'This Old House' increasing efforts to recruit more young people into the skilled trades and fill the skills gap


When Richard Trethewey is asked about his general take on the plumbing industry, he usually references the skills gap.

“The average plumber is getting ready to retire and the vocational tech schools haven’t been filled, so we have a gap. We’ve got demand and we don’t have enough people to fill it,” says Trethewey, the longtime plumbing and HVAC expert on the home renovation show, This Old House. “Although everybody in the plumbing world thinks everybody is their competitor, this is not true and there is more work than we can handle. It’s only going to get worse if we don’t have the next generation of young, bright people coming in to fill the gaps.”

It’s also an issue Trethewey is doing his part to address alongside his colleagues on This Old House. Earlier this year, This Old House raised $500,000 in donations for the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to be used for funding scholarships for people interested in traveling down a skilled trades career path. Headed by Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe, the organization has been advocating for the skilled trades since 2008 and provides financial assistance through various scholarship programs.

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“We worked with some of our industry partners and Rowe is putting the money to good use,” says Trethewey. “He’s a magnificent storyteller and advocate for the skilled trades. When he spoke before the Senate about his life and how important a plumber is, it was unbelievable. It makes you proud about who we are and what we do.”

This Old House’s support of growing a new generation of skilled trades workers isn’t stopping with the $500,000 donation. For the show’s upcoming 2017-’18 season, its 39th on the air, the crew is renovating a home in Newton, Massachusetts. Profit from the sale of the home will be used to fund more mikeroweWORKS scholarships. The show also recently finished a nationwide casting call to find three apprentices to work and learn alongside the This Old House crew on the Newton house.

“We’ll fly them in, house them, pay them a stipend for a 10-week summer apprenticeship, and feature their stories on This Old House,” Trethewey says.

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“We’re on a mission on This Old House to persuade young people to get into the skilled trades,” he adds. “We’re trying to change the perception at the guidance counselor and parent level, and say here’s a skill — a craft — that is generally recession proof and will give you an absolutely decent living. You’ll be able to stay in your hometown, be creative, feel a sense of accomplishment every day, and be in demand.”

It is also a way Trethewey can maintain the legacy of his father, who he says was very active in passing down knowledge to the next generation while running the family’s longtime Boston plumbing company.

“My dad was a giant of a guy and a great role model,” Trethewey says. “He was open to whatever path I wanted, but I certainly think that he hoped I might join him in the business. He was always one to identify and coach young people to join the trade; our business was like the local university for apprentices.”

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Trethewey says This Old House fans have been responsive to the mission, and that the show has received hundreds of letters from people wanting to learn more about the crew’s initiative — dubbed Generation Next — and how they can help.

“There are lots of ways that individuals, associations, and businesses — large and small — can get involved,” he says.

For more information on how to get involved, visit www.thisoldhouse.com/ideas/toh-generation-next-how-to-get-involved.

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And check out this additional story on the Plumber website featuring Trethewey looking back on his nearly four-decade run on This Old House.


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