Under 30 All-Stars | Contractor

Welcome once again to our Under 30 All-Stars, an annual feature we’ve been running for a few years now that showcases the younger generation just entering the trades.

Workforce development—getting enough trained people both to do the work you have and to enable your business to take on more work—always registers as a top concern on CONTRACTOR’s reader polls. Quality hires seem harder than ever to come by. Competition between competing shops in areas seeing a boom in construction can be fierce.

At the same time the older, experienced generation continues to retire (roughly 10,000 members of the Baby Boom generation retire every day). And every one of those old-timers that retires is not just one more set of hands you need to replace, it is a wealth of industry experience that will no longer be transmitted to that next generation.

Now, adding to all the old headaches comes COVID-19, making it even more difficult to find, recruit and train candidates. And I don’t just mean the hassles of training via Zoom or maintaining social distance on the job site. As the American economy emerges from the pandemic, is suddenly seems like employers everywhere are feeling the same workforce crunch that the skilled trades have been feeling for years.

Is it that unemployment benefits have been too high? Is it that that some members of the workforce (mainly women, but not only women) are still unwilling to have their kids go back to school and choose to remain at home? Is it simply that the re-opening economy has made it a “seller’s market” when it comes to labor?

I think all those factors come into play, but I also think there’s something more. I believe a lot of people in the American workforce have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to re-think their fundamental relationship to work.

For younger people, I think that means investing in valuable skills and certifications that won’t leave them with years of debt. Skills that will keep an employer from seeing them as replaceable or disposable. Skills that are portable, since they’re still of an age that wants to travel places and see some of the world. Skills that are about solving problems and making a difference in people’s lives. Skills that can result in building something tangible in which they can take real pride.

Come meet a few young people who are already ahead of the curve, and on their way to bright futures in the trades.

Geordan Meub, Shop Manager, Nelson Mechanical Design, Inc.

28 Years Old

Geordan Meub, Shop Manager.Geordan Meub, Shop Manager.Nelson Mechanical DesignMARTHA’S VINEYARD, MA — Raised in in Vermont, shortly after graduating high school, Geordan Meub decided to forego college and start immediately in the real world. “While the allure of college and education was interesting, and many of my friends were going, I found it hard to justify taking on so much debt and decide on a career when I was only 18,” says Meub.

Meub soon after moved from Vermont to Martha’s Vineyard with his brother to start anew. From that point, Geordan’s entire working career until about a year ago had been as a butcher. He started out as simple deli clerk, but working under a knowledgeable and skilled meat cutter, Geordan quickly assumed more responsibility. “While I enjoyed the work, it quickly became apparent that I needed a career path with a higher ceiling,” said Meub.

After weighing his options, Meub contacted David Sprague, co-owner of Nelson Mechanical Design, whom he knew outside of work, simply to ask what trade schools he would recommend.

“I was surprised and intrigued to find out that most of their employees were trained and brought up within the company. Knowing that, and seeing the success of the company from the outside, I couldn’t say no, and as cliche as it may sound, it was the best career decision I ever made,” says Meub.

Geordan now has control over his career path as far as gaining knowledge from the company and being proactive about obtaining certifications that will improve his skill set, the things that both owners Brian Nelson and David Sprague are passionate about, says Meub.

“My current role of shop manager allows me to be consistently ordering, receiving and stocking massive amounts of shop stock and job materials. Not having any background in tools and fittings, this exponentially accelerated my knowledge on parts and materials. This, combined with being in the field after my shop duties are fulfilled for the day, has been the most effective way I could have possibly started in the trades,” says Meub.

Recently completing his universal-type EPA training, Meub is currently finishing up his Hot Works and OSHA 10 certifications. Geordan’s plans for the future include obtaining, at the very least, his journeyman’s license in either sheet metal or plumbing. The company will abet any requests to sign up for, or pursue any of the courses, and course material needed.

“The next step in my training would be to move from my apprenticeship to a journeyman with the help of the company. This will include completing the first tiers of the course material and accruing any other certifications, whether they be state/federal required courses, or voluntary training courses, like Mitsubishi and any other companies that offer equipment and technology,” says Meub.

Meub says he would like to own his own business one day, yet there is a certain level of security working for a company like Nelson Mechanical Design that still makes it a lucrative career path without having to branch off on your own.

Moreover, while the clientele on the island can lend itself to achieving success through good work and reliability, the cost of property and other business expenses on the island are heightened and potentially cost-prohibitive—compared to just being on the mainland; it can be much more expensive to run day-to-day operations. Also, the requirement of having a Master Plumber’s license to own a business would require further education. But at 28, Meub has time to ponder that future scenario.

In conclusion, when Geordan was in high school, he thought to himself, “Trade school? No, that’s just for people aren’t smart enough to go to college.” The older Geordan gets, he now realizes, “Those people were the smartest ones in the room! I wish I could go back and do exactly that, attend a vocational school or tech program that many high schools, including mine, offered. Understanding that taking debt on through college isn’t always the best thing. Even with a college education, it can be years until you even start to make what you would make right out of trade school,” says Meub.

Jessica McCool, Apprentice Plumber, E.M. Duggan

26 Years Old

Jessica McCool, Apprentice PlumberJessica McCool, Apprentice PlumberE.M. DugganBOSTON, MA — Employed by E.M. Duggan since 2017, Jessica (Jessy) McCool is a plumber for Boston Local 12, and she also serves as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. After attending high school—in a plumbing shop—McCool joined the U.S. Army Reserves.

Until she applied to the union, her first job after high school was in residential plumbing. Being in the union is a brother/sisterhood that would become a very important part of her life, says McCool. “I finished my required schooling through Local 12 while working for E.M. Duggan, for which I still work today. I am very lucky to work for a company that has supported my plumbing career, as well as support of my military career, including my recent yearlong deployment to Afghanistan,” says McCool.

Growing up as the daughter of a union carpenter, Jessica always had respect for the trades. “I started plumbing in 2013 while attending a vocational high school. In 2014, I got my first co-op plumbing job, and in my senior year I was awarded the PHCC all-star at my school,” says McCool.

What does Jessica love most about her job? “Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is something I really enjoy, and I love a challenge. Plumbing is not a skill everyone has, and no matter how long you’ve been in the trade, you can always learn something new,” says McCool.

Because of McCool’s military service and working three years without an apprentice card in high school, she has not had the opportunity to finish her required hours for the Massachusetts State Plumbing License. “Completing my hours is my immediate next step, and once I acquire my Journeyman’s and Master’s license, I would like to continue my welding classes,” says McCool.

Jessica keeps an open mind when it comes to her future. “I want to experience all levels of employment, and at this point, I’m taking one day at a time to see where this takes me. However, I look forward to climbing the ladder in this profession. Since I am very personable and hardworking, I believe I would excel in owning a business one day,” says McCool.

In the end, McCool says that promoting and supporting technical high schools is very important, especially with young women. “Although I had a good experience attending a technical high school, I didn’t feel it was totally equipped to make sure I was on the right track to achieving my license. I would love to see a mentorship program for young aspiring female plumbers,” says McCool.

Colton Findlay, Plumbing Foreman, TDIndustries

29 Years Old

Colton Findlay (left), Plumbing ForemanColton Findlay (left), Plumbing ForemanTDIndustriesFORT WORTH, TX — “Three things really appealed to me when considering my career in plumbing: job stability, diversification and, of course, money” says Colton Findlay. “School has never been my strong suit. So, when I learned of the potential to earn more than I could pursuing a traditional education, I jumped at the opportunity.

“The diversification of the plumbing trade is vast as well. With the many different certifications and choices to work between service, construction or residential, every day is something new and it isn’t easy for the job to become stale.

“Lastly, the need for plumbers is like the need for doctors: people always will need them. The job security and stability will always be there. Plus, I now have no more plumbing bills!

“Currently, I am a plumbing foreman at TDIndustries. I have been in the plumbing trade for eight years. I got my Journeyman license four years after starting, completed my med-gas endorsement six months later, and received my Master’s license shortly after my fifth year of plumbing.

“I like plumbing for many of the reasons mentioned above. There is something new every day and I can provide for my family without worry.

“In the future, I would like to have my backflow prevention license and am considering adding the Master med-gas endorsement to my license. For now, however, I would like to continue to grow as a leader and person. There are still many things to learn in the plumbing trade as new technologies, tools and applications appear.

“One day I may consider starting my own business, but right now, I am happy where I am and looking forward to growing my career with TDIndustries.”

Zach Janksy, Piping Foreman, TDIndustries

30 Years Old

Zach Janksy, Piping Foreman.Zach Janksy, Piping Foreman.TDIndustriesDALLAS, TX — “I have always been a hands-on learner and worker,” says Zach Janksy. “I did several semesters of college and did well for myself, but I quickly found that my interests were with blue-collar work. It’s what made me happy and I enjoyed most of the people who I worked with. They were the down-to-earth type of people with hardships much like my own and what I grew up knowing. I enjoyed working hard and going home knowing that I earned every penny that I was making.

“My current position at TDIndustries is piping foreman. It took me five years to reach my current position and I am still learning about the trade on a daily basis. I have always had an interest in welding, so that is what got me started in this particular trade. I learned the pipefitting part of it as the months and years went on. I love what I do because it takes a combination effort of smarts and strength to do it well.

“My plans for the future are to continue moving up with TD and keep teaching the up-and-coming Partners how to be extremely successful in our trade.

“The next step in my training is to get better at creating and maintaining trusting relationships with our customers and my partners. It is a trait I continuously strive for.

“I am not pursuing any more certifications at the moment. After I completed a welding course at CEF and participated in the ABC National competition, I decided to focus my efforts in the field and on the job. That includes learning the TD way and creating relationships with my crews, as well as trying to learn even more from the Partners who have done this longer than myself.

“I do not see myself starting my own business. TD has been a great company to work for since I was 21 years old and I fully plan on retiring from here.”

Omar Harris, Drain Cleaning Specialist, Broward County Facilities

(Actually 36 years old — but age is just a number, right? – Ed.)

Omar Harris (left), Drain Cleaning SpecialistOmar Harris (left), Drain Cleaning SpecialistBroward County FacilitiesBROWARD COUNTY, FL — Prior to working in the plumbing trade, Omar Harris was working HVAC, with a certification in fire inspection. Harris initially started out as an apprentice with a local union doing construction plumbing. He eventually left to go a private company that mainly did service and drain cleaning. For the past few years, Harris has worked as a plumber for Broward County Facilities as a plumber specializing in drain cleaning.

“I first got in the trade when I was expecting my second daughter several years ago. I was looking for something different to do and I knew I was handy. Prior to this, I was working in HVAC, and I just really wanted a change. I wanted it to be something that could provide for my growing family,” says Harris.

What does Harris love most about his job? The list is many, but he loves being able to able to solve problems. “When I show up to a customer’s home or to a jobsite and no one else is able to solve the issue but you, you almost feel like a super hero. Now that customer and/or business can resume their day-to-day life. This job is very rewarding and always keeps you on your toes,” says Harris.

Harris is continuously striving to learn more. He is currently pursing his EPA 608 Universal certification in HVAC. “I still like to keep up with all my certifications so that I am able to work in any of those fields. I feel plumbing and HVAC kind of go hand-in-hand,” says Harris.

What does the future hold for Harris? In the future, Harris would love to do a tour and get a chance to work with different plumbers from different areas. “Really learn from them and take the time to highlight some other aspects of plumbing. I think that would be a really awesome experience,” says Harris.

Advancing the Trades

When it comes to the skilled labor gap, Harris believes that we need to work on reaching the youth in high school, trying to show them the ropes from a young age so they can be taught at an earlier age.

“I myself didn’t get into the trade until later in life. Had someone talked to me or showed me the ropes sooner I would have been involved with plumbing from a young age. I really didn’t know what plumbing was until I had great mentors who showed me the ropes,” says Harris.

Also, Harris feels plumbing has somewhat of a bad reputation. “Most people turn their nose up when you tell them you are a plumber,” says Harris. “You can really provide for your family as a plumber, and if you love to solve problems and work with your hands, then this is a trade for you. If we were able to get great mentors to reach out to the youth to truly show all aspects of this trade, I feel it would change the industry. The youth have a way of being innovative. We can learn a lot from the youth, and they can learn a lot from us,” says Harris.

When asked about whether he’d like to own his own business one day, Harris was resolute. “I have no desire to start my own business. It’s a lot of work, and I have younger kids, and I want to be really involved in the things they do. If I started a business it would take up a lot of my time, and time is something you can never get back. I am fine with how I am able to create my own schedule, still have time for family and do the things I want. I really enjoy my life at the moment, and to add more to my plate would create stress I don’t need or want in my life,” says Harris.

Links to Share

If you know any young people—or, in fact, people of any age—who are looking for a career that lets them work with their hands, offers good pay from day one, and has almost unlimited opportunities for advancement and personal development, here are a few links to share:     

SkillsUSA https://www.skillsusa.org/

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. Skills USA provides educational programs, events and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE) in the nation’s classrooms.      

Association for Career & Technical  Education (ACTE) https://www.acteonline.org/

ACTE’s mission is to provide educational leadership in developing a competitive workforce by empowering educators to deliver high quality CTE programs that ensure all students are positioned for career success     

Technology Student Association (TSA)  https://tsaweb.org/

The Technology Student Association (TSA) enhances personal development, leadership, and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), where members apply and integrate these concepts through intracurricular activities, competitions, and related programs.      

National Career Pathways Network (NCPN) http://www.ncpn.info/

The National Career Pathways Network (NCPN) is a membership organization dedicated to the advancement of Career Pathways, career technical education (CTE), and workforce development initiatives. NCPN’s membership encompasses secondary and postsecondary education, adult education, workforce development, economic development, workforce investment boards, correctional education, community-based organizations, and employers.      

American  Technical Education Association (postsecondary) (ATEA) https://ateaonline.org/     

ATEA is a premier association for the post -econdary technical educator, with emphasis on professional development.

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