workers. Specific to my market, my company is a new construction contracting firm. Owners and project managers want projects built faster without sacrificing quality. To accomplish this requires more skilled workers. That is the biggest challenge that we face, and PHCC has formed a joint task force with the PHCC Educational Foundation to work on developing ways that the organization can help attract people to the industry.
Government regulation also is a challenge. Regional efficiency standards for heating and air-conditioning equipment is another example. If a contractor has an office in Ohio but actually does work in Kentucky and Ohio, the EPA is proposing that those states would have different energy-efficiency standards for HVAC equipment. It would be up to the contractor to know and keep track of which energy ratings apply to which state. That would be unnecessary if we adopted one standard for the whole country.
PHCC has been fortunate to have a representative on a panel talking to the DOE about these efficiency requirements — Chuck White, our technical director who also is a contractor. He is the only contractor on the panel and that gives PHCC a contractor voice to help Washington understand these issues and how they impact the industry.
PM: Where do you see the greatest opportunities for plumbing and mechanical contractors in 2016?
CG: Some contractors are just coming out of the recession. In my business, it’s only been in the last year that we’ve started to see a comeback. With the shortage of labor we’ve talked about, it should help wages increase for our employees. And if we pass these costs along to the end user, then it would help attract younger people to the industry.
Another opportunity is the design-build process for construction, which seems to be building momentum with a lot of projects in our area. With this concept, you don’t have an architect or an engineer on one side and the contractor on the other side, trying to guess what the other was supposed to do on the project. Instead, you start together as a team from day one and there’s no question about who does what. As an engineer recently told me: “Design-build allows parties to do what they do best. It allows the engineer to design, which is what he does best, and allows the contractor to be involved in an installation perspective, which is what he does best.”
PM: What trends are Construction Contractors’ Alliance members seeing in new construction?
CG: One of the big things is building information modeling. BIM continues to be integrated into larger and more complex projects. Our company doesn’t do many projects that require BIM but it can be very beneficial to a project. The pitfall is that is has to be started early in the project, before any dirt has been moved. To try to do it while under construction is difficult at best.
Prefabrication, while always prevalent in the industry, is now a requirement on a project of just about any size. The time on the project continues to be shortened and the only way to keep up with the manpower shortages we are facing is to do prefabrication. That is one thing that CCA continues to emphasize.
New construction contractors are having to do more documentation during a project to fend off what we call the “heavy-handedness” of construction managers. . The challenge is that the general contracting industry has been moving toward construction management over the last 10 or 15 years. Some GCs are not builders; they’re good at scheduling, but not very good at understanding how abuilding needs to be constructed. We as subcontractors have to watch for that and document everything to keep it from coming back at us financially.
PM: How do PHCC members become recognized as the leaders in water conservation and energy efficiency?
CG: A few years ago, PHCC introduced a certified water auditor program to educate contractors on various ways to conserve water and the potential savings to the end user. In other words, it’s a tool that contractors can use to show that by upgrading to low-flow fixtures, there is a cost savings to the end user.
The challenge is that not every part of the country is in the same position as the Western states. For instance, in the Southeast where I am, water is fairly abundant and water conservation is not something we’ve embraced. When you talk to a customer about upgrading to low-flow fixtures and the savings that can be recognized from that, it’s difficult because water is cheap here. The payback is not there to generate the interest. It’s the same with rainwater harvesting or graywater systems.
PM: What are the top items on PHCC’s 2016 legislative agenda?
CG: The first is the Environmental Protection Agency’s expanded definition of the Waters of the U.S. It’s a hot topic for PHCC because the wording is so vague. It would allow the EPA to have enormous influence on determining what is a waterway and what is a tributary of a major stream or river. If you had a drainage ditch in your yard that was between your house and the street, it’s possible that the EPA could classify that as a tributary to a major waterway. Therefore, if you wanted to do anything to it, you would have to go through a permitting process. And while the EPA says there is nothing to worry about, we’re concerned about it.
The second item is the 92% efficiency furnace rule. It’s not to say that PHCC is not a proponent of energy conservation, because we all are. But there’s a big difference when you talk about venting a 92%-efficient furnace vs one at 80% efficiency. If it’s a new home or a relatively new home, it can be incorporated into that home without any problem. But when you’re talking about a retrofit of a 20-year-old furnace in a multistory apartment complex and the furnace is buried halfway in the middle of the building, it can be extremely difficult and costly to replace that furnace if you had to upgrade from 80% to 92% efficiency.
So PHCC is trying to talk to the U.S. Department of Energy and let it know that while PHCC believes 92% furnaces are a great idea, it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. We are advocating for some kind of exception where the application might not be a good fit and perhaps give that authority to a code official to determine whether it is practical to use a 92%-efficient furnace in a particular application.
We continue to work with legislators to make sure the Perkins Act (the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006) funding stays in place, perhaps even increased. It provides federal funds for technical colleges and for high school construction programs.
PM: What do you hope to accomplish as PHCC president? What are you passionate about in the industry?
CG: As president, I want to communicate internally with our members and with our state associations so that they really feel the value of being a part of PHCC. I want to keep them aware of what’s going on when we’re working on something — not just at the beginning and end, but all during the journey.
I also want to see our workforce development efforts take hold and start to see some tangible results. It’s one thing to say we’re working on something, but the proof’s in the pudding, as the old saying goes. We want to see results from these efforts.
I am passionate about educating and training people in the industry. The only way we can have better installers, better technicians, better project managers, better estimators and better owners of contracting firms is to educate them. I truly believe there is no such thing as too much education. We have to continue to learn to make us better at what we do.
The Educational Foundation did a major update to its project manager training this year. And we found huge demand for the foundation’s foreman training class. This year we planned to offer the foreman class once on the national level at Viega’s training center. But it was such a huge success, we ended up offering it seven more times this year at PHCC chapters around the country.
Quality Service Contractors continues to develop programs for the service side of the business. And we want to expand the foundation’s project manager program. Currently it focuses on larger projects. But PHCC has a lot of smaller contractor members who work on smaller projects and may do a mixture of commercial, residential and service. So PHCC is working with QSC to come up with a project manager program for smaller contractors.
PM: When speaking with young contractors, how do you describe the benefits of being a PHCC member?
CG: The benefit of being a PHCC member is making contacts with other contractors. Sometimes we as contractors fall into trap where we face a challenge and we don’t know what to do or how to solve it. We get all worked up about how we as individuals try to tackle a particular challenge. But PHCC has 3,000 contractor members, and every one of them in some way has faced similar challenges and problems in their business experience.
If a young contractor engages with PHCC, even at the state level, and gets to know the other contractors, he or she can share ideas and best practices with people who have already done the hard work, who know what’s been done and what works. Contractors can take those ideas and implement them in their own businesses. That’s the great thing about PHCC — there are many people to get ideas from and who will help you get through the challenges we face as contractors every day.
PM: If you had only one message to give to your fellow contractors, what would it be?
CG: Get engaged in workforce development however that looks, whether it’s apprenticeship training, speaking at high schoolsor participating in career fairs. Help us overcome the stereotypes that have been associated with the industry and promote the industry so we can create a talent pool to draw from. We need to help young people see that the PHC industry is a great industry to be involved in and you can make a good living at it.