top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Joe the Plumber is retiring: Will Gen Z train for trades jobs?

Plumbers are retiring faster than apprentices are joining the trade, reports Salena Zito in the Washington Examiner. Builders report they can barely find half the plumbers they need for construction. One analysis estimates the industry will be short 550,000 plumbers within three years.

The "college for all" push closed shop classes, says Ed Bigley, the business manager for the Pittsburgh Plumbers Union Local 27, told Zito. Students with analytical and problem-solving were told to go to college.

"Plumbing is not just fixing a leaking pipe or replacing a rusting one or unclogging roots in a line for a toilet,” Bigley said. The shortage of plumbers "impacts the construction of new offices, hospitals, manufacturing plants, grocery stores, sort of all of the things that are part of everyone’s everyday life,” he said.

In addition to talking to high school students at job fairs about its apprenticeship program, Local 27 tries to attract young people online. Bigley hopes the rising cost of college will persuade more young people to consider alternatives. However, the number of apprentice plumbers can't keep up with retirements.

“A licensed plumber is the one trade that stands between you and safe drinking water; the work we do cuts down on disease,” Bigley said. “My industry’s challenge is getting across to both educators and young people in a meaningful way to tell them just how rewarding a career as a plumber can be.”

Young people see the plumber's trade as dirty and arduous, writes Bloomberg's Enda Curran.

When Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland offered a pre-apprenticeship course for future plumbers, there was room for 18 students, but only three applied.

Jean Bosco Nshimiyimana, 34, signed up because he worries about automation. “There are lots of robots” in welding, he says. “I didn’t see any plumbing being done by robots." (The name is Rwandan.)

Pay ranges from $43,000 for a plumber in North Carolina to almost $100,00 in San Jose, she writes. The national average is around $60,000.

Many of the new apprenticeship programs being touted offer training in new fields: Cybersecurity is seen as sexier than plumbing.

505 views3 comments


Apr 09

Various trade unions run advertisements on the radio in the DMV encouraging a career as a union trades person. The ads emphasise the benefits of being a union trades person, especially the health care benefits.


JK Brown
JK Brown
Apr 03

Peter Zeihan makes a good point in this video. The men of the 1970s flooded the trades as they were tossed out of the factories as they move offshore. So by 1980, going into the trades weren't a good bet for the late Boomer, Gen X, etc. So kids were pushed to go to college due to the over abundance of blue collar workers, which drove down the wages. Now we have an over abundance of college graduates, but most have no economically useful skills and disdain the idea of becoming a plumber after going to college. And the men of the 1970s are now in their 70s so there a need for those with useful skills.

The individual who…


Apr 03

Several home service companies (HVAC, plumbing, electrical) here in San Antonio advertise PAID apprenticeship programs for new hires. And they can't fill all their vacancies!

bottom of page