Teaching High Schoolers the Value of a Trade

Cleveland plumber joins other contractors in his local service area to try to give young students appreciation for the trades, and perhaps turn them onto a new career path

Teaching High Schoolers the Value of a Trade

Chris Sbrocco, owner of Pro Service Plumbing in Cleveland

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Master plumber Chris Sbrocco is passionate about the trade that provides him with a great living and satisfies his love for solving problems and overcoming challenges. About two years ago, he started paving the way for high school students to gain the same kind of appreciation for the skilled trades.

The conduit for that desire to expose young people to trade careers came in the form of a class at Perry High School in Perry, Ohio, a small town near the shore of Lake Erie, about 30 miles northeast of downtown Cleveland.

Call it home schooling, of sorts; the Perry Local School District purchased a vacant house for $89,000 and is letting students in the so-called Pirate Project renovate it. The district hopes to “flip” the home when it’s finished and hopefully recoup its initial investment. 

Instructed by local contractors like Sbrocco, students — about 40 in all from two different home-renovation classes — spend two class periods a day at the house. They’ve performed a wide variety of jobs, such as installing drywall, insulation, new windows, doors and siding; building new walls; doing carpentry and painting; and working on the heating, electrical and plumbing systems.

The district used its own funds to buy the house. A grant from the Ohio Department of Education pays for materials and the cost of hiring contractors to teach as well as perform some of the more technical and/or risky jobs — finished plumbing and electrical work, for example — that the novice students aren’t equipped to handle.

“It’s a pretty cool project,” says Sbrocco, who was paid an hourly rate for teaching plumbing to students. “It’s pretty incredible to see how these boys and girls interact and soak it all up. Some students didn’t think they’d like any of it, but after they dug in, they really enjoyed it.

“I think a good number of these students have indicated they may follow a career path into the trades. But even if they don’t, they’ll at least have more respect for the trades. It’s awesome.”

Sbrocco says he’d like to expand his teaching efforts to include developing an online trade school that would help develop more plumbers — perhaps some that might become employees at his company.

“I pride myself on being capable enough to teach the trades,” he says. “I’ve had five or six employees leave and form their own businesses. I’m never going to knock someone who leaves my company and uses the skills I taught them to better themselves. I’m proud of that, and that they’re doing work at a high level.

“Teaching the trades the right way — emphasizing the need to take pride in their work — is very important. It’s disrespectful to the trades to do sloppy work, so it’s important to instill those values.”


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