(WACO, Texas) – February’s historic winter weather in Texas made people realize the importance of plumbers as pipes broke, causing damage to apartments, homes and businesses.
“It shined a light on the plumbing industry and made people see we are not always as prepared as we think we are,” said Clyff Curry, business manager of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 529 in Waco.
Texas State Technical College’s Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology program in Waco offers a three-semester certificate program that covers backflow prevention, blueprint reading, piping standards and other topics. The curriculum is a mix of online lectures and hands-on labs.
Jimmy Bibb, an instructor in TSTC’s Plumbing and Pipefitting Technology program, said four large Texas companies have contacted him in recent days seeking graduates. He said the inquiries prove how in demand graduates are.
“They have put in the work, showing up to class on time,” Bibb said. “They have completed a rigorous program. Now they have the knowledge and skill set to enter a well-diversified workplace.”
Texas had more than 39,800 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters making an annual mean wage of $50,840 in May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Curry said there is a pressing need for plumbers now in Waco because of new construction in the commercial, hospitality, manufacturing and residential housing sectors. He said all of the projects will need pipe and mechanical work.
“The jobs are there in the industry, but we are pushing people into other fields that may or may not be as lucrative with job availability,” he said. “It is not thought of as a top industry, even though you have plumbers out there making as much as doctors. We have insurance and pensions for the future, too.”
Chris Sproles, president of Central Texas Plumbing Solutions in Waco, said it is hard finding qualified people to fill plumbing positions.
“We have advertised different ways for journeymen plumbers,” he said. “In the last year, as far as licensed plumbers, we have had three that have inquired, with two that were licensed in Texas and one that was moving here from another state. Out of those folks, I was fortunate to hire the two guys that were in Texas.”
Sproles said his company’s problem, along with other businesses in the plumbing industry, is an aging workforce.
“My workforce is lots of guys over 50,” he said. “We struggle with that. They are great guys, but they are nearing the end of their careers. We do not get good qualified candidates, for sure.”
Sproles said the company occasionally hires apprentice plumbers.
“We do get a lot of inquiries from apprentices starting out,” he said. “We are extremely selective with those guys. We are looking for someone that can learn the trade with the intent of staying here.”
Sproles said high school is the place where guidance should be given to encourage students to pursue the plumbing field.
Curry said people entering the plumbing industry should understand geometry, trigonometry and physics and have a mechanical aptitude.
“There has to be a reemphasis on work ethic,” he said. “Even in our trade, we want to work smarter, not harder. You have to be willing to put forth the effort.”
The federal labor statistics agency predicts there will be a need for more than 511,000 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters by 2029. This is attributed to workers retiring, along with new construction and the upkeep of plumbing systems.
Registration continues for the summer and fall semesters at TSTC. For more information, go to tstc.edu.