Post-storm plumber shortage produces demand for rapid training programs

Due to the high demand for plumbers sparked by last month’s severe winter storms, local vocational training organizations have stepped up efforts to enroll students in a variety of craft programs, including electrical and heating / ventilation / air conditioning.

Skilled plumbers were in short supply even before the storms caused widespread water pipe ruptures, damaged homes and businesses, and disrupted municipal water supplies for some residents for more than a week. Given that the number of plumbers has grown even further in recent weeks, groups like Workforce Solutions Capital Area and Skillpoint Alliance are looking for participants in introductory courses that can lead to an apprenticeship in four or five weeks.

“Even before the weather outages, we could see that there would be bottlenecks, and one of those areas was craft. That’s why we set out to work with the city and county to reach out to those affected by Covid and get them back to work, ”said Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions Capital Area.

Her group’s RE: WorkNOW program includes healthcare, information technology and advanced manufacturing as well as crafting as one of her focuses to meet the needs of local employers looking for workers. Atkinson estimates that the Austin area will lack about 3,000 skilled workers and more than 1,000 plumbing jobs over the next decade.

RE: WorkNOW was launched as a quick recruitment program to connect up to 260 potential employees with companies looking for talent. The city and Travis County are using $ 3.1 million CARES Act funds and general funding to fund these through September. Atkinson said she and other Workforce Solutions executives are in discussions with city officials about additional funding to expand the program.

“Our model is to quickly engage someone who is unemployed by enrolling in a program of their choice and then having up to five weeks of exposure in one of these areas in a fast, secure, virtual or hybrid environment. And then they are hired by an employer who is now talent hungry and the individual will expand their skills on the job and continue to earn a paycheck, ”she said.

“We believe that we have a strong proof of concept through our work and consider it a very wise investment to invest the economic dollars coming from the American rescue plan to further scale RE: WorkNOW. The city and county have invested in brand awareness and with over 200 people enrolled we have definitely taken our step to allow it to continue and scale when resources are available. “

A class to train 15 plumbers at the nonprofit workers training organization Skillpoint Alliance has been postponed until mid-April as plumbing and restoration companies keep looking for workers to repair storm damage.

Kevin Brackmeyer, executive director of Skillpoint, said plumbing and other craft trades have been a consistent area of ​​need since the organization was founded in 1994 in order to train residents in stable, well-paying careers. Currently, apprentice level plumbers can earn $ 15-20 an hour, with annual income rising to $ 50,000 or more by the end of a four-year apprenticeship plan.

“I’ve received many calls from companies that provide restoration services because they are urgently needed. Moved the new class up to train people because people call and see who we train. As soon as graduation is achieved, the plumbing companies will be there to interview them, and in one case I had an entire class employed by employers, ”said Brackmeyer.

“There’s so much demand, I wish I just had a class.”

Photo made available under a Creative Commons license.

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