It’s an all too familiar story; there is a growing shortage of plumbers in the US. In 2014, there was an estimated 425,000 open positions for plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, and other similiar skilled trade jobs. From backflow testers to plumbers and electricians, there’s many more jobs than skilled tradespeople to fill them. We often hear about unemployment though – so clearly there is a disconnect.
Skilled Trade Employees are Nearing Retirement Age
One way is to change the perspective regarding the water industry, and that’s tough. Much of the younger generations, which should be filling in the spaces that retirees are creating, don’t want to do manual labor. “In 2012, the average tradesperson in the United States was 56 years old,” Mike Rowe mentioned. However, the overall labor force median age is 42.3. This is a discrepancy of nearly 14 years!
Do Dirty Jobs Equal Low Pay? Nope.
Plumbing and irrigation work are considered dirty jobs and despite Dirty Jobs being a show with good viewership, those jobs aren’t for a lot of folks. This poses a question. Are people avoiding plumbing jobs because they’re considered “dirty,” or because people equate dirty jobs with low pay? Probably the latter.
So let’s throw out that notion. The median pay in 2015 for plumbers across the nation is 24.34 per hour. The pay varies by state. For example, the median pay for a plumber in Oregon is $35 an hour, or approximately 70k yearly. That’s not a pay to scoff at! (Especially when you’re not paying off college loans!)
Valuable beyond Pay
Trade school is substantially shorter and cheaper than a traditional 4-year college. A skilled trade is valuable beyond the pay, too. Jobs like plumbing and irrigation aren’t going anywhere. There’s a lot of value in job security. Skilled trades also have a lot more creativity in their jobs than is often recognized, typically in the form of trouble-shooting. Utilizing what you’re good at, while doing something that everyone needs is bound to bring a lot of contentment to your job. If you’re a gregarious person, you’ll also have the benefit of chatting with numerous people throughout your day. Admittedly, it might not be an ideal career for the introvert.
There’s been a recent push to incorporate more female workers into male-dominated fields. As of 2015, 22.7% of utility industries (including water and electric positions) were female workers. While far from 50% of the industry, it’s becoming more acceptable for women to work in these industries. That’s something I can get behind!
Recruitment and Training Programs
Today, there’s a heavy focus on getting a college education, regardless of whether you know what you want to do after college or not. But college isn’t for everyone. This doesn’t mean you can’t get an awesome job if you skip the 4-year education though.
Founded in 1987, the PHCC Educational foundation showcases the benefits of a plumbing career. The foundation focuses on education, with a recent push to increase awareness for how rewarding a career in utilities can be. A new video on their website emphasizes the amount of technology that tradespeople use today – a common misconception is that it’s all manual tools and paper. (This is something Syncta is focused on changing, as well.)
An interesting initiative in Nassau Community College in New York seeks to train women for the utilities industry. The program will provide 130 hours of free training and workshops, as well as access to recruiters.
Changing the stigma associated with plumbers, irrigation workers, and other skilled tradespeople won’t happen overnight – but these programs are a good start!