Unstarched Collars

Most plumbing contractors will tell you that one of their biggest problems is finding good plumbers to work for them. The trades in general suffer from a shortage of skilled workers. I think in part that’s because there’s something of a bias against blue-collar workers in this country.

Many high-school career counselors see the trades only as an option for students who in their judgment are “not college material.” The news media frequently reports statistics that show college graduates earning much more than people who don’t have degrees. Many parents discourage their children from pursuing a trade career because they perceive the work as dirty and lacking in prestige.

To some extent we don’t look blame the public at-large for holding negative opinions about the plumbing trade. Many of our competitors think all they need is plumbing know-how to open a plumbing business. Some have even bought into the stereotype that theirs is a dirty business, so nothing can be done about that. That’s why so many plumbers show up at your door wearing dirty, ill-fitting jeans, maybe wreaking of cigar smoke while their battered old vehicle drips oil in your driveway.

Dutton Plumbing has less trouble recruiting capable plumbers than most of our competitors. That’s partly because we don’t buy into the stereotypes. Shame on anyone who thinks that a dummy could come to work for us. Much of our work these days involves computerized equipment and training manuals that “dummies” could not begin to comprehend.

As for college graduates earning more money, that may have been true once upon a time but the gap is narrowing at a rapid pace. I recently read an article stating that 48% of college graduates are employed in jobs that don’t require a college degree, and that a third of recent college graduates are earning less than $25,000 a year.

As for that “dirty” work, well, it’s hard to deny that plumbers get exposed to some pretty nasty situations. People in our business can wallow in it or rise above it, and Dutton Plumbing chooses the latter. That’s why we insist that our technicians wear clean uniforms on every service call. If they happen to get soiled on a particularly dirty job, they are instructed to change before going on another call. That’s also why they put on clean plastic booties to avoid tracking dirt and debris in a customer’s home.

A company that sends plumbers to install and fix things in your home has to understand that it is not only in the plumbing business, but also the SERVICE business. Residential service is as much about dealing with people as it is the mechanics of plumbing. Technicians who come to work for us must have people skills. As long as they have a high mechanical aptitude, we can teach them plumbing. It’s much harder – pretty close to impossible, in my opinion – to change someone’s attitude. We will not employ anyone with a surly or gruff personality, no matter how good a mechanic that person might be. We refuse to inflict that pain on customers who are already under duress with a plumbing problem.

Some of the people we recruit have been to college, some not. All of them know how to treat customers the way they want to be treated when they are on the other end.

We look at our service technicians as a blend between blue-collar and white-collar professionals. Yes, they need to have plumbing know-how, but that’s not enough. We spend almost as much time teaching them the finer points of customer service as we do trade skills. And, we treat them like white-collar professionals by providing them with photo IDs and business cards. This is not only for their benefit, but to assure that you know who you are dealing with and letting into your home.

Think of our technicians as white-collar workers with unstarched collars!