Drawing Young People to the Plumbing Trade

The solution to the skilled labor shortage resides in the actions of plumbing companies. Here are a few ideas for bolstering recruitment efforts.

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Phrases like “skilled labor shortage” and “skilled worker deficit” cause anxiety and dread for construction trade business owners and operators.

Finding skilled workers, or workers willing to acquire skills, plagues the construction trades industry. The trades industry consists of manufacturers, tradespeople, business owners, suppliers, trades organizations and unions. Every facet of this industry feels the pains of the skilled labor shortage. Tradespeople are retiring at a far greater rate than apprentices are replacing them, leaving the industry to ponder, “How do we get young people to fill these skilled labor jobs?”

The trades, as a career choice, competes with a couple of heavy hitters — the military and colleges. The U.S. Army spent almost $1 billion in 2017 to recruit and still maintains a healthy marketing budget. Despite the plentiful recruitment budget, the U.S. Army is still having a difficult time reaching its recruitment goals. It has since adjusted its standards and increased bonuses in an attempt to attract recruits. According to various sources, colleges and universities spent over $1.5 billion in 2016 to recruit and at the time that was a record-high spend. 

The trades can learn from the large investments that the military and colleges have made into recruiting. The military and colleges utilize digital streams, television, magazines, mass mail-outs, newspaper and radio to attract applicants. Colleges have been the most successful with a return on their investment, despite being a financial risk for students who pursue this avenue. 

As an industry, the trades lack a universal governing body with the resources needed to market the trades on a national stage. The trades need workers. But businesses within the skilled trades do not have the luxury of waiting for the industry to solve the recruitment problem. 

Here is a list of practical tactics to draw more young people to the trades:

  • Attend career days at your local schools. Focus on elementary and middle school students and grow their interest in the trades. Make it a common practice for you and/or your staff to attend and share the fulfillment of working in the skilled trades. Make it cool. Boast about the benefits: insurance, bonuses, education, tool reimbursement. There’s a bevy of options within the industry to utilize your skill set. 
  • Sponsor local high school sports teams and events. Your business branding at local stadiums and in programs gains loads of impressions for a small investment. 
  • Partner with local plumbing organizations and unions. These groups constantly offer opportunities for local student events and career fairs. 
  • Partner with other businesses in your industry. You can pool resources for recruitment efforts and attending events. Put your apprentices and top earners at the forefront of your campaigns. Young people need to visualize themselves in this lifestyle and realize the benefits. 

About the Author

Allie Perez founded Texas Women in Trades, an organization working to bring more women, minorities and young people to the trades, in 2013. She also serves as the vice president of marketing and operations at George Plumbing Co. in San Antonio and on the National Taskforce for Tradeswomen. A graduate of New York University, she has written for trade periodicals for seven years. To contact her, email texaswomenintrades@gmail.com.


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