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Looking for that homegrown technician? Read on. I want to talk to you about an option you may have to get young men and women to work in your business. Disclaimer: This may not work for all states in the US or other countries. Check all the labor laws for high school-age potential employees. Vocational education is now known as Career and Technical Education (CTE), and is the starting point for you to recruit and create homegrown plumbers, HVAC, electrical technicians.
I am going to share my experience as a former educator of 12-plus years in plumbing and heating at a CTE high school in Eastern Pennsylvania. There is a wealth of young men and women at your fingertips to employ and make them into profitable plumbing and heating techs. But like anything else in life and business, you are going to get out of it what you put into it. And this process is going to take some time and effort. However, it will pay off as I know from my own experience helping many students enter the workforce, and who are still at it today as apprentices, journeymen, master plumbers and HVAC technicians.
Most CTE schools have an Occupational Advisory Council (OAC) open to local plumbing and heating business owners. This is a light commitment on an owner’s part, but helps introduce your business to the CTE and vice versa. There are usually one to two meetings a year and business owners are asked to attend them to offer their perspectives. Think big-minded! Yes, I know you need technicians, but what about office staff? Do you need CSRs? Admin staff? Find out if the school has business and technology classes. Join and involve yourself in those classes, too. Being an OAC member puts you right where you want to be.
I have placed numerous students into the working world with what most CTEs call a Cooperative Education Program. Most of these COOPs are a work-study program that allows students to work for pay in a company of their field of study during the time they would normally be in the classroom with their CTE instructors.
This is a fantastic low-cost way to see if a student has the potential and if an employer wants to invest in this student. Again, check labor laws, particularly if you run emergency service or weekends or extended hours. But this may be a perfect solution to get this student into your company and start the homegrown process. COVID has changed things in the classroom for the positive! Some schools have been allowing students to migrate onto a full cyber school program and work three to four eight-hour days for the employer per week. This is a game-changer as it allows for students to show up at your shop in the morning and ride with a technician the whole day. As an educator, when I had 10-15 students who needed real-world industry experience, and if their grades and attendance were in compliance, they went on scheduled job shadows and onto internships and eventually a COOP.
Paid short-term and summer internships are another great way to entice young men and women to come work at your company. Short-term internships can be two to five weeks and can definitely add help to your workforce. Try and place 11th-grade students during the summer between their 11th and 12th-grade year. That way, if this student works out, you have set the stage for the student to come back on COOP in the fall when they return to school.
While OACs and COOPs can put you in front of plenty of students, there are many other ways to get regularly involved with a local CTE:
• Most CTE schools have a completion exam. Since teachers themselves cannot be the proctors, they need outside industry help to do that during the exams. It's a one-day gig and you are in front of the students at the best time to see their work habits and knowledge. I have watched employers who were proctors offer students a job right after the exam was completed. These exams are for graduating seniors and are typically done near the end of the school year.
• Become a service matter expert for the completion exam testing companies. This is another great way to have input on the actual exam when it comes up for revision. You will be the go-to for this process, if you spend the time to fill out the application to become one.
• Skills USA always needs help with facilitating and judging the competitions. This is another way for you to be in front of the best students in your companies’ disciplines. You and your company will be recognized for your effort to the parents and spectators of the event.
• Offer to sit on the schools’ grant and curriculum review boards. Many times grant writers and curriculum supervisors need help with specific topics and need to look outside the walls of their schools for answers from an industry professional. This is a great way to network with the school at a higher level. Offer to speak at a board meeting for the school and share your interests in helping with the programs you are interested in.
• Teachers will certainly allow you to come into the classroom and speak with the students. Outline industry expectations. Talk about pay. Better yet, bring in one of your techs. Let the students spend time with the tech and ask questions. Talk about your company and what it is like to work there. And if your shop is large enough, host an open house for the students to come as a class trip. Have food for them and bring the whole class to show them your training rooms, operations, trucks, warehouse and offices. If possible do a speed dating format with techs, office, and managers with students. Let them ask open questions to your employees. Visit the classroom several times a year. Most teachers will welcome this if you just ask.
• Act as a point of contact and a liaison to the supply industry. Help coordinate scratch and dent items for donation to the school. If you are a member of a local or state plumbing or HVAC association, have the organization’s director or president come to the school and speak with the students. Create a way for students to attend trade shows or supply houses. Even if they only spend half of a school day seeing a small regional plumbing and heating trade show, this helps them understand how and why professionals attend shows, understand the role PHCP distributors play and see a much bigger picture of the entire PHCP community.
Seek out the CTE schools and the instructors for the disciplines of your company. Ninety percent of the time their emails are listed on the school website. Start by sending them an introductory email and be candid about your thoughts to help their programs and hire their students. Schedule a sit-down face-to-face meeting and bring a tech or senior employee if possible with you. Speak about how you can help the program and your intended time investment with the school and program.
And just remember what you were like when you were in high school. Be patient and this method will eventually pay off for you. I can assure you it is much less expensive than traditional routes to get technicians and you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Compare the cost to get a technician the current way and add the onboarding fees for your company. A student can onboard with your company while on COOP or an internship.
And by the time they graduate the hard part is over with, and you have someone who trusts you as an employer. What I have shared with you may sound like a tremendous amount of time and effort. Don’t try to do it all in one school year. But then again, if you are fortunate enough to have more than one school in your market area get involved with more than one. Good luck and let us know about your experiences.
Ken Midgett, has been in the plumbing and heating industry for over four decades. He has owned two successful PHC businesses, is a licensed Master Plumber, a two-time national award-winning educator in plumbing and heating CTE classroom, with a 100 percent placement into the industry for all eligible seniors from his program. He continues to stay active in NAPHCC and his local PHCC-LV associations as an executive board member. This role has allowed him to continue mentoring young apprentices in the field. He is currently employed at Nationwide and works in Innovations as a remote lead manager and service matter expert. You can reach Ken through LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/kenmidgett .