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Each year, PHCCCONNECT features two days of Plumbing and HVAC Apprentice Contest action organized by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association’s Educational Foundation.
It’s hard to miss the event since the competition takes place right on the convention’s trade show floor. Last year, 19 plumbing and 10 HVAC apprentices from across the nation competed for top honors at PHCCCONNECT2019 in Indianapolis.
A dedicated team of contractor/volunteers arrive two days before the competition to assemble the test benches, distribute the materials and supplies and setup the testing areas. They monitor the competition throughout both days, evaluate the apprentices’ work and provide constructive feedback on each competitor’s performance after the event.
For the plumbing competition, the apprentices were required to rough in a bathroom system. The setup includes a toilet, sink and shower, complete with supply, waste and vent lines, plus cleanouts and extra features designed to test the contestants’ knowledge and skills. The competitors have to show their proficiency working with a variety of pipe materials, including cast iron, copper, PVC and PEX, and corresponding joining methods.
Meanwhile, the HVAC competitors were required to complete a written test, demonstrate proper brazing techniques and perform a hands-on diagnostic on an HVAC package unit, with system errors created by the contractor/volunteers for the competition. The competitors also had to perform a pressure and leak test, demonstrate proper refrigerant recovery procedures and the ability to accurately take a variety of instrument readings.
And the winner is …
Christopher Redfern, Staunton, Illinois; Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553 (sponsored by RIDGID) earned 1stplace at the 2019 competition
For the record, Mark Morcos, Eastwick College of HoHoKus Trade School in Bushkill, Pennsylvania (sponsored by Tyler Pipe) took home 2nd place. And Carter M. Hagen, UA Local 25 in Davenport, Iowa (sponsored by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials) earned 3rd place.
Redfern currently works at Kane Mechanical Group LLC, East Alton, Illinois, a third-generation mechanical contractor that got its start in 1949. Kane employs approximately 40 people. Kane Fire Protection Inc., a separate corporation established in 2006, offers commercial sprinkler systems installation and service.
We caught up with Redfern recently, and this will be the first in a series of profiles highlighting young contractors in the months ahead.
PHC News: How did you get started in your career?
Redfern: Prior to starting my plumbing apprenticeship at age 25, I taught high school biology for two years.
Unfortunately, I quickly developed teacher burnout and knew that it was not a profession I wanted to continue. Being a 4th generation plumber, I was fortunate enough to have a decent grasp on a second skillset for the PHCP trades and had a great sense of pride in not only plumbing and piping, but the trades in general.
Soon after switching, I grew a knack for my new career path and knew that it was something I would like to pursue indefinitely. After recently completing my five-year apprenticeship, I can say that there hasn’t been a day I’ve regretted switching to a career in plumbing.
PHC News: While we can tell you received encouragement from your family members to consider the trades, did you also receive that same type of encouragement for a career in the trades during your time in high school?
Redfern: All of my teachers were encouraging about careers in the trades and aided students who wished to go that route however possible, albeit with limited resources at times.
Although I had decided on getting a bachelor’s degree early on, I also took many vocational classes in high school. However, from being in both the education field and trades, I have seen where a lack of support for students seeking a career in the trades has been detrimental to some. I do believe that this perspective is fading and that jobs and training in the highly skilled trades will become ever more respected and important as we move to a more automated society.
PHC News: What are some of your on-the-job highlights at this point?
Redfern: I have been fortunate during my apprenticeship in the fact that I have experienced a very diverse array of work environments. I have worked at refineries, universities, warehouses, small businesses, and homes in commercial, industrial, and residential settings including new construction, remodel, and service work. All of this has allowed me to become very well rounded and gain a broad range of skills across our field. This varying experience also helps to break the monotony of day-to-day work and keep things interesting.
PHC News: Mentorship has always been an important point for coming up in the PHCP industry. Can you elaborate on what you have learned from mentors?
Redfern: As a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 553, I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside many fellow members who have helped shape my education and on-the-job training.
My biggest takeaway, and what I would pass along to others starting in the trades, is be coachable. There are countless others who have gone before us with a vast knowledge of plumbing and their own nuanced way of performing certain tasks. Each and every person you work with can teach you something, no matter how well you think you know your skills.
I always try my best to absorb as much knowledge I can from those I work with, and formulate what I believe is the best way to complete a task taking all of that into account.
PHC News: Are there professional organizations that have shaped your experience in the plumbing industry?
Redfern: Being a union plumber/pipefitter, my local union, the UA and my local contractors have been the most instrumental in my development. The resources and education they have provided and continue to provide are invaluable, and I would be remiss without expressing my appreciation both during my apprenticeship and after.
PHC News: Outside of your profession, can you give our readers a peek into your home life?
Redfern: I’ve been married five years to my high school sweetheart and we have a 2-year-old son (and a 7-year-old boxer.) Our son now consumes the majority of my time, and it is cool to see him learn and grow every day. When I have free time I also enjoy brewing beer, golfing, running and cycling.
PHC News: Finally, what can the PHCP industry do to better in recruiting young professionals and fostering a work environment to meet their needs?
I believe education is the most important aspect of achieving both of these. Helping to educate potential professionals, even as early as high school, will help reassure them that they are making a sound decision. This also serves to attract those who may not be convinced of a career in the trades, but have the potential to help grow our industry. Educating current workers and mentors in best work practices and how to cultivate a positive work environment helps the current workforce improve, but also helps attract the best personnel for generations to come.
Eduardo Flores of California Named 2019 Plumbing Apprentice of the Year
Like Christopher Redfern, Eduardo Flores, came from family in the trades, but decided to head to college. Unlike Redfern, Flores, however, didn’t need to complete college to know he wanted a life in the trades.
“I grew up in the industry and loved the work,” Flores says. “I went to college and decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do in life. What I want to do is to be in the field.”
That commitment to the trades earned Flores, a second-year apprentice at PHCC Los Angeles, the title of 2019 Plumbing Apprentice of the Year, presented by Delta Faucet Co. and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association at PHCCCONNECT2019 in Indianapolis.
During the Awards Luncheon that closes out the annual conference, PHCC President Ken Neilsen told the crowd Flores “is consistently recognized for his passion, positive attitude and pure joy he displays in his work … Eduardo promises to be an asset to the plumbing industry in the future.”
In addition to his positive attitude and strong work ethic, Flores is known to be an outstanding teammate and is always willing to help other students. He constantly makes the initiative to learn from peers and mentors, frequently attending industry meetings to expand his skills.
An early calling
“I had my first taste of the plumbing trade at the age of the 13,” Flores told us. “To avoid having me sit around the house and do nothing when I wasn’t in school during the summer, my father would take me with him to work. It was like going to school as well because it allowed me to learn first hand the importance of plumbing. Everyone needs clean water. Everyone needs to get rid of waste. Most people don’t think enough about the importance of the plumbing industry.”
Flores, who currently works with his father and brother at Merco Plumbing & Heating, Culver City, California, is a third-generation plumber and his family has been in the business for the past 40 years.
His father encouraged college in order to “learn whatever it was that interested me.” But Flores soon realized that college wasn’t the right road to take. So, he spoke to his dad and told him he’d continue his education but in the world of plumbing.
“He was more than happy to support me in my decision as long as I took it seriously,” Flores adds. “I’d say after winning that award in Indy, he sees how serious I was when I made my decision to join this amazing trade.”
As for job highlights, so far working on the water service for a 500-unit residential complex is a favorite memory.
“Up to that point, the largest pipe size I worked with was 3 inches,” he adds. “For this job, the smallest pipe size was 4 inches. I also got my feet wet, pun intended. working with back flow preventer devices and experiencing how they work.”
Two professional organizations that have helped him out the most are the IAPMO and PHCC.
“IAPMO has given me the opportunity to network with all sorts of professionals from all aspects of the plumbing trade; from the people who write the plumbing code, the people who manufacture the products and tools I use out on the field,” Flores says. “And being part of PHCC’s apprenticeship program has allowed me to absorb information from plumbers with years of experience and from actual city inspectors.
This article is a part of our 2021 National Skilled Trades Day compilation