National PHCC President Jo Wagner speaks to her fellow Texas contractors on the problems of recruiting and retaining a good workforce.

SAN ANTONIO - Jo Wagner isn’t just the president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors (PHCC) National Association. She is also a business owner facing the same challenges as other HVAC and plumbing contractors. She spoke about her concerns to attendees of the Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ACCA) of Texas/Associated Plumbing-Heating-Cooling-Contractors (APHCC) at the Texas Annual Conference & Tradeshow.

“One theme that is consistent among all of us is: where are we going to get workers?’ she asked. “The truth is, they aren’t out there. If we aren’t willing to recruit and train them, then we are just not going to have them.”

Wagner said her company is turning down business every day because she just doesn’t have the people and added, “We don’t want everyone working 60-hour weeks, either.”

She cited the problem of finding workers in Texas, one of the most populated states in the United States. “If we can’t train people in our own state, we have a very big problem,” she said.

The problem of finding young people to enter the trades stem from the perception of HVAC and plumbing, according to Wagner. She said she spoke to a high school counselor who told her “we send people to you who couldn’t make it into college.”

Wagner added, “We are paying very good wages but we are not viewed as a viable alternative to a four-year education. We need to start publicizing how important we are to our communities. We need to blow our own horns.”

Speaking of education, Wagner noted the importance of promoting “cluster education” in schools. This involves giving students courses in a specific curriculum, e.g., HVAC, while still offering broader choices.

She said contractors need to reach out beyond the male population to find workers, too. “We need to encourage women to join the trade,” Wagner said. “For example, think of all the single moms out there who work for minimum wage. They are smart, but they just don’t have the training for our higher-paying jobs.”

Once again, she emphasized the importance of contractors being proactive. “It is going to take all of you to write your governor and your legislators and tell them about the value of a career in HVAC or plumbing,” Wagner said.

Fortunately, there is strength in numbers, according to Wagner. That is why groups like PHCC and ACCA are so important to its members. “We face the same issues,” she said. “And there is always strength in numbers and dollars when we can team up and discuss our issues with legislators. We need to work together and grow as an association. It is also time for us to move aside and let some of our young people take over.”

Publication date:04/30/2007