Army Veteran Credits Plumbing With Giving Him a Satisfying Career Path

Employee recruitment is something that many companies struggle with, but John Gibson is proof that there are strong candidates out there who could easily develop a passion for plumbing if you can figure out how to reach them

Army Veteran Credits Plumbing With Giving Him a Satisfying Career Path

John Gibson says he struggled to find a new career path following his U.S. Army service until he discovered the plumbing field.

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After leaving a fulfilling career in the U.S. Army to spend more time with family, John Gibson struggled to readjust to civilian life. He tried college and several menial labor jobs. But it wasn’t until he enrolled in a plumbing apprenticeship program that he found the purpose he’d been searching for.

The plumbing apprenticeship offered similar qualities to military work: paid training, being part of a community, and most importantly, the knowledge that he was helping people.

“I get to go to bed knowing that at the end of the day, the work I do benefits my community directly,” Gibson says. “It’s something that can’t be taken away from me.”

Gibson found the plumbing industry through a random encounter while working a different job. As he was moving furniture for a rent-to-own company, he spoke with a homeowner who happened to be a plumber. Through that conversation, he discovered that plumbing could offer him much more than his current employment. He immediately began looking into it.

An Unexpected Opportunity

When Gibson left the Army after serving for eight years, his plan was to use the GI Bill to attend college and find a new career.

“That was the plan,” Gibson says. “Things didn’t really work out so well.”

Attending college on and off for several years, Gibson found himself lacking direction and decided to find work while his wife finished her finance degree.

“You’ve got all these options, and everything sounds sort of good,” Gibson says. “You don’t really know what you want to do, but you’re kind of paralyzed because you don’t want to pick the wrong major. I tried basically everything I could think of that I thought I was interested in. Between that and going back and forth between these jobs that I was doing, I couldn’t really find footing.”

Gibson and his wife moved from Oregon to Texas, where his grandmother lived. That was how he found himself moving furniture day in and day out, with low pay and minimal benefits.

“It was a kick in the stomach, because I went from a job where I had built a name for myself. I had what I felt was a certain level of stability and a good paycheck,” Gibson says. “I loved my job in the Army, but I couldn’t find anything like that in the civilian sector. I couldn’t find anything that had that direction, that kind of purpose to the job.”

On top of that, Gibson’s reason for leaving his job in the Army — spending more time with his family — wasn’t even working out as he started working 60-hour weeks in the furniture business. Everything changed with his fortuitous encounter at the plumber’s home.

“We’re sitting there talking to him about the hours we work — we were working 60-plus hours, including weekends — making barely above minimum wage,” Gibson says. “It wasn’t a very good job, and he said we should consider plumbing because the pay is a lot better and you have benefits. I looked at what I was doing: I didn’t have benefits, I didn’t ever get vacation. Plumbing is a trade, so if for some reason you ever do get laid off, you can still put food on the table. You have a license, you can go and do local work outside of a company.”

Growing up in a low-income family, Gibson, like many people, was told that a college degree is the way to success. But the reality for him has been much different, he says. Instead of finding satisfaction and a clear path forward in an academic setting, plumbing became the fulfilling career he was searching for.

“I liked the fact that I could get into it without any experience and have a career — something that I could take with me,” Gibson says. “It wasn’t just an investment in a company that could fire me the next day. It was more of an investment in your own skills as much as the place you work, and that was something I really liked.”

A Strong Future

After working at a non-union plumbing company for less than a year, Gibson saw the long-term potential of plumbing and decided to commit. The owner of the company he was working for even encouraged him to jump ship and join an apprenticeship program with a plumbing union.

“Before, I was being taught how to do things, but I didn’t really understand why I was doing them. For somebody like me, knowing that is really helpful because I think it gives you a much larger breadth of knowledge,” Gibson says. “I got a $4 raise instantly, and after only a few months, you’re entered into a pension program. You start paying into vacation, you get insurance.”

At a time when recruitment is one of the biggest challenges facing the plumbing industry, Gibson’s story shows that there is untapped talent just waiting to be opened up to the benefits of a career in plumbing. Gibson says that getting the word out about those benefits is key because until a random conversation with a plumber, he had no idea that plumbing could be such a fulfilling career path.

“Apprenticeship training offers me the kind of hands-on, tactile, and substantive learning that I got used to in the Army,” Gibson says. “I’m not accruing a large amount of debt and I’m working toward an investment in myself.

“I think for anybody who’s at a job they feel is a dead end, and they really are kind of at their wit’s end for how to make ends meet, I would highly encourage going through an apprenticeship-type program. You really can’t lose. For me, it kind of gave me my future back. I’ve got a way forward in my life, and that was something that meant so much more than just a job.”


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