How a Texas community is addressing the plumber shortage

Drive-thru:

  • Eighty percent of construction firms struggle to fill hourly craft positions. These shortages could impact the future of economic growth, stall construction projects, and/or lead to higher prices.
  • The demand for plumbers in the Texas Hill Country is high, and it’s prompting economic development and employment assistance groups to create a plumber-training program provided by Central Texas College.
  • The 12 students currently enrolled are learning from master and journeyman plumbers, and the curriculum has been approved by the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners.

The demand for plumbers in the Texas Hill Country is growing stronger as the area is seeing a surge in construction. A handful of educational, economic development and employment assistance groups got together to step up and do something about it.

The Marble Falls Economic Development Corp. and Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area are utilizing $21,000 in grant funds from the Texas Workforce Commission’s High Demand Job Training Grant program to offer a plumber-training course through Central Texas College.

A high demand for new plumbing

Christian Fletcher, executive director of the Marble Falls Economic Development Corp., says the need for plumbers stems from the building of new subdivisions and lake homes as well as hospitality-sector construction in the region. The area’s lakes are a draw for retirees and those looking for a seasonal lakeside residence.

“This plumbing class was actually the second round of a high demand job training grant that we received from the Texas Workforce Commission via our local workforce development office,” Fletcher told FUEL. The first covered a cohort of plumbers and electricians.

“The point is to get the ball rolling on some trades,” she noted. “It can be tough to align everyone’s interests, but we’ve been able to do that with the help of some grant funds from the state.”

Quick but high-quality training

The plumber-training course began on September 4 and runs through April. It includes online self-study and in-person workshops on Tuesday evenings. Students learn from master and journeyman plumbers, and the curriculum has been approved by the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners.

Students who finish the training will earn 1,000 apprentice hours, equal to six months in the field. In order to complete their requirements, students can combine their 1,000-hour coursework with actual apprentice hours.

Currently, 12 students are participating in the program. To qualify, individuals have to be at least 18, have a high school diploma or GED, be eligible to work in the U.S., and be residents or soon-to-be residents of Burnet or Llano counties in Texas.

Giving students an extra assist

Applicants are accepted and screened by Workforce Network, a local nonprofit that works with community partners to help link people with in-demand careers in the area.

Fletcher says the grant pays for the course, textbooks and materials, and Workforce Network helps students access other “wraparound services” that could remove barriers to their participation.

“If people need gas cards or help with child care, for example, there are opportunities to provide that additional help,” he explains. “What we’ve found is a lot of people who are returning to school or adult learners have a lot of other obstacles to their education besides affordability. And sometimes, life just gets in the way.”

Across the country, the construction industry is experiencing a severe workforce shortage. A recent survey by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America found that 80 percent of construction firms struggle to fill hourly craft positions, and these shortages can impact the future of economic growth. The issue could also stall construction projects and lead to higher prices.

Texas ISO workers

In Texas, almost four in five contractors said they were having difficulty filling hourly and salaried craft positions. Many expect it will remain difficult to fill these positions over the next 12 months, according to the survey.

Fletcher encourages others working in construction, economic development, or related fields to look for ways to develop the next generation of workers and craftspeople. He says it’s all about starting the conversation with stakeholders, and then getting the word out about potential construction opportunities and educational programs.

“The primary feedback that led us to want to continue pursuing this was from the employers, who said that the people who came from our program were better problem-solvers,” Fletcher said. “So when employers had apprentices, they would send some of their people through the program. They really helped increase interest in the program and also supported it by allowing their workers to take time off to get their certifications.”

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