There are many reasons to cheer the recent announcement that our federal government is working to expand apprenticeship and vocational training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year 69.7% of all high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities. This is a dramatic change from previous eras, when only the brightest or richest kids could find a path to higher education.
However, about two-thirds of them will drop out or flunk out before receiving a degree. Even among those who stick it out and graduate, many still would be better off pursuing a trade. Some 37% of today’s college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree. You see a lot of them working at Starbuck’s or waiting tables for barely livable wages.
Meantime, our nation faces a shortage of skilled trade workers. Most construction contractors are turning down work because they cannot recruit enough people to build everything owners want to be built. This discrepancy between supply of skilled labor and demand from employers is what’s triggering the movement toward apprenticeship training.
Some apprenticeship training takes place in formal programs overseen by the federal Bureau of Apprenticeship Training (BAT). With plumbing and other building trades, these programs are usually jointly administered by joint labor and management committees. They are fine programs for the most part, but they can be hard to get into. Nobody wants to train more apprentices than a local job market can absorb, so they are selective with recruitment. An aspiring trade worker can wait years to be selected and by then most settle into other careers.
Dutton Plumbing, like many other top companies in our industry, has an informal apprenticeship program, though this does not make it any less worthwhile than those that fall under BAT regulations. Like the formal programs, ours features both classroom and on-the-job training. Here are some elements of our approach to apprenticeship.
First, we do not have quotas to fill. If we identify a person who we think would be a good fit with our team, we will try to recruit that person whether or not we have an immediate job opening. Once that person is fully qualified to operate as a service technician, we will put him or her in charge of a service vehicle, if necessary expanding our area of coverage. That’s how we choose to grow our business.
Because we specialize in residential service, our training covers many areas of customer service in addition to the technical side of plumbing. People who come to work for us as apprentices must have a high mechanical aptitude – which we ensure through testing – but they must also be personable and enjoy working with the public. We have found through the years that it is relatively easy to teach technical skills to an able and willing learner. But we have found it impossible to change a personality. The best plumber in the world will not come to work for us unless that plumber is also a “people person.”
Our apprentices do not adhere to any training timetable. Some are ready to work on their own after a few months, while others may take a year or two to meet our rigid criteria. Some of you may see more than one Dutton uniformed employee showing up on a service call. One is probably an apprentice learning the ropes from a more experienced technician. Sometimes the technician may put the apprentice in charge of performing a routine repair or maintenance task. (Don’t be alarmed. We guarantee all of our work, no matter who does the job. )
We are constantly on the lookout for new apprentices, though we don’t necessarily require that they have plumbing experience. Our crew of top-notch technicians includes people from various different walks of life. Some have been to college, and some have changed careers to come to work for us.
Before we hire anyone, we put them through a rigorous screening program of background checks to insure good character, along with testing for mechanical competence. Then they must pass muster via interviews with key personnel to determine if they would be a good fit for our team.
As noted, Dutton Plumbing is always on the lookout for people able to learn a skilled trade, as well as congenial office personnel. We pay well and offer a full range of benefits. If there is anyone among your family or friends who you think would be a good fit with us, please send him or her our way.