Working in the trades already comes with its fair share of stress, but for the last couple years, the industry has also had to deal with COVID-19, supply chain issues, the material shortage, rising gas prices, and much more. Levi Torres, owner of High 5 Plumbing, said the labor shortage has been one of his biggest stressors.
“I wouldn't say it’s so much the shortage in technicians, but more a labor shortage in entry-level positions, like warehouses and call centers,” noted Torres.
He said, for the most part, skilled plumbers and technicians still want to be working those jobs before and after the pandemic. On the other hand, he noticed that those who were in entry-level positions outside of skilled labor were more likely to have opted for a career change during the pandemic.
Torres also noticed a change in attitude in the younger generation over the last few years. He said many newer skilled workers come into the field expecting to have the same treatment as more seasoned employees, which is difficult to accommodate because no matter how well a new plumber or technician is doing, they still have to rely on the experience of those other employees in order to succeed.
“It causes stress because entry-level people feel like maybe they're not treated as fair and that's been one of the biggest challenges of getting people into the industry and then getting them to commit to staying in it,” explained Torres.
He added that this issue is a “slippery slope” because the skilled trades do have a stigma of hazing, which makes it difficult to determine whether or not someone has legitimately been mistreated. He said the industry used to have the expectation that if someone got hurt, they were supposed to tough it out, or if they had problems, they weren’t supposed to talk about it.
He also explained that a lot of the time, many of those in the trades are “worked to death” simply because the companies they work for undervalue their knowledge of the industry. When a company doesn’t charge enough for their services, Torres said it makes it difficult for them to properly take care of their employees.
Along with all the broader issues plaguing the industry, HVAC contractors also have to deal with stressors that stem from the customer side of things. Michael Petri, owner of Petri Plumbing & Heating, said nowadays, an overwhelming number of clients have unrealistic expectations when it comes to addressing their home service needs. He added that unlike other businesses, where the client comes to them, contractors and those in the trades are expected to not only go to the customer, but have every part with them and be on time. He said this is especially hard to achieve when working in a metropolitan area, like New York City.
“We can book a call and try and give windows, like between 10 and 12. But for instance, we had one truck that only went 10 blocks, but because the United Nations was in session on the East Side, the guy was in traffic for literally three hours,” Petri said. “It's stressful and you have clients that don't understand it.”
He explained that as a result of the aftermath of the pandemic, especially the material shortage, technicians cannot always fix things immediately. It’s common to find major manufacturers who are dealing with 3-4 months of backlogs, if not longer. Despite the shortages, Petri said he and his team try their best to address all their clients’ needs, but there’s a lot of pressure when a homeowner is not patient.
“Naturally, their reaction is, ‘I called and [you said] you're gonna fix it, now you're telling me you can’t.’ We're not saying that we can’t fix it — we’re telling you that we can’t get the part,” he said.
There have also been some changes in technicians’ expectations since the pandemic began, especially in regards to work hours. Rob Minnick, CEO and president of Minnick’s Inc., said he noticed that some of the younger techs have been determined to make their own schedule, rather than work a full eight-hour day. He explained that although flexible schedules might have been possible during the peak of the pandemic, it has become difficult to run a business where workers come in at their own convenience, especially when the demand for home services is so high.
“What do you tell your customers? ‘What time you come in today?’ ‘Oh, when my technician shows up?’ ‘What time’s he coming in?’ ‘I don't know,’” said Minnick.
He said prior to the pandemic, there was no problem with working a full day, but now there’s a completely new work ethic. He explained that there doesn’t seem to be any good choices — either they crack down on new employees and possibly lose young talent in the industry, or they let it slide and lose business from their customers. Minnick said business owners need to adapt or make some serious changes if they want to be involved in running a business during this time.
Owner, High 5 Plumbing
Take a Break
Even though the world is slowly adjusting to life post-pandemic, it’s safe to assume that the majority of people’s work-life balance will not be the same. Many employees, both old and young, have shifted their priorities and suddenly, work is not always at the top of the list. Minnick said that while a weekend might have been enough time to recharge in the past, taking a few more days off can really help clear the mind.
“It doesn't have to be a long vacation, but you have to take one or you're gonna go insane. It starts creeping back in very quickly because the problem mostly doesn't go away. But it’s a break,” explained Minnick.
According to Torres, hosting company events or participating in community outreach programs can help build morale among technicians and others who work in the trades. He described the industry as very “ego-driven,” with everyone competing to be the best company, and said this competition makes it difficult for people to talk to one another and seek help.
“I highly suggest for people to look for people to talk to — a coach, a mentor — anytime you feel off because sometimes, people feel like they can't ask for help because it shows weakness in an industry that you're not supposed to be weak,” Torres said.