It’s no secret that the trades are desperate for skilled workers. Part of the problem in recruiting young people to the trades lies in the manner in which tradespeople are perceived. A select few have made it their mission to update the perception of tradespeople. Mike Rowe’s TV Show “Dirty Jobs” highlights important trades jobs across the United States and demonstrates the necessity and versatility of trades work. However, some conceptions about tradespeople remain unchanged. Let’s examine how tradespeople are depicted in pop culture.
The Plumber — Plumber’s do not just work with poop, they ensure the health and safety of the community by providing safe drinking water. The most famous plumber? Mario of Nintendo fame has become the most popular Plumber in the world. Clad in overalls and accompanied by this brother Luigi, they traverse pipe themed worlds to save Princess Daisy. Mario represents a solid version of a plumber. He’s dressed appropriately, his butt crack does not protrude out of his pants and he’s a hero!
But, Mario isn’t who people expect will show up at their door to fix their plumbing. The conception of the plumbing contractor is riddled with pre-conception. At Mr. Plumber, our uniform requires our licensed technicians wear a belt in their pant loops with their shirt tucked in, thus avoiding any peep shows. Feeding into the “plumber’s crack” stereotype devalues the work of skilled technicians, despite their lack of fashion awareness.
Women — The iconic Rosie the Riveter has been one of the most powerful recruitment tools in history. Rosie, based loosely on a real person, epitomizes the immediate call to action for women to join the workforce and war effort during World War II. This perception of female trades workers is awesome! But, it’s almost one hundred years old. We need an updated female trades icon. What is our call to action now? Many women turn to trades to support their families, perhaps that’s the direction for the next generation of trades recruitment propaganda.
Electrician — Here’s a bit of a random reference. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben from “Spiderman” worked as a Master Electrician before being let go by his job. The comic does not elaborate on the reason for the layoff, but it’s implied it was due to his advanced age. Some very real problems here. First, layoffs are common in this industry. Some trades jobs, like HVAC have need for a good deal of workers at peak times and then companies perform mass layoffs during off seasons. This paints of a picture of instability in an otherwise stable field. Second, aging out is occurring right now! For every four people that leave the trades, only one is joining. The average age of a Master Technician in the state of Texas is 58 years. We are desperate for employees in the trades and we need the industry to convey the image of a stable industry with room for advancement and incredible pay opportunities.
Construction — Bob the Builder and “The Lego Movie” have brought the trades into the consciousness of many young Americans. Bob the Builder is a friendly contractor who uses critical thinking to resolve conflicts and problems. The cast of colorful characters depicts many jobs, tasks and purposes within the trades industry. Bob’s toy line includes tools and tool belts to emphasize the positive feeling one gets when working with a construction team. This is a very positive image and is a great help to smashing misconceptions about tradespeople.
I may be showing my age here, but the show “Home Improvement” in the early 1990s depicted an everyman who turns his Do-It-Yourself projects into a successful Bob Vila-type show, “Tool Time.” This sitcom starring the hilarious Tim Allen, spends a good deal of time with Tim and his sidekick, the overzealous Al while taping their projects for their show. This is yet another great example of tradespeople in pop culture. Tim is a family man who turned a passion into a profession. That’s what the trades are all about!
It’s apparent that tradespeople have penetrated their way into pop culture. How could they not? The Trades are, technically, the oldest professions. While there are many positive images of tradespeople at their best, the negative conceptions of contractors still exists. It’s our responsibility as Contractors working in the industry to encourage positive perceptions of our field.
Allie Perez is director of operations, Mr. Plumber / Mr. AC, San Antonio (http://www.mrplumbersa.com). Her interesting viewpoints on the trades can be found on her blog at http://www.mrplumbersa.com/blog. She also is founder of Texas Women in the Trades (TWIT). Visit texaswomenintrades.com.