PHCC's Ride-and-Decide Program gives students a taste of the trades
If you grew up in the trades, it was natural that you would ride along on the truck and learn what the job was all about. Kids who don’t have that exposure aren’t likely to even think about that career path. That’s where Ride and Decide comes in.
Geno Caccia, CEO, and Anthony Caccia, vice president, are third generation plumbers and second generation operators of James Caccia Plumbing in San Mateo, Calif., a company started by their father in a garage in 1979. The company now has 20 trucks and 30 employees with residential service, repair and installation the cornerstone of the operation.
Well aware of the industry crisis — plumbers retiring with a serious shortage of new plumbers coming into the industry — Geno Caccia looked for solutions during his just-completed term as president of PHCC California. Caccia looked at different programs on trades awareness around the country and latched onto the program espoused by Gordy Noe, owner of Pioneer Plumbing and Heating in Knoxville, Tenn., and an executive with PHCC there. “Gordy graciously allowed us to borrow the ‘Ride and Decide’ label used for that group’s outreach program to promote awareness of the trades among high school students,” Caccia says.
“Ride and decide was traditionally how it would happen, how you were introduced to the trade. My brother and I rode along with our dad every break we had. There was never a pressure to go into the trades, but we learned about it and we liked it,” Caccia says. The goal with Ride and Decide is to transfer that family business style to introduce the trade to high school students who otherwise may not have the chance for that exposure.
“Let’s make our business and our knowledge accessible to these kids,” Caccia says. “That’s where the magic of the program is. First there is the kid who finds something that he wants to do and then the chance to mentor. The plumbers are eager to have an opportunity to share their knowledge. Someone seeing it for the first time may see everything we do as amazing. If you’ve been doing this every day for decades so it’s not as cool anymore, but when someone sees what you do as exciting, it invigorates you, too. It’s like growing up in a house with a view. You may get used to it and don’t notice how spectacular it is until someone comes over and sees it for the first time.”
Launched in summer 2016, Ride and Decide operates under auspices of PHCC San Francisco and the state group. Essentially, students are interviewed and hired for a 30-day paid internship where they ride along and develop skills with a plumber or tech from Caccia Plumbing. Two students have completed the program, the first Daniel Vienau, whose father works for the company, and Mike Gonzales, who completed his internship last summer and will start full-time employment in July.
The trades “need an injection of fresh,” Caccia says. “If you care about the future of the business, you should be willing to take on a student, give him (or her) a look at how your business works and say, ‘Hey, you’re part of our team. We’re tied together now, I’m committed to your success, and you’re committed to mine and we’re going to do this together.’ It’s an agreement to be mutually successful.”
To promote the program, Caccia paid for the production of a series of short videos that explain Ride and Decide and share the experiences of different players in the program, including students, parents and the plumbers and techs who welcome the teens into their trucks and onto their job sites. Mike Gonzales is featured in one video and visits high schools with the Caccia team to do demonstrations and talk about the outreach program.
Rico Medina, administrative services manager at James Caccia Plumbing, acts as an ambassador from the company to Capuchino High, his alma mater, and also serves on the city council in San Bruno, Calif. Medina says the program is important due to the shortage of people coming into the trades, predicted to hit crisis levels in the next few years. “It’s like old the days when I wanted to be a teacher,” Medina says. “A lot of teachers were retiring and we didn’t have enough coming in. When I went to Cap, there were metal, auto, drafting, woodworking, and electronic shop classes offered as electives. That program hasn’t existed for some time and that’s true for many schools in this district and many other school districts. Locally, Terra Nova High School in Pacific is one of the schools that still have those programs. Caccia Plumbing has a booth at an upcoming fund-raiser for their auto program.”
He said he went to the school last year and met with Josie McHale, a career specialist: “Even though there wasn’t much time left in the school term we decided we could do it last summer,” Medina says. “A paid internship was advertised and we received applications. We had them fill out a regular job application and put them through a very relaxed, easy interview process, because a lot of them are new to that element, but it gives them some good interview skills, such as shaking hands, looking the interviewer in the eye, learning to communicate in person, not through a text, which some of them don’t do as much. We were able to place a couple of students. They shadowed, trained with and learned from, the plumbers who are here currently.”
“We spoke to Kris Gonzales, who had wanted her son Mike to go to college, but he just doesn’t like school,” Medina recalls. “After he came here for four weeks, he had determined that he wanted to pursue plumbing. He graduated June 2 and I will be attended his graduation, and we’ll be welcoming him into the [Caccia Plumbing] family full-time July 10.” Mike Gonzales became an effective advocate for the program, participating at career days with Medina and Caccia.
“Mike demonstrated hands on how to do stuff and we drew a big crowd. Again, what’s better than someone who knows the business and young people and can tell from experience what they think? There are lots of kids out there who would love this kind of opportunity and plumbing and heating companies should see this as a way to invest in the future of the trades, getting new plumbers an techs in the pipeline. And keep the level of expertise up.”
Mike’s Mom, Kris Gonzales, is a vocal cheerleader for the Ride and Decide idea.
“My son was introduced to this program at the high school as an internship. Four weeks last summer he went to work every day,” she says. “He went in early; he got his coffee and his donut, and was ready to go. Caccia Plumbing introduced him to all aspects of the business. This year, after school started, whenever they had career days or Caccia was at the school promoting this program, Mike would go there with his Caccia Plumbing shirt on and they would a do a demonstration of something. He’s there, hands on, showing the kids what we do. And it works. They had the longest lines and he’s going to train to be a plumber there, starting in July.
“All of his friends are going off to college and they ask what is Michael doing and I say, ‘He’s going to UOP — the University of Plumbing’. I’m excited for him. All we want is for our kids to be happy and to see he can do this career and be happy doing it.”
One piece of advice Gonzales offers to any companies considering offering similar internship programs is that “they should come into the situation committed to treating any students they take on with dignity and respect and have an enthusiasm to mentor,” because it will be a win-win for everyone. “At Caccia, it even gave the employees a little pep in their step that they may have lost,” Gonzales says.
For more information on Ride and Decide, check out videos on the Caccia Plumbing website, www.cacciaplumbing.com or at Facebook.com/cacciaplumbing. Geno Caccia also was interviewed recently by Jack Lester of Nexstar for the company’s Leadership Lounge podcast.
Let Us Introduce Ourselves: SoCal Ride and Decide
In Southern California, the PHCC of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties just launched its version of Ride and Decide. The program is championed by Mike Barker, president of Barker & Sons Plumbing and Rooter. The 10-truck service and repair company, based in Anaheim, has been in business for 34 years and employs 17. Also a past president of PHCC California, Barker overcame initial skepticism of the concept.
“I was not down for Ride and Decide at first,” Barker says. “I was a detractor when I first heard about it at PHCCWest last year in Tahoe. But once I got into it, I found this is a perfect little scenario for getting kids interested, getting the guys you want to get into your shop.”
What changed his mind, and jumpstarted the Orange County PHCC chapter’s version of the trade awareness program, was a career day at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, part of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, that featured more than 40 speakers from colleges, the military and other job options. To prep for the event, Barker checked in with Geno Caccia for advice on how to present the idea to students and was given the OK to show a series of videos Caccia had professionally created for the NorCal Ride and Decide.
Barker admits he was surprised at the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reaction to the talk. One the well-received videos features Mike Gonzales talking about his own experiences with Ride and Decide. The appearance was a hit — the room was standing room only — and teachers and counselors approached the speaker afterwards saying they knew quite a few kids for which the trades would be a good fit.
In the past two months, Barker has gotten a commitment from chapter members — 16 to 20 are already onboard — to host awareness programs in their companies. PHCC ORSB’s group designed Ride and Decide as a week-long program. With the help of school counselors, chapter members and industry vendors, students will take their first rides in June. Barker says the program will be evaluated and tweaked to make the experience work both for students and companies alike.
The OC chapter is testing out its Ride and Decide pilot program this summer with Esperanza students. At least 16 companies have signed up to host a high school student for a week’s exposure to the trade. Most of the chapter’s 42 member companies expressed their support at a May meeting. Barker decided to run with the concept from the fledgling NorCal program and designed a one-week paid internship. That amount of time seemed like enough to give students a taste of the kind of work done by contemporary contractors, Barker says.
“We told them that the kids could come in, if this looked like it was something they’d like to do, and we’d hire them for a week at $11 an hour. They’d do whatever jobs we had that week with whatever plumber they were riding with. If they determine they’d like to come into the industry, we have a backup plan to help them get involved, either to be hired by that company or another company,” Barker explains. “Here’s the backstory: The reason why we decided to do it for a week is that usually that it should be enough time to determine if there’s a real interest there, if it’s something they can get excited about. If they turn out to be someone who is really great, we can ask them to stay on another week or two or close out the month.
“Within PHCC ORSB, we have a trade school and we would put them into the school and start the process that way. They would get the education piece along with the training that they would need to begin working. It’s really a jump start into what is available to them. A lot of kids, myself included, didn’t want to go to college right out of high school. I wanted to start working. I did go through the four-year apprentice program, which we are currently offering to the students who come in.”
Another key piece of the program: sponsorship and scholarship opportunities for students interested in committing to apprenticeship programs. Barker notes there are many students with limited resources for whom sponsorship mean the difference in joining a program or passing on that education and training. “We’ve gotten commitments from vendors, the chapter and the PHCC National Foundation to fund apprenticeships. Scorpion Internet Marketing just donated $10,000 to the PHCC Orange County Apprenticeship program, which will fund three scholarships.”
To learn more, check out barkerandsonsplumbing.com.