Directing Talent and Passion to the Trades

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The day before Thanksgiving was off to a rough start. There was no hot water, and the likelihood of a serious repair was imminent. And, if that was not enough, I was away from home helping my mother after surgery and had no knowledge of reputable plumbers in the area. The prospect of calling a plumber without a reliable referral left me feeling vulnerable. But, I felt confident the water heater was broken which left me with no choice but to call a plumber.

So, I did what most people do in the 21st century; I turned to Yelp. I quickly found five-star rated, Allore’s plumbing and gave them a call. The owner, Tom Allore,wordpress2 rearranged his schedule and arrived at my mother’s house within the hour and had the issue diagnosed in no time. Tom decided to handle the job himself and had one of his employees bring over a new water heater. He got to work immediately.

While he worked, we talked about his plumbing career. He shared that he wasn’t a very good student in high school; he found most of it boring. But when he was interested in a subject, he earned an “A” no matter how hard the class. After graduating from high school he decided to visit a Navy recruiting office, and the recruiters suggested he take the ASVAB, the exam used to determine qualification for enlistment in the United States Armed Forces. Tom thought a role as a welder or fabricator would be a good job for him, but he scored high on the exam and received an offer to attend electronics school. He spent the next seven years serving our country on a guided missile destroyer and gaining a lifetime of experience.

At the end of seven years, Tom returned home to follow in his father’s footsteps as a master plumber/journeyman and join the family business. The problem-solving skills he acquired while in the Navy proved to be excellent training for this new role. Tom has been wordpress1successfully running the business for more than 27 years, and at the age of 52, he still loves his work, solving problems, and doing quality work.

These days, the greatest challenge he faces is not plumbing problems, but staffing problems. Tom said, “Finding talent is the biggest challenge. Kids today don’t have the math or service skills or they expect to make 50K on day one.” He said all of the trades are struggling to find talent and as his fellow business owners reach retirement age, they are concerned about how the profession will manage. According to a Forbes article from 2013, 53% of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, and 18.6% were between the ages of 55 and 64. The baby boomers are retiring, but the talent isn’t being developed to take over the next generation of the trades.

Tom’s apprentice, Edgar, showed up with the new water heater. A former wrestler and electrical engineering student at the University of Nebraska, Edgar decided to make the switch from engineering to plumbing and joined Tom’s team. He said, “I like working with people and solving problems and couldn’t see myself working in an office every day as an engineer so I made the change and I love what I do.” I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if Edgar had met with a career counselor and taken an interest inventory before graduating. Would he have selected the trades as his first choice out of high school instead of spending the time, effort and finances necessary to enroll for a couple of years at the University of Nebraska?

Today, Edgar is attending Florida Construction Apprenticeship Training Corporation (FCATC) at Indian River State College, a trade school that offers a four-year credentialing path. He attends school two nights per week and will work under the supervision of Allore’s Plumbing to get his hands-on training. The Pludirty-hands-1563855_960_720mbing company is committed to Edgar and is even paying a portion of his tuition.

Tom is investing in Edgar because he’s an excellent problem solver, hard-working, and cares about the customers. He knows there’s a risk of losing Edgar after he gets his license because the demand is high and good plumbing techs can easily make six figures. But for the good of the profession, Tom knows it is critical to developing new talent to ensure the work gets done and gets done well.

After a couple of hours; the job is complete and the new water heater installed. I enjoyed my conversation with Tom and gaining more insight into the plumbing industry. I’d read about the struggles to find and develop talent in the trades and I was impressed with Tom’s commitment to the industry and his genuine concern for its future. My morning with Tom confirmed that there is a tremendous opportunity available for men and women to enter a STEM profession with the potential to earn six figures and gain life-long employment. My hope is that we can help steer talent to the trades and help students discover their passion for such jobs.

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Ed Hidalgo
Director of World of Work, MTLC
Follow me on Twitter: @EdHidalgoSD

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2 thoughts on “Directing Talent and Passion to the Trades

  1. I am 100% in agreement with your statement that we need to “… help students discover their passion…”
    How can we work together to ensure that there truly is “access and equity”–to STEM classes/programs and highly qualified teachers in rural schools?
    Thank you for being an amazing student advocate!

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