Just when you thought the worker shortage couldn’t get any more vexing, be advised that we are running out of plumbers. According to the Copper Development Association (CDA), over one half of America’s trade professionals are near retirement age and only 3 percent of the surveyed 18 to 25 year olds would consider a career in the trades. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that employment growth for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026 – much faster than the average of all occupations. Aging infrastructure issues will only make things worse as more things need repaired or replaced.
Perhaps it is time for the nation’s parents to stop pushing a college education in exchange for a career in copper. Andy Kireta Jr., vice president of CDA says, “It's critical to understand that going from high school into a four-year college is not the only path. If we force everyone down that path, we won’t have enough tradespeople to maintain a healthy, strong economy.”
The CDA recently produced a video attempting to dispel some misconceptions about a life in the trades including references to better-than-average pay rates and steady employment. Despite the dire warnings, employers looking for fresh young faces can learn from a few success stories about actual millennials getting actual jobs in the building trades and what attracted them.
An October 2017 Builder article identified family connections to the construction business, job security, a sense of pride in building something permanent and the old fashioned desire to work with their hands frequently guided younger people into the business.
The other old school carrot that might still hold some currency is money. The BLS lists the median annual wage (measured in 2015) for a plumber as over $50,000, substantially higher than the $36,200 median wage for all U.S. workers. Roughly 11% of plumbers are self-employed – a chance to earn even more. Future plumbers should also know that signing on as an apprentice means you get paid while you work with no student debt at the end of the road.