BY CHRIS ROTH
Recruiting skilled, reliable plumbing employees is getting more difficult by the day. I know all about this because I operate a technical trade school with locations in Las Vegas and Phoenix. For the past few years, our plumbing students have been regularly recruited by local contractors even before they graduate. Think about that. This is what happens to top-of-the-class medical and law students at Ivy League schools. Anecdotally, this underscores the biggest problem trade industries are facing — one that will only get bigger the more time passes.
According to the Associated General Contractors, 86% of employers struggle to fill hourly or salaried positions. And, yes, the pandemic may temper the urgency for a short while, but it will not stop the legions of Baby Boomer plumbers set to retire in the next 10 years. Then what? How will the need for qualified plumbers be solved? There is no one answer, but rather many ways in which the skills gap in plumbing can be lessened.
You have a thriving plumbing business. Part of this is due to having some good employees. Get them involved. Often times your current employees will have a network of potential candidates who can help fill your hiring needs. Let your team help with the hiring and offer incentives for employees who find qualified, hirable technicians. Not only will they become more active in helping your business grow but, presumably they will like, and work well with, the people they help recruit. They will also have a vested interest in making sure that particular employee works out, as most people will want to validate their decision to bring the employee on in the first place.
Often times your current employees will have a network of potential candidates who can help fill your hiring needs.
The trades have been falling out of favor for many years. Hence, the skills gap. There are some advocates who are trying to address the problem. 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’s governor 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.
If your state is not doing its part to solve this problem, then advocate for them to start. Get your fellow plumbers to ask your politicians for more attention to this problem. High school can be the best opportunity you have to find new employees. A four-year college is great, but it’s not for everyone — so provide a different conduit to success for students who may not want to go to college. More than likely, if you provide a more viable path, many will follow.
Money is great, and definitely a motivating factor when it comes to a job, but it is not the only factor. Sometimes working in a toxic environment is not worth it, and with the shortage of skilled labor, good plumbers do not have to put up with it. The converse is also true: provide a great work environment where everyone feels appreciated and has a chance to grow, and even if there are outside opportunities available, they will most likely stay where they are happy. This will also become obvious to outsiders who recognize happy employees, which could spark interest in joining your team.
Who wants to join a company where everyone looks miserable? Take a look around, is your staff smiling or do they seem to be going through the motions? If it’s the latter, then you could be ripe for competitors to poach.
When I owned an HVAC contracting company, the growth of my business was hindered only by the amount of people I could hire. This became a real problem as the number of hirable people heavily outpaced the number of skilled workers needed in HVAC. To help recruit new employees, I started teaching at a local community college and hired graduates from the program. While this was a big help, it did not eliminate the problem. Eventually, I bought the trade school, National Technical Institute (NTI), so that I could be an active participant and help turn around this immense problem the trades are facing. And, while I am not suggesting for everyone to buy a trade school, you could teach a class or two to provide a steady stream of new recruits or guest speak at a local school. Who knows, maybe, like me, you will enjoy teaching and find a new calling.
When you advertise job openings, be mindful of the language you use in your listings. Are you gearing toward too narrow of a segment of job seekers? Avoid recruitment phrases such as “new or recent graduates preferred” or “maximum years of experience.” Don’t make assumptions about who is overqualified or outside the expected salary range. For example, older workers seeking second careers may be more flexible about pay and represent a bargain in the workforce marketplace.
Remember, when you are playing the long game to fill a big need, there aren’t many short-term fixes. Recruiting is essential for your business — and the industry — to survive and grow, so it is time to do things differently and cast a wider net, one that can include more people, and hopefully, increase the number of people entering the field.
Photos courtesy of NTI.
Chris Roth is the CEO and owner of National Technical Institute (NTI), a state approved trade school with campuses in Las Vegas and Phoenix, offering fast-track training in HVAC, plumbing and electrical. NTI’s mission is to produce problem solving, creative thinking graduates who possess industry-standard knowledge and skills for a long-term, promising career.