Skilled to Work: Employers say knowledge, training incentives key to boosting plumbing workforce

Statistics from the Alabama Department of Labor show an overall growth in the industry, but that doesn't tell the full story.

Posted: May 30, 2019 2:49 PM
Updated: May 30, 2019 7:12 PM

Some say teaching by example is the best way to inspire. For 19-year-old Jacob Crider, that inspiration came from watching his superintendent, Jeff Woodward. It led him into the world of plumbing just a couple of years after high school.

“I look up to him a lot. So him being in it 30 something years, makes me want get there and find a job or a company that is home,” said Crider.

19-year-old Jacob Crider helps establish floor measurements before helping to install the plumbing system in Central School's new dining hall. 19-year-old Jacob Crider helps establish floor measurements before helping to install the plumbing system in Central School's new dining hall.

Right now, Crider is working with Early Services Inc. to lay plumbing for the new dining expansion for Central School in Madison County.

Jeff Woodward, a superintendent for Early Services, said misconceptions about the job and a lack of interest in plumbing is slowing industry growth for young people. He said once they see what the job is actually like, it can spark excitement.

“They’ve come in and seen what we do and they’re like ‘Yeah, I want to learn this. This is going to be good,’” said Woodward,

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the last three years have shown an increase in the number of certified plumbers, meaning those at the journeyman or master level.

However, the number of plumbers who haven’t reached certification has gone down. Officials said that could be an indication of fewer young people joining the profession.

Jim Batson is a sixth-generation master plumber and owner of H.C. Blake. The company has been in business in Huntsville since 1884.

He said they key to attracting younger employees is to seek out the passionate ones.

“There are plenty of young people out there that really want to work, they just don’t know what to work in. And so that’s the treasure and it’s basically locating the treasure in the treasure hunt,” said Batson.

Batson said providing additional training is also important for attracting more workers. That’s why two years ago, H.C. Blake built a training center not only for its plumbers, but also for the heating and air conditioning workers.

“If I train them here, and they go to Sacramento, they can find a job the next day. So it’s basically a scalable job,” said Batson.

He added that it’s key for companies like his to invest in training to keep the industry growing.

“I’m looking for my industry for the next hundred years. And so, I wish I would’ve started this in 1884,” said Batson.

Meanwhile, Crider will start studying to get his own journeyman’s license this August. He said the reward of the business is seeing the finished product.

“Just getting to look at it and drive by it and be like, hey, I welded in that building or I did all the plumbing in that building.

To learn more about plumbing in north Alabama, click here or here.

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