Philadelphia Schools Take Innovative Approach to Plumber Shortage

Philadelphia’s schools are facing a severe shortage in plumbers. The demand for tradespeople is on the rise, and the district’s schools have 200+ buildings that can’t keep up with the demand for tradespeople.

A strong economy has made finding a certified electrician near impossible for the school district.

The district has taken a unique approach to the problem to fill the 52 jobs that remain open. The Philadelphia School District employs 206 blue-collar workers and launched an initiative in the fall alongside a state-sanctioned program to put an end to the tradespeople drought.

The program’s answer to the lack of plumbers is simple: hire graduates.

Schools are hiring and training plumbers and electricians that have graduated from their vocational programs. These hires are being brought in to the workforce as apprentices in the field and earn a paycheck while they hone their skills.

The school’s approach allows these graduates to learn as an apprentice for four years before being able to be on their own working in the school’s buildings. Students are rewarded with a debt-free path to enter the career and a job that pays $50,000 annually to start. Tradespeople are also provided with benefits and a pension.

“It’s a career for our graduates,” states Robert Hunter, executive director of the school’s maintenance department.

College has been pushed by teachers and school systems for years, according to reports. The push for higher education has led to a shortage of people in blue-collar positions. Plumbers and electricians are less prevalent today than in the past, causing a major shortage in the amount of skilled tradespeople.

Hunter claims that the school district isn’t able to hire people quick enough to replace workers that are now retiring. He claims that the school district is in dire need of repairs. About $5 billion in maintenance costs has been deferred in the district.

The first class was hired over the summer and six apprentices were secured. The class was comprised of two plumbers and four electricians. The program came about after a brainstorming session that led to the school reinstating an apprenticeship program that ran 25 years ago.

Officials at the school had to receive approval from the union that will be training apprentices on-the-job. The state was the last entity to approve the program.

Any graduate of a Philadelphia school is eligible to apply for the program. Hunter hopes that he can recruit at least the same number of apprentices annually as he did this year: six. The addition of apprentices will help offset the number of workers in the school that retire each year, but more needs to be done to fill the 52 vacancies that remain.

Apprentices work four days a week in any school that needs them. They will have a split day during the week, which will include a partial workday and four hours in the classroom.

Demand for plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople is expected to rise, according to a post from the Los Angeles Times. Demand for electricians is expected to grow 14% over the next ten years, and demand for plumbers is expected to grow by 12% during the same span.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.