Online learning program hopes to help ease plumber shortage

Every week, trainee James Burns puts his plumbing tools aside for an hour or more to explore the digital side of his job.

30-year-old Burns logs on to a computer at his employer Pat Dolan Plumbing in Massapequa once or twice a week and begins the course work that ultimately enables him to get his journeyman’s card, a kind of growing up in the plumbing world .

Until earlier this year, Burns’ options for such a degree had been largely limited to an inpatient program, which was generally offered in the evening.

The program, known as the E-Learning Apprenticeship Academy of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, was launched in March. The state education and labor departments have accepted the online plumbing curriculum as a substitute for classroom instruction.

Apprentice plumber James Burns works on a toilet in a house in Massapequa. Photo credit: Barry Sloan

The new initiative targets a chronic problem on Long Island and across the state: a plumber shortage. The main causes are the waves of baby boomer retirement and the entry of too few young people to take the place of the seniors. Nearly 18 percent, or 1,200 plumbers on Long Island are 55 years and older, said Shital Patel, a labor analyst with the state Department of Labor’s office in Hicksville.

“The industry will grapple with the impending wave of retirements and the insufficient number of millennials entering the craft,” said Patel.

Get the Biz Briefing Newsletter!

The latest LI business news in your inbox Monday through Friday.

If you click on Register, you agree to our privacy policy.

Meanwhile, the number of vacancies in the industry continues to rise. The island’s plumbing industry has an average of 270 vacancies per year, 80 or nearly a third of them due to retirements, Patel said. The rest, 190, comes from growth.

Local plumbing companies continue to complain about how difficult it is to find enough skilled workers.

“We interview all the time,” said Deborah O’Reilly, office manager at Pat Dolan Plumbing. “A lot of the young people don’t trade as much as you would have seen 10 or 20 years ago.”

Literature recommendations

LI faces plumbing shortage as boomers retire

Hence, local installers hope that the e-learning academy run by the PHCC Educational Foundation can reverse this. The national foundation has partnered with the PHCC state chapter to obtain government approval for the program. The chronic shortage of plumbers has piqued states’ interest in the online program, which is linked to on-the-job training.

“As the skill shortage in the plumbing, heating and cooling industries becomes more critical, states are more willing to accept online training as an option,” said Cindy Sheridan, chief operating officer for the foundation, based in Falls Church, Virginia.

Around 450 trainees nationwide are registered for the four-year e-learning program, she said.

The online program does not shorten the course requirements. Since New York plumbing training programs require five years of instruction, the state requires apprentices to complete an additional year of offline training. Last year includes federal safety regulations and sexual harassment training, among other things, said Al Esposito, former owner of a Farmingdale plumbing company and currently chair of the state’s e-learning program.

Apprentices enrolled in the program must be employed at least 40 hours per week by a master plumber who is sponsoring them. Burns is sponsored by his employer, Pat Dolan, who not only gives him access to a computer but also pays for the course, which is $ 1,695 per year for PHCC members and $ 2,695 for non-members.

“I’m very grateful that my company is paying me to come here and study during business hours,” said Burns.

Apprentices who receive a journeyman’s card can make more money and work longer hours in the workplace without a licensed master plumber in attendance, said Pat Dolan, his company’s president. In some cases, they can apply for a restricted plumber license locally. In New York, licenses are issued by local communities.

The state and national PHCC chapters track student progress in the program’s four courses, each corresponding to a year of instruction. Burns, who started the program about a month ago, was able to skip the first year after doing well on a placement test.

Previously, trainees had to read the books in a classroom at a local community college or at the training facility of a local plumbing group after working more than 10 hours at work.

“The vast majority of apprentices … may not be able to go to school after working all day,” Sheridan said.

Burns, who often works 50 to 60 hours a week, agrees.

“It’s hard to work this job and go home and study,” said Burns. He worked for Pat Dolan Plumbing for almost three years.

The certificates that apprentices can print out after completing courses give them a head start in job hunting, some plumbers said.

“A better candidate comes into my company than someone who leaves the street,” said Esposito.

Some said the e-learning program will give young plumbers in the industry more stamina.

Joseph Cornetta, Long Island PHCC president of Cornetta Bros., a plumbing and heating company in Elmont, said one of its employees will enroll in August.

“It benefits me as a business owner because I now have this young person who not only shows up for work every day but is also studying, and I’m not worried about losing him.”

Send an email to Dorothy Reddy at [email protected] for more information on registering for the E-Learning Apprenticeship Academy.

You might also like

Comments are closed.