This year, over 860 attendees traveled to Milwaukee for PHCC CONNECT 2017, Oct. 3-6. While contractors, manufacturers and many more members around the industry gathered to reflect on the past year, the future was the highlight of the conference.
Chris Baldwin, president, Kitchen and Bath Americas, Kohler Co. and the keynote speaker at this year’s event, said as much in his keynote speech to PHCC members.
“Millennials,” Baldwin said, “are the new customer and the new employee.”
Reaching them, will have to be done “through storytelling — values-driven and engaging stories,” he added.
It didn’t take long for industry veterans to notice the impact millennials would have on the industry.
The 2017 Plumbing and HVAC Apprentice Competition put third through fifth-year apprentices through a packed schedule for three days. Contestants were given the chance to show off their skills, as well as network with one another and some of the biggest companies in the industry.
For the first two days, plumbing contestants were asked to install a bathroom — complete with a sink, showerhead, drain and toilet — while HVAC technicians worked on brazing, refrigerant recovery, taking readings on a package unit, troubleshooting on mechanical and electrical units and basic electrical wiring, finishing off with a written test.
Before the tools were put into the hands of the competitors, the apprentices traveled to Milwaukee Tool for a facility tour, where they learned about the company and some of the tools they could potentially win.
Every year, the competition has different elements included to challenge the apprentices.
On the plumbing side, for the first time, the competitors’ benches were wood-based as opposed to steel so that everyone could get a better view of the handiwork.
For the HVAC competition this year, Daikin donated three identical package units for the event. Merry Beth Hall, assistant vice president, Workforce Development for PHCC Educational Foundation says, “This allowed us to level the playing field for that event, because in previous years we had one unit that had three-phase power, creating an oddball calculation for some contestants.”
She adds, “It was a ‘luck of the draw’ situation, and we provided the formula for them, but it is always best to have the identical units to be the fairest. Also, we changed our troubleshooting event this year to include three scenarios instead of just one. This allowed us to challenge competitors with both mechanical and electrical problems. It worked well, and the competitors rose to the occasion.”
Rising to the occasion was something that plumbing contestant, Christopher Tudor felt would happen when he traveled from Tennessee.
“I was expecting fierce competition, and that’s exactly what I got from the best, state to state,” Tudor says.
In total, 32 apprentices made their way to Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center — 20 plumbers and 12 HVAC technicians.
Many qualified after winning local competitions, or placing with high enough scores in those same contests. Others were referred to the competition from instructors that felt like they could compete against the best of the best.
“The judges were very positive about the quality of this year’s competitors,” Hall says. “Our team felt that every single competitor deserved to be there. It is a rare occurrence that we find a competitor that really shouldn’t be at this event — the state chapters and union training centers do a great job in vetting the apprentices before they come to us. These competitors are truly the best in the nation.”
On day two, plumbing contestants competed from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and HVAC apprentices showed their skills between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a lunch break mixed in. Some even joked that, while the competition took a while, it was shorter than the workdays they were used to back home.
“During the second day after we had completed a large portion of the competition, I was able to gauge my work with that of my competitors,” says Daniel Judd, a plumbing contestant from Virginia.
After the full “workday” and wall-to-wall action for two days, some contestants took it easy before winners were announced on Friday.
“I thoroughly enjoyed mentally relaxing from the tough competition and networking with some of the many business owners and representatives that were present. The amount of knowledge and tips I gained will one day be used to successfully manage a business of my own,” Judd says.
After relaxing, contestants came back to the Wisconsin Center Friday morning to show off their work to the judges. It was at that time that contestants received feedback from some industry leaders on what they did well and what they can improve.
A few hours after showing off his renovated bathroom, Judd learned he was the contest’s number-one plumbing apprentice
Judd was very confident in his plumbing knowledge and craftsmanship since he’d been trained under one of the greatest plumbers he says he knows — his father, who’s also his boss. His father, David, instilled in his son skills necessary to lead a successful plumbing career.
Plus, Judd says his dad’s previous assistant had placed in the national competition.
“So, I had expected to live up to those standards,” he added.
When he found he had lived up to those standards and then some by earning first place, he says, “being recognized in such a prestigious national competition will only add to my plumbing credibility and open up more opportunities for me in the industry.”
The top three finalists for the plumbing competition were:
• 1st Place: Daniel Judd, David N. Judd Plumbing, Leesburg, Virginia, sponsored by Viega LLC
• 2nd Place: Tony Prins, Domestic Plumbing, Clinton, Iowa, sponsored by Copper Development Association
• 3rd Place: Ryan Johnson, Michael & Son Services, Alexandria, Virginia, sponsored by Zoeller Pump Co.
The top three finalists for the HVAC competition were:
• 1st Place: Sean Dobbs, UA Local 486, Baltimore, Maryland, sponsored by Milwaukee Tool
• 2nd Place: Marshall Brahm, UA Local 601, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sponsored by Daikin
• 3rd Place: Allen Maslo, UA Local 597, Chicago, Illinois, sponsored by Emerson
Aside from the competition, there was one more apprentice honored during the event. On the final day of CONNECT 2017, Delta Faucet and the PHCC Association, presented the Apprentice of the Year award to Matt Johnson of Black Hawk, South Dakota. The third-year apprentice at Midwestern Mechanical in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been praised for being focused and attentive to his work and shines whether working independently or as part of a team.
“I have learned over the years to build almost anything and troubleshoot problems or potential issues both on the construction and production of many operations,” he said. “I started working with my hands as soon as I could when I was a kid, and I have carried that through my life."
Brett A. Kaltvedt, branch manager at Midwestern Mechanical said: “Matt loves his job. He is always trying to do more. He knows he chose this job as his career, and he is trying to make the most of it.”
The future of the industry weren’t the only ones who received recognition for their hard work. At CONNECT 2017, industry veterans got their respect as well.
Evan Hibbs of Evan Hibbs Plumbing, Portsmouth, Virginia was awarded the Plumbing Contractor of the Year award. Hibbs is a contractor member who has made outstanding contributions to the industry, community and association.
Hibbs though is another person preparing for the future of the industry. Evan Hibbs Plumbing has team members also participate in refresher courses, active and documented safety programs, formal toolbox talks and mandatory code and procedure sessions.
“I am more progressive than most,” Hibbs said, “and if it’s a better way, I see no reason not to follow that path.”
Contractor Dan Foley was also honored on the final day of the conference. The owner of Foley Mechanical Inc., in Lorton, Virginia, received the Contractor of the Year award.
With more than 30 years in the trade, Foley knows the key to becoming a successful leader and entrepreneur is to surround yourself with an expert team of professionals then equipping them with the tools and resources they need to be successful.
His passion for excellence is seen in Foley Mechanical’s commitment to educating the next generation of PHC professionals through in-house and factory training. Foley has sent techs to Mitsubishi, Trane, Carrier, NTI, Viessmann, Triangle Tube, Uponor, LG, Peerless, ECR and PHCC’s one-week Project Management course for supplemental training. Four Foley Mechanical Inc. technicians are even NATE-certified.
Foley has served on local and state PHCC boards for more than 10 years, including serving on the NATE Board of Directors for the last four years, the ACCA Board of Directors since 2011, and the local ACCA board (now AACP) since 1997. As a member of the PHCC of Virginia’s Board of Directors, he generously shared his experience and unique perspectives.
Finally, this year’s Plumbing Instructor of the Year award was given to Robert Hahn of HoHoKus School of Trade and Technical Sciences in Paterson, New Jersey.
Hahn is a partner at All Season Energy Services LLC, serves on the PHCC Plumbing Apprentice Committee, and is chairman of the national Skills USA plumbing contest. For the past several years, Hahn has been running the New Jersey apprentice contest, based on the SkillsUSA model. With 28 years as a vocational school instructor, along with being a Master Plumber, Hahn has been able to take students all the way to WorldSkills International.
“The main thing I stress for any of my apprentice competitors is to make it fun,” said Hahn. “It’s just like a job. When a problem crops up, you just have to fix it.”
Though each award is still freshly polished, PHCC is already looking ahead to next year.
“We spend a good amount of time reflecting on what went right, what didn’t and how we can improve each year,” Hall says. “When I return, it takes about a month to get through all of the paperwork, recap conference calls and other review items so we can set the stage for the following year. We’re always in planning mode — it never stops until we execute the event, and then we’re on to the next one.”
The apprentice competition won’t be the only aspect of CONNECT that will see changes.
Since the show has wrapped up, PHCC has finalized a joint venture with the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) to co-locate events at CONNECT 2018, Oct. 9-12 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Next year’s event will help bring both business owners and technicians together for education and collaboration.
“PHCC tremendously values partnerships like this as we continue to strengthen the education and networking power of our association for our member contractors, including those involved in HVAC work,” says PHCC President Laurie Crigler. “With workforce development being a top priority, the timing of this collaboration couldn’t be better, with loads of potential for both groups to learn from each other on how to recruit and retain the next generation.”
PHCC Executive Vice President Michael Copp says: “Undoubtedly, the expanded scope of CONNECT 2018 will benefit both PHCC and RSES. We look forward to working with RSES to develop a schedule that provides time for both groups to focus on their specific programming, while also building in opportunities for joint events, including the Product and Technology Showcase.”
Both PHCC and RSES will plan CONNECT 2018, helping to expand the membership and exhibitors for next year’s show. Just another thing that contractors can look forward to in the future.
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