New recruits, meet the ‘old guard’

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If you haven’t heard by now, you haven’t been paying attention. No matter what event is happening, the topic of skilled labor shortage is inevitable to come up. The average age of the contractor is somewhere between 52-54 years old, and there is indeed an shortage on the horizon. For every four skilled workers leaving the trade, only one is entering the field. Although this issue is real, there can be opportunity here. Let’s not cast away our experienced “brethren” aside so quickly. There is an abundance of knowledge and experience from the “older” generation which can be—and needs to be, quite frankly—imparted to the youth entering the trades.


An apprentice competes during this year’s plumbing apprenticeship contest at the PHCC Connect Show in Florida.

I have highlighted three individual programs that feature a mentorship program, so to speak.

Dateline: Knoxville, Tenn. — Gordy Noe, president of Pioneer Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., started a statewide “Ride and Decide” job shadowing pilot program for the skilled trades. Through partnerships with local businesses and school systems, the program will pair students with various trade contractors to provide paid jobs during schools’ summer breaks. This 5-week, summertime program allows attendees to experience all parts of the business, from installation to service to sales. “The student gets a little taste of the entire business,” said Noe.

To qualify for the Ride and Decide program, students must be at least 16, have completed their sophomore year of high school, maintain at least a C average and have an excellent attendance record, among other requirements. If it’s successful, Noe will help launch the program statewide, and then nationally. “If this pilot gains momentum, the plan is to take program and go national with it.” For more information,

plumbing pipeline

In conjunction with the Plumbing Pipeline Program (PPP), Sam Dowdy (r) educates potential new recruits.

Dateline: Taylor, Texas — Sam Dowdy, S&D Plumbing, identified a systematic problem with finding, hiring and retaining quality skilled employees. He created the Plumbing Pipeline Program (PPP) as a means to go into the community and recruit young people to the trades, much like colleges, universities and the military. Dowdy admits, “This program is all about youth, the youth in the community.” By targeting high school youth in his community, his program allows these students to apprentice at his plumbing company to learn basic skills of the trade. At orientation he proposes to the students that choosing the trades as your career path is, “a different way of doing things, without spending a lot of money.” Students are able to participate in the trade and gain an accurate concept of what it’s like to work for a professional plumbing company. For more information,

Dateline: Farmington, Maine — Seventy-six-year-old Lucky Harrison will pass on his knowledge and skills to students in the new plumbing program at Foster Career and Technical Education Center. According to the Lewiston Sun Journal, Harrison is the new part-time instructor for the program. He was hired Tuesday night by the Regional School Unit 9 School Board and has spent 45 years in the plumbing trade. He ran Lucky’s Plumbing for decades. “I love the plumbing trade,” Harrison said. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the trade he loves and decided that he could share his knowledge and skills with younger generations.

“It is a wonderful career as far as choice goes,” Harrison said. “They can do plumbing all of their life or they can go on to something else. It also gives them a viable career if they just want to be in the trades.”

Know of any stories just like the ones above? Please share. We’d love to hear what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

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