March 22, 2016
Tell your parents what’s great about the skilled trades
I’ll never forget a conversation I had some years ago when I served as editor of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine. I spent almost an hour on the phone with a mom talking about a potential HVAC career for her 19-year-old son. She described him as a good kid and okay student but aimless since graduating from high school the previous year.
Wendy, the mother, said he had no interest in college, but was intrigued by an HVAC program attended by a friend.
The mother decided to research the vocational school and along the way Googled some of my articles. She contacted me to see if I had any insight about the particular school. I didn’t, but pointed her to other sources of information. Along the way, our conversation took some revealing twists and turns.
This family lived in a ritzy suburb of Chicago populated mostly by white collar professionals, which was her background as well. She knew nobody who worked in any trade, and what little impression she had of the trades she admitted was tilted toward the negative. But she was striving to overcome the blue-collar bias that that causes many highly educated people to look down on anyone who earns a living working with his hands. Wendy struck me as wise in that she wasn’t inclined to nag her son into a more fashionable career path, and in fact was helping him sort out the trade option.
She spoke of admiration for people who are able to “make things work.” I thought this a refreshing perspective from someone of her social strata. Most of her highly educated peers never give a moment’s thought to anything as practical as what it takes to keep us cool when the sun melts asphalt and warm when icicles form.
Wendy asked many intelligent questions. Are there good companies out there that offer health insurance and retirement programs? Are there big changes coming about that would fundamentally alter the industry’s landscape? Is HVAC a regional industry?
I answered along the following lines:
- At the time there were more than 75,000 HVAC and plumbing contractors in this country that employ technicians. As in any other field, the quality of their jobs range from dreamy to crummy. The more capable the technician, the more in demand that person will be by the best companies that offer top pay and benefits.
- No matter who directs the work, there will always be demand for people with the know-how to install, maintain and repair our sanitation and comfort systems. What’s more, these jobs cannot be outsourced or completely taken over by unskilled cheap labor.
- HVAC is needed everywhere, although the cooling component is more important down south and heating up north. I also told Wendy of the hydronics sector of HVAC and the growing popularity of radiant heat.
- I added that the plumbing trades are becoming progressively more high-tech due to environmental and energy-efficiency mandates. This can only increase the value of their technicians.
I felt encouraged by this conversation, knowing that at least one mother would not be bullied by peer pressure to channel her son toward a career path he didn’t care to take. Some of you may have parents who aren’t as supportive of your interest in a trade career. Do your best to persuade them otherwise.