I had a conversation with a young man recently who expressed interest in exploring the plumbing or HVAC trades. He had no experience in those trades, though he was mechanically inclined and always working around the house fixing and building things. But he had a full-time job and a family to support, and neither the time nor money to pursue a trade education. Here’s what I told him.
Ask around. Talk to anyone you know who knows people in the plumbing and HVAC trades, and especially contractors who own those businesses. Good people are in short supply in virtually every trade and most employers would love to interview people who are interested in their trade, whether they have experience or not. Many will hire inexperienced people as helpers or apprentices and train them in-house. You would earn a living wage during the training period, with increases along the way as you learn more and become more productive.
This is especially true for employers in the residential service business – the companies that come to fix your toilet or furnace when something goes wrong. Technicians in the service trades have to be mechanical competent, of course, but just as important are personalities that get along with the public. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of plumbing contractors say to me: “I can teach plumbing. I can’t teach personality.”
Many of these contractors have told me they actually prefer to hire novices without trade experience than experienced trade workers. That’s because many experienced technicians, especially older ones, learned the trade long ago and have failed to keep up with the times. They often resist modern technology and when you ask them why they do certain things that are behind the times, the answer is, “because that’s the way I’ve always done it.”
Even worse, many of them grew up in the rough and tumble world of heavy construction, where they seldom had any contact with customers and the general public. You don’t really need a friendly personality to work on a construction job site. But when you spend your days ringing doorbells of stressed-out homeowners who are without heat, light or a functioning toilet, an important part of the job is learning to put people at ease.
I know many contractors who hand out business cards to friendly wait staff in restaurants or to workers in other customer service occupations. Often these are fairly low-paying jobs and if the people have mechanical aptitude, they can gain a career boost.
Take it from me. Trade employers are desperate to hire energetic, ambitious people to work as technicians, experienced or not. Start talking to them and I bet you’ll find receptive ears.