When Jason Holte got a phone call from the technical education teacher at his local high school with an interesting request, he knew he wasn’t going to say anything but yes.
John Vanderwyst, technology education teacher at Marathon High School, which serves the Wausau, Wisconsin community, filled in Holte about his plan to build a program to introduce students to the building trades. But to do it, he needed product donations and professional volunteer time to help students build a mock house from the foundation on up.
“We were immediately hooked on the idea and pledged to do whatever we could to help initiate and maintain the program,” said Holte, cofounder of Marathon Plumbing Service LLC, Edgar, Wisconsin.
Holte joined County Materials; Van Ert Electric, Larry Meyer Construction, Lang Masonry and Hurtis Heating & Air in donating products and providing professional installation expertise to the students.
“I don’t think everyone has to go to a four-year university to be successful in life,” Vanderwyst says in a YouTube clip made by one of those trades partners. “There are other routes to that end goal and the trades is one of those routes.”
So far, Holte has helped out with two classes – about 12 students per class – that plumb a bathroom. The class project exposes the students to the trades with field trips to jobsites and offers the hands-on chance to construct the one-room structure, including masonry, framing, heating, electrical and plumbing.
“Since my business partner and I founded the company,” Holte says, “we have taken an interest in the long-term sustainability not only of our company, but the trades in general.”
“Long-term sustainability” must be on the minds of many of our readers. With the labor shortage a common topic, we sent out an email to our readers to see what they were doing to recruit and train new talent.
Holte was just one of our readers who told us their tales. Here are some highlights of other readers we heard from:
Benefits & Employee Development Director, The Waterworks
Christy Gigandet had just joined The Waterworks seven months ago, but has nearly 20 years of human resources experience.
“Recruiting was never a huge part of my direct role and now it is,” she writes. “The struggle is real! Recruiting is a challenge for everyone, but once you tighten the parameters on the skillset – 5-plus years plumbing experience – it’s nearly impossible.”
She says she recently attended a human resources roundtable discussion for the contractor industry and every single person there lamented that what might have worked in the past, such as referral bonuses, sign-on bonuses and job postings, aren’t working now.
“We are all in the same boat,” she writes.
If the company has trouble finding people, she adds, it had better train them to be the best in the business. Gigandet says the company has always excelled at training its techs, but also its white-collar side of the business for customer service reps and dispatchers.
About seven years ago, The Waterworks also opened its own state-accredited apprenticeship program.
“We hire all our apprentices as fulltime hourly employees with benefits, so they are earning money while getting their formal education and on-the-job training,” Gigandet writes.
She sent us a link to a YouTube video in which David Specht, president of the company, outlined the training.
“Many companies are afraid of training their staff because they’re afraid that if they train them, they’re going to leave,” Specht says. “That’s not our philosophy here because we feel it’s ultra-important to train our staff because if we train them we know we’re providing the best service we can provide to our customers.”
President, Hansen’s Plumbing & Mechanical Inc.
Cary Hansen sounds like a networker extraordinaire. Of course, he’s a member of the Ventura County Contractors Association and IAPMO. But he doesn’t stop there.
“I personally attend classes at our local college – plumbing codes was the last class,” writes the owner of the business that’s been family owned since 1987. “It’s a good way to keep up with codes, but I’m also looking for recruits as well.”
And he also manages Little League and sponsors high school sports – “future recruits,” he tells us.
We weren’t familiar with another one of his networking groups, VC Innovates that works directly with high school shop teachers and others in the California Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education sector. The public-private endeavor brings together educators, businesses and community partners to enhance the education experience, and prepare future workers.
Closer to home, Hansen describes his own plumber “pipeline” system: “We have one apprentice with each plumber, frequently on rotation to work with each plumber,” he writes. “We have a training lesson each morning (10 to 30 minutes) for all employees. We have vendor training at least once per month. (RIDGID Tools, CPVC certifications, Raypak boiler training, etc.).
“With this set up, it protects us if we lose a plumber or two. Some of the better-trained apprentices can support simple jobs, which gives us more flexibility throughout operations.
“We also know who we have, and train them with good habits. They will not make it to “plumber” in our company unless they fit our core values.”
Village Plumbing & Air
Jonathan Richter told us that one reason for the industry shortage is the overemphasize on college education and not nearly enough respect for trade education.
“We try to break that stigma around our industry by showing people just how successful they can be working as a service technician,” he writes. To that end, the company operates its own apprentice program that allows employees to obtain their license and make a decent wage while they’re at it.
“And once they’ve obtained that license, they have the opportunity to make more than a vast majority of college graduates,” he adds.
His email shared the following advice:
“We never want our employees to feel as though it’s a thankless job. We hold regular employee events both in and out of the office, have systems that reward employees for encouraging one another and give them the opportunities to travel across the nation to various industry trainings, all expenses paid.
“We want to make sure that we’re hiring the right people for the right job. One of the most expensive problems a company can have is high turnover, so we take our time in the hiring process. We go through multiple interviews, questionnaires and an extensive background check process, all to ensure that the person we’re bringing on board is someone we know we can work with for years to come. Someone who will love what they’re doing and strive to be the best of the best at it.”
My Plumber Heating Cooling & Electrical, Manassas, Virginia
About four years ago, Laureanne Venter's company started its own Plumbing Academy to address the labor shortage.
“As we all know, qualified individuals within the trade are incredibly hard to come by,” she writes. “The idea to start our own academy came from specifically this notion, that if we are able to hire and train our own folks from within, we would be able to mold our perfect employee.”
Such a person would be the kind of employee that would best represent My Plumber’s core values, beliefs and company policies.
“This program is set up specifically to attract motivated individuals without any experience but with the will and drive to succeed in the industry,” she writes. “This is an incredible career-building opportunity and although the apprentice starts out green, the process is fairly simple.”
The apprentice will work for approximately one year to gain experience in the company’s parts warehouse, not only learning all the parts, but also understanding the process to get those parts to techs in the field.
Only after this period of time is the apprentice ready to begin formal education in My Plumber’s onsite training center, which includes a plumbing and HVAC lab and classroom as well as field work with a master tech.
“We give totally inexperienced individuals an opportunity to start a career, being trained on the job, getting paid while doing so and finishing their training without any debt,” Venter writes. “We train process while teaching the technical and when an apprentice follows this program to a tee, they will succeed.”