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Understanding the Causes of the Plumber Shortage & Its Possible Solutions
The United States is experiencing a shortage of skilled laborers, including plumbers, as more baby boomers retire and fewer millennials and gen Z workers step in to fill vacant positions.
But the plumber shortage is driven by more than a simple lack of interest among the next generation of workers. There are numerous complex factors driving the shortage of trade workers. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at those factors and discuss some possible solutions.
What Caused the Plumber Shortage?
Plumbers are in high demand. According to a recent article published by Business Wire, 7 in 10 homeowners are unsuccessful in trying to fix plumbing issues on their own, and most are more likely to call a professional for help than to ask a friend or relative who has some plumbing knowledge. (1)
Unfortunately, when homeowners pick up the phone to book plumbing services, they may find that it’s not so easy to secure an appointment — or, in some cases, to even get a call back from a local plumbing company. Let's explore a few reasons why.
Older Workers Are Retiring
Quite simply, the number of job openings for plumbers is outpacing the supply of applicants. This trend is driven by an aging workforce headed for retirement without young, trained plumbers ready to fill their shoes. A lack of active recruiting efforts and inaccurate perceptions of trade work are largely to blame for this trend. Christine Cruzvergara, Chief Education Strategy Officer at Handshake, explains why:
For a long time, our society has not talked favorably about the skilled trades… We've instead encouraged students to all go to college, all go to four-year institutions, graduate, go out into white collar jobs. (2)
School Programs Aren’t Available
With the ongoing burden of student loan debt, there has been a shifting narrative when it comes to seeking higher education opportunities. Trades like plumbing and electrical work are touted as high-paying opportunities that don’t require an expensive college degree.
But there are still barriers to entry, including a lack of school programs in certain areas, as well as limited recruitment efforts. For many generations, trade work was often a family tradition, and new workers were attracted by word of mouth. In the digital age, however, this sort of closed ecosystem is not attracting enough talent to the trades. Even individuals interested in becoming plumbers might be left wondering how to even get started.
Employers Aren’t Offering the Right Incentives
It’s not uncommon to hear employers voice frustration about their inability to hire enough plumbers and support staff to run their business. Some employers, however, lack the incentives workers are looking for, including higher salaries, paid training and apprenticeship opportunities, performance bonuses, fun and fulfilling workplace cultures, and flexible schedules.
How the Plumber Shortage Is Hurting the Construction Industry and the Economy
A 2021 report from the Home Builders Institute found that there was a 55% shortage of plumbers available for work, and that trend has only continued into 2023. (3)
In fact, Plumbing Manufacturers International expects the shortage of plumbers in the U.S. to grow to 557,000, which will have a substantial impact not only on the construction industry, but also on the economy as a whole. (4)
Overcoming the Skilled Labor Shortage with Innovative Solutions
Rebounding from the plumber shortage will require action from both the government and private sectors. No single solution will completely fill the gap of skilled plumbers. But with a combination of efforts, more licensed plumbers may enter the job market.
Reframe Perceptions of the Plumbing Industry
A lesson learned from the Great Resignation of 2021 was that millennial and gen Z workers are seeking careers that deliver more job satisfaction and make them feel like they’re having a positive impact on the world. (5) Industry professionals can reframe perceptions of the plumbing industry by running marketing campaigns showcasing engagement and job satisfaction among employees. Additionally, showcasing the important role of skilled plumbers in providing communities with clean water can help bolster the industry's reputation.
Create Incentives to Attract a Broader Range of Laborers to the Industry
Historically, licensed plumbers have been predominantly male. Attracting more women to trade careers can help to expand the current workforce. The Labor Department is currently funding programs to attract more women to trade careers. Targeting individuals seeking mid-career transitions, as well as young workers graduating high school and looking for career opportunities, can also further grow the pool of skilled workers. (6)
Rally for More Federal and State Programs to Support Apprenticeships
While there are currently some states that offer tax credits and other financial incentives to plumbing businesses that hire and train apprentices, these programs could be expanded and supported on a federal level. Rallying local leaders and federal representatives to implement these programs can build financial support that allows businesses to better attract and train new employees.
Leverage New Technology to Streamline Operations
Technology is not likely to replace human talent in the plumbing industry anytime soon, but there are ways to use it to streamline how your company operates. For example, we help our partner companies implement the latest time-saving solutions, from field service management software to best-in-class predictive technology. Taking advantage of the latest technology can help your company run more efficiently and cope with workforce shortages.
Building People, Supporting Service
At P3 Services, we're committed to supporting the plumbing industry by providing the resources and talent companies need to reach the next level. Contact us today to learn how we can help your business or visit our website to learn more about the benefits of becoming a P3 partner.
- Business Wire, Plumbers in High Demand for 2023 Says Mr. Rooter Plumbing Survey, https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20230517005077/en/Plumbers-in-High-Demand-for-2023-Says-Mr.-Rooter-Plumbing-Survey
- Mary Yang, America Needs Carpenters and Plumbers, Gen Z Doesn’t Seem Interested, https://www.npr.org/2023/01/05/1142817339/america-needs-carpenters-and-plumbers-try-telling-that-to-gen-z
- The HBI Construction Labor Market Report, https://hbi.org/wp-content/uploads/HBI-Construction-Labor-Market-Report4.pdf
- Plumbing Manufacturing International, Plumber Shortage Costing Economy Billions of Dollars, https://issuu.com/pmi-news/docs/2022-august-ripple-effect/s/16499947
- Madison Hoff, The Labor Shortage May Have an Old Fashioned Solution: Carpenters, Electricians, and Other Trades Are Good Jobs That Make People Happy, https://www.businessinsider.com/labor-shortage-skilled-trades-carpenters-electricians-plumbers-angi-2021-9
- Beth DeCarbo, Why Is It So Hard to Get a Plumber to Even Call You Back?, https://www.wsj.com/articles/plumbers-contractors-demand-25ff0036?ns=prod/accounts-wsj