Learnin’ the Job: Training doesn’t stop with your C-36 license
It’s not something the Mothers of America want to think about when they’re clucking about their children and playing the “my kid’s more advanced than yours” game. After all, they’re convinced their child(ren) are the cutest, brightest, funniest, and most talented and gifted of any of his or her fellow second-graders. In addition, their little tyke, that one – the one over there with a finger buried in her nostril to the third joint — is Ivy League bound, certainly the best and brightest of the future of America.
Not so fast, Mom. College attendance isn’t now nor has it ever been an indicator of a superior intellect or human being. A college diploma is not now nor has it ever been a Golden Ticket to the fabled good life, either. While a report issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education indicated high school graduations are at a new record high, just enrolling in college is no guarantee of success there. A CNN Money report from Mar. 25 reveals only 28- or 20 percent of students from moderate- and lower income backgrounds, respectively, attain an undergraduate degree once starting college. Middle-class kids don’t fare much better, according to the survey, which reports more than half of them who start college fail to earn a degree within six to eight years.
There’s still opportunity out there. What’s more, that opportunity has been used as a fast-track to a comfortable life by far more people than the average concerned Mom might ever imagine. The opportunity? The trades.
Sure, they’re not glamorous and a person’s going to spend the same amount of time getting through a plumbing apprentice program as they would getting that baccalaureate from good old State U. The early parts of a career as a plumber are going to be nasty and unpleasant, too, being the low man on the totem pole. Eventually, though, you won’t be the new guy anymore and you’ll have the chance to get advanced training. And that advanced training is available everywhere in the plumbing industry — either from manufacturers or through one of the local and national trade associations and unions that work with and for plumbers.
A relative lack of student loans when done is a big consideration worth pointing out in a new series of DVDs released by the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinkler Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, a 370,000-member strong labor union headquartered in Annapolis, Md.
UA apprentice training is one of several well-respected ways into the business. Tom Bigley is the director of plumbing for the union. He said the group has just completed a trio of DVD programs aimed at helping make the decision to go into the trades easier for everyone involved.
“We have one for a student that’s in or just got out of high school, one for the parents, and one for the high school counselors. That tells them about our program and what we do,” Bigley said. “So you go to school in the evening or some places, they have it one day a week, where you’re going into school while you’re working. These guys are starting out making $15- to $18 an hour, they’ve got health care benefits and they’re going to school. And then each year or each six months, they get a raise. And let’s face it, who’s getting out of high school making $15 an hour and getting health care with no experience?”
The videos show there’s more to plumbing than plumbing. Career paths available include estimator, project manager, and even business owner: “You get to move around, go different places. You’re not stuck in one place,” Bigley said. “It’s just a wide variety of places that you could be working and everybody likes the variety, the spice of life. Well, construction is the variety. You’re not in the same place all the time.”
Educating plumbers is a likewise big thing at the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors Association’s Educational Foundation. With national headquarters in Falls Church, Va., the chief operating officer of the Foundation, Cindy Sheridan, said apprentice training is a well-known part of the PHCC curriculum at both the national and local levels, but it all goes far beyond assembling a mock bathroom during a contest at a trade show. Ambitious folks can go from apprentice-to-retirement with PHCC training.
“Most contractors know their trade, but they look to the Foundation’s training to help them run their businesses more successfully and reach the profits they desire,” Sheridan said, noting something is available for every level,” she said, adding some impressive numbers to the mix. For example, about 3,600 students use the Foundation’s plumbing apprentice textbooks annually. Sheridan noted the PHCC apprentice programs were developed by contractors and code officials to insure, “incoming workers are ‘state of the art’ ready for the industry,” she said. And, she said, more than 2,000 contractors and their employees will be trained through the Foundation’s seminar series.
“We sponsor business management training for PHCC chapters through our partnership with Kohler,” she said. “Another 1,200 industry professionals will participate in our bi-monthly webinars this year. These programs are also sponsored by Kohler Co. and are targeted to owners, office personnel and technicians. We record the webinars and they are available for 24/7 [online] viewing.”
She said training is available to advance a career for those techs on the trucks who think they’ve got the Right Stuff to lead workers: “This year we are seeing strong interest in our foreman training. As work is picking up contractors are promoting their best field personnel to foremen and they need to get this middle level of management trained,” she said. “A foreman’s role is very different than their responsibilities as field personnel. By the end of 2015, we expect to train another 200 foremen at PHCC chapter events and individual member companies across the country.”
It shouldn’t need to be said, but there is a PHCC-affiliated organization in every one of our 14 Western states. There are plenty more operating in cities, counties and other local jurisdictions that take training their members just as seriously as the national groups.
In Los Angeles, PHCC of the Greater Los Angeles Area spokesman Dorman Kehr said his group – like a great many other local PHCC chapters — also boasts a four-year apprentice program. And, like a great many other local PHCC chapters, the group is facing the challenge of an aging workforce and a seemingly reluctant generation of potential replacements whose Moms are still running their lives.
“Well that has become a challenge in recent years. In fact right at the moment we are developing a new strategy for dealing with that exact mentality,” Kehr said. “Most consumers in their lives, when they deal with plumbers or they deal with HVAC they are dealing with it as a consumer in their home. [The plumber is] unclogging a drain or they’re fixing a toilet or worse, they’re dealing with a septic system and that’s what people see. So when you say plumber that’s instantly the image you see or you say HVAC, that’s the image you see,” Kehr said, hinting there’s a side to the business many consumers don’t see.
“What they don’t see is how much bigger the industry is than just service and repair. When you start looking at the big hitters in this business, not only are you talking about new construction, but you’re also talking industrial and commercial, and they don’t understand that. The level of education that they have to have to [become] a Journeyman and then go on from there is amazing. The stuff you have to understand and realize how it impacts so much beyond what anyone really knows, and that’s one of the things that we’re trying to get out there to the public. On the public side, hey, look – It isn’t about plungers and snakes. It’s about engineering water. It’s about keeping it safe. It’s about keeping it non-polluted.”