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Millenial plumbers: Is there an app for that?

by Moses Leos III

 

Continuing education for those in the plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning field is a way of life for the Buda-based Associated Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractor’s of Texas. 

As a conduit for mandatory continuing education in those trades, the PHCC draws tradespeople from across the Central Texas area. 

But changing how people perceive those industries, primarily plumbing, is a main focus for Alicia Dover, executive director of the PHCC. With a plumbing workforce that is aging, Dover hopes reaching out to the younger generation can shorten an age gap in the industry.  

The PHCC offers continuing education classes for those in the plumbing and HVAC industries. 

Those who work as plumbers must have six hours of continuing education, while those who work in AC must have eight hours. 

Dover said the reasoning for continuing education is based on state rules for both trades. She said plumbers must operate according to a set of state laws and rules. In addition, plumbers must also adhere with city code as well. 

She said within the six hour course, plumbers go over all of the rules and laws. With each new legislative session, Dover said there are changes and updates to laws, which turns into change in rules. 

Those in the AC field are overseen by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. 

She said the PHCC has teachers that are approved by the state. 

“We are heavily mandated,” Dover said. “You can’t just teach it. You have to have a license to teach.” 

But over the past year, Dover’s job has shifted toward workforce development. 

Dover said the issue is a skills gap in the industry. The average age of a plumber is 55 to 56 years-old, according to Dover, who wrote in a 2013 article in the Austin Construction News there woldn’t be enough people in the “pipeline” when current plumbers retire.

Combating the gap is a challenge as plumbing isn’t a trade that can be outsourced, Dover said. 

“For every four plumbers that retire, we’re only getting one replacement,” Dover said. 

Another major issue is training time in the field. A person must work 4,000 hours to become a tradesman and 8,000 hours to become a journeyman. It then takes another four years to become a master plumber. 

Fighting off the stigma of the plumbing trade is also something Dover is attempting to do. She said plumber’s often are cast as those who only fix clogged drains and toilets. 

Dover said plumbers lay pipe, help build houses, install fire sprinklers and buildings and put in medical gas at hospitals. 

“When people think of a plumber, they think of the ‘old person with the butt crack showing’ mentality,” Dover said. “We hate that because that’s not who we are.”

While the gap is a problem, Dover said there are avenues for solutions. 

Talking to high school students is a major way the PHCC is combating the age gap. Prior to the passage of House Bill 5 in 2013, Dover said plumbers were not invited into the school system. 

After the Texas Legislature passed HB5, which brought in endorsements, it allows them to reach out to high school students. 

“It’s allowing us to tell them we have jobs and good paying jobs, and that they don’t have to go through a trade or four-year college to get there,” Dover said.

The PHCC also informs those who are 18-years-old or older of apprenticeship programs, which could allow aspiring plumbers to reach the master certification in one year.  

“We have to continue because it’s going to take a long time to get the (age gap) to shift,” Dover said. “We not only have to get the schools and apprenticeships ready. e have to train the business owners to be ready.” 

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