Plumbing industry sees little influx

Jeremy Pavlich was sweeping floors on the site of Beaumont’s former Gaylynn Theater in 2002 when plumbers working in the building encouraged him to take up the trade.

Now a director and instructor at Local Plumbers Union No. 68, Pavlich said he’s seen interest in the field grow as more men and women opt for the financial security that, for the most part, is the outweighs the physical difficulties.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the plumbing, pipefitting and pipefitting trades are expected to grow 11% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Overall economic and population growth will drive demand for new construction and jobs, the agency said.

Local artisans say the traditional inclination of high school graduates to head to college in pursuit of four-year degrees overlooks a rewarding option.

Working as a plumber during Southeast Texas’ “harsh” summers isn’t appealing to high school seniors, who often have the singular option of a “hammered” bachelor’s degree, said master plumber Shuan VonFeldt, 39 years.

With salaries as high as $60,000 or $70,000, Von-Feldt said neglecting the plumbing industry “can’t be calculated.”

Often in debt and looking for a job, graduates generally consider entering the trades as a last resort. Sometimes the rationale is “I have a degree, I shouldn’t have to dig,” VonFeldt said.

During his four-year program to become an independent or journeyman plumber, Pavlich, 37, said he experienced “a substantial change in his life” every year.

Silsbee’s Josh Champagne began training to become a licensed plumber at age 16, receiving his license at age 21 after rejecting a full scholarship to the Universal Technical Institute in Houston.

Now a master plumber and owner of Southeast Texas Plumbing, Champagne said the trade helped him achieve his personal and financial goals, including owning his own business before he turned 30.

The industry is looking for new blood

VonFeldt said the automatic pursuit by many graduates of a traditional bachelor’s degree is hampering industry growth.

“The plumbing trade is at an impasse,” VonFeldt said, noting that fewer young people are entering the field and most of them are “drying up and quitting.”

Plumbers typically start their careers in their 20s and retire after 35 to 40 years, according to Pavlich.

The “physically demanding” job of plumbing “takes a toll on the body,” Pavlich said, although “providing people with vital water” is worth the effort.

Pavlich said it was “kind of like a running back career in the NFL.” For most plumbers, there is only one “window of time” in which they can “work at a high level”.

Most people in the plumbing industry are middle-aged, Champagne noted, adding that he worries what will happen “once they start to retire.”

plumbing saves

For Pavlich and Champagne, careers in plumbing have helped them achieve goals like getting out of debt, owning a home or starting their own business.

The demand for plumbing jobs, especially after Tropical Storm Harvey, is “good for guys like me,” said VonFeldt, owner of Benchmark Plumbing. However, VonFeldt said he was worried about “the long-term effect for our region”.

The 40% growth in plumbing union labor contracts signals “the need for skilled tradespeople” in the region, Pavlich said.

Plumbers “protect the health of the nation,” VonFeldt said, citing an “old plumber’s saying” and the motto of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices in the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry.

“There are diseases that we don’t have that don’t exist in other countries,” VonFeldt said of diseases like cholera or typhoid.

“Plumbing is the oldest profession,” Pavlich said. “We didn’t start with electricity.”

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