It’s a recurring theme among anyone in the construction industry — how do we encourage more people to enter the trades?

How do we replace not only the people who are retiring from plumbing and mechanical firms, but the people who left the industry during the Great Recession and never returned? As the economy continues to chug along this will become a critical issue for the construction of new homes and buildings, as well as service/repair and remodeling projects.

“In the construction industry, where employee turnover is notoriously high and cyclical due to economic fluctations and local market conditions, company leaders must build corporate communities that truly inspire and engage employees long term and across all generations,” notes a recent report, “Millennials in Construction: Learning to Engage a New Workforce,” from engineering and construction consulting firm FMI.

Millennials are defined as people born between 1980 and 2000. And 2015 marked the first time  millennials surpassed the baby boom generation as the nation’s largest living generation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports  this young generation comprises 34% of the workforce. That percentage is expected to jump to 50% within the next four years.

So will millennials be the solution to the skilled labor shortage in construction? FMI surveyed nearly 400 people in the construction industry; half were millennials. Some key findings in the report include:

  • 74% of survey respondents expect to remain more than five years with their company.
  • 96% of survey respondents are willing to work beyond what is required of them to help the business succeed.
  • 98% of survey respondents stated it was important for them to understand their career path and opportunities within their company.

“Findings show that millennials are indeed very dedicated and loyal to their companies and that they share similar values as baby boomers and Gen Xers when it comes down to career aspirations, attitudes and goals,” the report states.

Which is good news for plumbing and mechanical contractors. I’ve been covering this industry since 1998 and I’ve lost count of how many keynotes and breakout sessions are spent on how to work or “engage” with younger generations. Many companies have employees of different generations and, yes, it’s important to learn to communicate with all your employees — not just people your own age.

But wouldn’t it be great to hire younger technicians and office staff who are on your wavelength?

Which brings me to Sam Dowdy Sr. and the wonderful things he and S & D Plumbing are doing to bring more young people into the industry. This Taylor, Texas, plumbing company is on a mission to raise the public image of plumbers from uncouth and disheveled guys in dilapidated trucks to knowledgeable professionals charged with protecting the health and safety of American families.

Working with the PHCC of Texas, Dowdy was instrumental in getting the state legislature to pass a bill that would allow technical and vocational training back into Texas high schools. He then began meeting with the superintendents of local high schools to find students who were willing to learn about plumbing careers at this company.

Eventually, this would evolve into S & D’s Plumbing Pipeline Program. Dowdy, the local high schools and the Texas State Technical College are working together to offer high-school students the opportunity to train in plumbing and other trades, thereby ensuring S & D and other plumbing contractors a steady pool of highly skilled workers.

Because of these efforts, Plumbing & Mechanical named Sam Dowdy Sr. and S & D Plumbing its 2016 Plumbing Contractor of the Year. Dowdy is in good company; our 2015 winner is Jim Steinle and Atomic Plumbing, based in Virginia. Steinle also is ensuring the long-term success of his company by bringing young people in through apprenticeships and training.

Both men know that waiting is not an option. Exposing young people to the lucrative careers in the plumbing and mechanical trades now, in your communities, is the best way to bolster the industry workforce. Borrow the ideas from Steinle and Dowdy, or from other industries and the archives of this magazine. But do something today.

A whole generation is looking for meaningful work. You can provide that. You can be an ambassador for plumbing professionals across the country — by starting in your local community.