local plumbing firm vigorously tackles labor shortage in industry | Business Observer

Finding employees is a common challenge for many businesses, especially trades companies. Naples-based Pro-Tec Plumbing decided to take a proactive approach to the problem by launching its Technician Apprenticeship Program.

“The plumbing labor pool is pretty shallow,” says Brian Finger, general manager of Pro-Tec Plumbing. “There just aren’t that many plumbers. So we came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to do this is to develop our own workforce, and in order to do that we really needed a comprehensive and comprehensive program.

Pro-Tec currently has three apprentices about to start the program. No plumbing experience is required, but applicants should have a high school diploma or GED, basic math skills, and the ability to handle the physical demands of the job. Several organizations in the region, from community foundations to chamber-based groups of commerce, offer workforce training and apprenticeship programs. Some do it in collaboration with companies, in particular by creating a study program. But few companies have a comprehensive program in place like Pro-Tec has, independent of other organizations. (Pro-Tec uses an online learning program available through the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association for the classroom portion of the program.)

“You can take on any job you want, but if you don’t have the people to do it, your reputation will go down because you make a mistake.” Brian Finger, Pro-Tec Plumbing

Candidates chosen for the Pro-Tec apprenticeship program work in the field as a paid employee during the day, under the direction of a journeyman-level plumber – a qualified plumber who has completed an apprenticeship with a master. plumber. The apprentices then take online courses in the evenings or at weekends. The traditional apprenticeship program lasts for four years, but there is also an accelerated option which takes around 18 months. When apprentices complete either program, they are nationally recognized as Journeyman Plumbers.

These efforts to grow its own workforce will cost Pro-Tec $ 1,700 per year per apprentice in the traditional program and a total of $ 2,400 per apprentice in the accelerated program. Pro-Tec prepays for the courses and then withholds a small portion of the apprentice’s salary each week. Once they have reached certain stages of the program, the apprentice gets this money back.

It’s a cost that Finger thinks will be worth it. Not only will the program give Pro-Tec access to talent, but it will also allow it to train new employees on company standards and procedures from the start. With high retention rates in the trades, this is an important factor.

“When you reprogram someone who worked at another company, it’s usually the corporate culture that you need to reprogram because plumbing is plumbing,” says Finger, 51. “So we teach them how we want things to be done from the start.”

Finger says the company could have seven to ten apprentices in the program at any given time. It all depends on how many Journeyman Plumbers Pro-Tec has on staff to provide this on-the-job training and how much work is available for these training opportunities.

The apprenticeship program is not the only way Pro-Tec works to attract and retain employees. The company – which has around 45 employees – recently established a career progression plan that outlines the stages and skills required for staff to move from entry-level positions to ones where they work alone and maintain their own trucks.

“We try to provide opportunities for advancement, so hopefully they don’t see plumbing as a dead end,” Finger says. “Plumbing has a lot of routine. If you can give them things to look forward to and to aspire to, it keeps them loyal, it keeps them alive, and it makes them want more. “

The company also recently made the decision to guarantee 40 hours of wages per week to its employees at their respective hourly rates (which vary according to experience level), even if they have not reached 40 hours of work. expected in a given week. This removes some of the financial uncertainties that technicians can face when workloads fluctuate.

Everything is linked to help retain and sustain the company, which Pro-Tec needs to be able to meet the demands of its industry. Employment of plumbers, pipefitters and steam fitters is expected to increase 4% from 2019 to 2029, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But factors like the emphasis on four-year college at the high school level mean that there aren’t enough young adults entering fields like plumbing to fill the available positions.

“We refuse the job,” says Finger. “You can take on any job you want, but if you don’t have the people to do it, your reputation will go down because you make a mistake. we could double [our workload] tomorrow by making three phone calls if we had enough plumbers and infrastructure to do so. We are in demand, but we cannot just say yes to everyone. … If we increase our workforce and get a stronger team of technicians, we will be able to say yes to more people.