When Anja Smith and the rest of the team at All Clear Plumbing started their apprenticeship program five years ago, they weren’t necessarily looking to go out of their way to help people uplift themselves and create new careers.
Sure, that was a bonus, but at the end of the day, they had a business to run.
“And we recognized that recruiting talent was going to be maybe the biggest growth challenge,” said Smith, who serves as managing partner for All Clear Plumbing. “So the question was: How do we address that?”
Smith acknowledges that plumbing hasn’t had the most glamorous reputation over the years, but when it comes to job security, good pay and quality of life, she said she’s hard-pressed to find another career that can match it.
“You look at what was perpetuated in pop culture back in the ’80s and ’90s, which glamorized wearing a suit to work and having a corner office, with that being the end-all be-all of what it means to be successful,” Smith said. “Cut to today, and I think people are realizing that sitting behind a desk all day… well, it kind of sucks, doesn’t it?”
COVID-19 has only sped up what Smith and others see as a cultural shift away from society at large’s emphasis on the necessity of a traditional four-year college degree, instead looking at trade programs to launch careers in construction, manufacturing or other skilled labor roles — plumbing included.
“COVID-19 has proved that indoor plumbing is going to be one of the last vestiges of society, barring a zombie apocalypse,” she said. “We are the definition of an essential service. If you don’t believe me, try going without a functioning toilet for a week.”
The apprenticeship program Smith and her team created is among a growing number of trade apprentice programs in the Upstate that allow job applicants to enter a field with virtually no skills and get paid as they learn. All Clear Plumbing’s program, for example, allows applicants to start making $12 an hour as a “pre-apprentice” during initial training, which is then quickly bumped up to $15 an hour once they become apprentices, eventually increasing to a guaranteed minimum of $21 an hour once the applicant gets a plumbing license.
“Most plumbers who go through the program end up at $25 to $30 an hour, depending on skill level and what level of responsibility they have on the team,” Smith said.
Those wishing for a more immediate return would do well to consider one of Greenville Technical College’s many certificate programs, according to Jennifer Moorefield, associate vice president of the technical school.
“These are our ‘quick jobs,’ which means the training is 90 days or fewer, and one of the hottest right now is our forklift training,” Moorefield said. Through that program, an individual can take a three-day forklift training course, get a certificate and immediately find a high-demand job that pays anywhere from $18 to $25 an hour, she said.
Looking to start an apprenticeship program?
On the business side, Smith recommends all companies, no matter their size, look into creating their own apprentice programs to alleviate recruiting shortages. For help with the paperwork, All Clear Plumbing reached out to Apprenticeship Carolina, a nonprofit that has helped create 1,075 apprenticeship programs and 238 youth apprenticeships programs at companies across the Carolinas, with nearly 35,000 total apprentices.
“They basically did all the heavy lifting on the paperwork side,” Smith said. “If you’re facing talent shortages, it’s not just a solution for large businesses only. The administrative burden is not nearly as bad as people think.”
Want to become an apprentice?
For high school students wanting to eschew the traditional four-year college, Moorefield recommends a dual-enrolled program to receive college credits at Greenville Technical College while working part time to get real-world experience in a skilled trade, most prominently in manufacturing.
“Then when they graduate high school, they can immediately find gainful employment in a high-paying capacity,” Moorefield said.
For those wanting to switch careers and enter into a trade program — and especially those whose careers were affected by the pandemic — Moorefield recommends visiting Greenville Tech’s “Quick Jobs with a Future” page. There, one can find 90-days-or-fewer certificate programs in the fields of health care; environmental and occupational health and safety; industrial, manufacturing and trades; personal and professional enrichment; and culinary training for industry.