Preserving the Health of Our Nation: The Crucial Role of Plumbers & HVACR Techs

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“There’s no question that our health has improved spectacularly in the past century. One thing seems certain: it did not happen because of improvements in medicine, or medical science, or even the presence of doctors; much of the credit should go to the plumbers and sanitary engineers of the Western world.” – Dr. Lewis Thomas, medical author, The Foreighn Policy Journal, Spring 1984

When was the last time you stopped and thought about the miracle of indoor plumbing, heating, cooling, and refrigeration? We take these things for granted on a daily base. But how could we live without them? Plumbing provides basic sanitation and potable drinking water among other things. Heating and cooling allows us to thrive in climates that would otherwise be uninhabitable. Refrigeration keeps our foods and vital medicines from perishing. What most of you don’t know is that these comforts may be harder to secure in the future due to an ever-present and increasing nation-wide skilled labor shortage.

“Over the years, there’s been much emphasis on a need to obtain a college degree if one is to be successful. While I would never discount the college degree, it’s important to note that our industry is one of the few that provides a successful and meaningful career without one.” – Phil London (VP of residential sales, Thermal Concepts, Inc.)

The HVACR & plumbing industry is crucial to human comfort, environmental sustainability and preservation, public health and sanitation, food and medical preservation, as well as numerous medical, industrial, and research processes. This industry is vital to maintaining our nation’s infrastructure, which is already considered out-dated and in need of repair in a large majority of the United States. Despite how advanced society becomes, the need for heating, cooling, refrigeration, and plumbing will always be in high demand and can never be outsourced.

“If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make a living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.” – Albert Einstein, The Reporter, 18 Novermber 1954

The average age of the American tradesmen is 56, the average age of the New England-based electrician is 58 and the average age of a plumbing contractor is 59. The Society of Human Resource Management & Pew Research estimates that every day over the next two decades, 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 – the average age of retirement. By 2022, the Social Security Administration predicts 22% of the United States working class will retire, leaving hundreds of thousands of skilled-trade occupations un-filled. Further compounding this issue, is the fact that the demand for HVACR/Plumbing jobs is estimated to increase by 21% through 2022 – approximately twice the national average for growth of employment in other industries

“People have lost wonder for the skilled trades… for the miracle of plumbing – you flush it and it goes away, people are no longer gobsmacked by that. You turn on the switch and the light comes on. Turn the dial, the air comes on. Squeeze the handle, the gas comes out… All of these thing we take for granted… People in vocational trades, know things other don’t… Our country and it’s people, share a fundamental disconnect with the jobs that make civilized life possible.” – Mike Rowe, Discovery Channels’ ‘Dirty Jobs’ & CEO of Mike Rowe Works Foundation

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 2016, there are 7.8 million un-employed Americans, while 5.8 million jobs remain unfilled. How could this be? Some argue that vocational education has taken a back-seat to “higher education” through four-year universities that offer degrees and as a result has been increasingly under-funded and cut from high school and college programs. Thousands of vocational education teachers are retiring while their schools are closing shop across the country. Vocational schools are the types of institutions that offer immediate employment after graduation. While many children, parents, and guidance counselors fall for the enchanted message that college is a sure path to a good-paying job, studies show of those who attend college, less than 50% graduate with a degree and only 20% obtain employment in their field of study. There’s been a cultural shift since the generation of the baby-boomers in regards to what people nowadays consider a “good job”. As Thomas Edison once said, “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”.

“In one hundred different ways I think we’ve marginalized an entire category of critical professions reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber is going to cost more than a good psychiatrist – at which point we’ll probably all need both” – Mike Rowe, Discovery Channels’ ‘Dirty Jobs’ & CEO of Mike Rowe Works Foundation

The people that do these kinds of jobs are the people that make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Sadly, many HVACR & Plumbing contractors are already experiencing difficulty finding qualified employees and are beginning to decline new clientele due to the lack of hired help. For every four skilled tradesmen who leave the construction trade, only one enters. The fact that demand is outpacing supply is unfortunate because this industry offers year-round, in-demand jobs that cannot be off-shored, with great benefits, employer-payed training, apprenticeship, and schooling, opportunity for career advancement within the field, and excellent livable wages. As Jim Godbout, owner of Jim Godbout Plumbing & Heating in Biddeford, ME said, “it’s a sad irony that we’re an aging workforce, providing services our [communities] can’t live without.”

If we can’t get [millennials] to work with their hands, how are we going to build this country?” – Brian Acton, CEO of BNWC

We are a high-tech industry that is constantly evolving with the times. Everyday is a new job which requires physical and mental dexterity, a diverse skill set, and a solid knowledge base. We are one of the few industries where you can walk into a room and as an HVACR & plumbing contractor, literally everyone could be a potential customer. While your friends are accruing an outstanding amount of student debt to pay for their dime-a-dozen degrees, you could be learning as you work while getting payed for it – all while improving the lives of home and business owners who rely on quality techs and installers to provide basic human comfort and sanitation.

“With every job we do, there’s a sense of accomplishment and we all feel proud of what we’ve done. We get to build things. We don’t sit in cubicles and shuffle papers, that’s for sure. Mechanical contracting is an industry of opportunity – that’s true now more than ever” – Tom Stone from MCAA (Mechanical Service Contractors of America

With federal and state building codes and standards mandating newer, higher efficiency, sustainable systems, materials, and equipment, the HVACR & plumbing industry is developing into a highly technical trade. These jobs are the lifeblood of America’s economy and environment. Recent innovation within the industry has brought consumers cloud-based home automation products (i.e. thermostats, water heaters, boilers, furnaces, humidistats, heat pumps, etc.) that can be controlled through an app on your phone. Since the Flint crisis in Michigan of March this year, water quality has become a huge matter of contention and consumers are looking for more ways to ensure clean, potable water reaches their faucets and fixtures. UV-C Germicidal lights in plumbing and HVAC systems, carbon-infused filters, and electro-statically charged air filters, among other things, are improving both air and water quality in response to the public’s recent surge in interest. Variable Frequency Drives (VFD’s), Electonically-Commutated Motors (ECMs), Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems, synchronous motors, solar-powered heat pumps, and inverter-driven compressors are just some of the new technologies available in the field. Innovative ‘green’ building materials and newer, more sustainable, and greater efficiency building systems are emerging in the construction industry in an effort to ‘green up’ the market and monopolize on America’s shift to a more climate-conscious nation. New diagnostic methods and wireless, blue-tooth tools that communicate and display measurements on your newest iphones are emerging in the industry marketplace to service such high-tech systems.

“I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner – a multi-millionaire who told me the secret to his success: ‘I looked around to see where everyone else was headed’, he said. ‘And then I went the opposite way. Then I got good at my work. Then I began to prosper and then one day, I realized I was passionate about other people’s crap’.. I’ve heard that same basic story from welders, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, HVAC professionals, hundreds of other skilled tradesmen who followed opportunity- not passion -and prospered as a result.” – Mike Rowe, Discovery Channels’ ‘Dirty Jobs’ & CEO of Mike Rowe Works Foundation

The HVACR & Plumbing industry also has a direct hand in the amount of natural resources we consume and has recently shifted towards a more renewable and sustainable mindset in regards to building materials and systems. Although the United States is fortunate to have an ample supply of fresh water, in some areas water demand still exceeds the supply. As reported by the US Drought Monitor at the end of March 2015, approximately 36.8% of the contiguous U.S. was catalogued as experiencing drought conditions. Water conservation through efficient low-flow fixtures, and economical circulator pumps, along with other methods, has the potential to produce enormous savings, both for the consumer and the environment from which we draw these resources. As Steve Solomon, author of ‘The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization’ argues, “technology with increases in efficiency of water use, will be at a premium and plumbers will play an important role in implementing these systems.”

“Learning how to weld, or how to install a toilet – these skills can and often do lead to fulfilling careers, balanced lives, and better than average pay. Even if you don’t spend the rest of your life working in the trades, there’s simply no downside to learning a skill. None whatsoever. Kids who are floundering today should be encouraged to hit the reset button and start learning a useful skill as soon as possible. Studies show that welders pay off student loans a lot faster than a barista.” – Mike Rowe, The Dirtiest Man on TV Dispels 5 Myths About Blue-Collar Labor, Forbes Magazine, May 2, 2016

The nature of hard work has been unjustifiably degraded in society today and as a result America’s essential blue-collar workforce is dwindling due to a widening skills gap, which is real and only getting bigger everyday. As Mike Rowe said, we have “a trillion dollars in student loans. Record high unemployment. And 3 million good jobs that no one seems to want”. Based on the national average, an electrician makes $5,000 more a year than a college graduate with a four-year degree. Skilled trade jobs are waiting to be filled across the country – extremely rewarding jobs with above average pay, great benefits, a constantly changing work environment, employer-compensated training, and career advancement opportunities.

“It’s time to recognize America’s great need to strengthen it’s blue-collar workforce is now, more than ever before” – John M. Barba, Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine – November 10, 2011

A poll taken in 1999 by the British Medical Journal proclaimed that sanitation has been the most substantial medical breakthrough since 1840, ranking higher than antibiotics, vaccines, and anesthesia. In fact, lack of sanitation is one of the world’s greatest source of infection. After the ancient Romans invented plumbing with their aqueducts and public baths, it wasn’t until one hundred years later at the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages that people finally realized the danger in the bacteria formed in the unfiltered, stagnant water, with the incursion of the Black Plague. Plumbing is as Sudhakarn Nair, Chairman of the Indian Plumbing Association said, “a profession with direct relevance to the health and safety of the citizens”.

“The mastery of a trade doesn’t just give you a skill you can fall back on – it gives you an opportunity to start your own business…Today, a skilled tradesperson has a great shot at earning a six-figure salary… People forget that skilled tradespeople form more small business than any other kind of entrepreneur. So, not only is there upward mobility – there’s widespread, limitless, and unprecedented opportunity” – Mike Rowe, The Dirtiest Man on TV Dispels 5 Myths About Blue-Collar Labor, Forbes Magazine, May 2, 2016

The HVACR & Plumbing industry offers unbounded opportunity for anyone looking to make a career with their intellect and their hands. Our industry allows just about anyone with mechanical aptitude and a willingness to work, the ability to apply their knowledge and training with a problem-solving mentality to improve the lives of countless people. Ask anyone what’s most important to them and they will all hint to the same four concerns – comfort, safety, efficiency, and health. As a tradesmen/woman, you have the knowledge, skill, and faculty to provide immediate solutions and peace of mind in regards to the comfort, safety, efficiency, and health of every home or building owner in the nation.

“We have a whole generation of people who are enamored with jobs that don’t really exist and a whole educational infrastructure that continues to push people in a very specific direction..The people who own home service businesses are struggling to find the next generation of tradespeople who’ll keep our lights on and our pipes clear” – Mike Rowe

These are indispensable American jobs that are essential to both our nation’s infrastructure and economy. This is an industry with an astonishingly high level of technology, machinery, applied science, and innovation, yet nearly every multi-million-dollar enterprise within this industry began as just a man with a truck and a trade. Sadly, the number of new entrants in this industry and many other skilled trades, are failing to keep pace with America’s growing demand, resulting in an impending and unprecedented nationwide labor shortage which will ultimately result in higher utility rates- due to a decaying power grid and dwindling water supplies, increased service and material rates for tradesmen, and stalled economical, as well as commercial and residential growth due to the lack of availabe and qualified skilled labor. As Mike Rowe stated in his address to the US Senate, “Closing the skills gap doesn’t just benefit futre tradesmen and the companies who are desperate to hire them. It benefits people like me and anyone else who shares my addiction to paved roads, reliable bridges, heating, air-conditioning, and of course indoor plumbing.”

“It’s bipartisan and it’s practical and it’s this; sometimes the thing your passionate about isn’t the thing you’re good at. You might be good at plumbing and it’s possible to thrive, find passion, and make a living doing that if you allow yourself to be open to it” – Ericka Anderson, ‘Mike Rowe: Stop Cherry-Picking One Form of Education’, The National Review

My hope is after reading this, perhaps you’ve expanded your perspective on the critical middle-skilled, blue-collar workforce that makes civilized life possible for the rest of us. It may not be the most glamorous work but it’s work that you can take pride in and that offers continual improvement and constant learning. There’s a cultural stigma since the generation before us that deters people of all ages and walks of life from exploring hands-on blue-collar careers. I hope to shed light on this bias and to educate consumers on the benefits and significance of establishing a career path in the trades. As Carl Waibel, owner of Waibel Electric in Etna, OH stated in his Plumbing & Mechanical Magazine interview, “the money’s just as good in the construction field as in some of these college degrees. And you’re earning as you’re learning instead of going into debt.”

“None of us are as old as those who outlived enthusiasm” – Henry David Thoreau

Thank you for reading,

Taylor Kristiansen

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sources:

http://www.tradesmeninternational.com/news/the-construction-labor-shortage-where-did-all-the-skilled-labor-go/

http://www.findskilledjobs.com/images/DirectEnergy-edits-022316.pdf

http://www.career.org/news/shortage-of-skills-heating-ventilation-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2016/05/02/the-dirtiest-man-on-tv-dispels-5-damaging-myths-about-blue-collar-labor/2/#6e5f654e7edd

http://www.careerprofiles.info/skilled-trade-worker-shortage.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436628/mike-rowe-dirty-jobs-can-be-good-jobs

http://www.careersinhvacr.org/Portals/_Appleseed/documents/Executive%20Summary.pdf

 

 

secretary/technician, GSK Climate Control, Inc.

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