Recently, Chris Flaherty (@VietecHeating on Twitter) wrote a great and heartfelt article on LinkedIn regarding the skills shortage in the plumbing industry; it’s here.
My personal summary of its 2 root causes is thus:
– pay is so poor that people do not see it as attractive enough to enter
– entry training is so poor that good pay is difficult to justify. In other words, if we pay peanuts we get monkeys!
Whilst he is without doubt correct, ‘I’ feel that ‘trades’ have historically been an easy target for a, perhaps unconscious, media witch hunt that has had serious long term consequences.
In the late 90s & early 2000s we had a plethora of programmes dedicated to the unmasking of so called rogue traders. Actually, when you review the output, plumbers featured more than any other trade. One has to ask, does that mean that shysters are more likely to set themselves up as ‘plumbers’ than another trade, or is it more to do with media deadlines, ratings and the increasingly instantaneousness of life?
Personally, I feel it’s far more to do with filmmaker laziness than anything else. An electrician’s work is generally hidden. It is also more easily rectified even though its potential to kill is far higher than mistakes with water. The way electricity kills is silent, nothing rushes the way water does so it can be dramatically captured on film. Killing electricity travels at the speed of light so makes rubbish viewing! Builders take too long to do absolutely anything so filmmakers don’t want to hang around – time is money and lost ratings…
Blundering plumber burns down £5m mansion… (2010)
Plumbers can drain away £130 an hour (2005)
In addition, during this period there were also increasingly dishonest headlines bandied about by the likes of the Daily Mail & Daily Express quoting stratospheric levels of salary as some kind of norm; this of course simply reinforced perceived stereotype of plumbers as greedy, thieving and also incompetent.
What has this to do with Chris’ point? The fact is, we (the general public) are impacted by what we see, what we hear – even unconsciously. So, when it comes to our children making their choices as to which career to follow, are we really surprised that plumbing subsequently gets put to the back of the queue simply through mis-association and/or mis-understanding and/or mis-representation?
The truth of the matter is that all ‘trades’ are full to the gunnels of honest, decent, hard working and competent people. Just like every other walk of life, just like every other profession, there are the bad apples – let’s not talk about banking and finance, but somehow they escape association or denigration to the point where parentally we actively steer our kids away from association with it. Finance, the profession that does ‘real’ damage to people are always somehow cleansed or forgiven – perhaps it is through their wading through piles of money…
So, how can things change? How can we change public perceptions? How can we elevate the engineering profession of plumbing to where it belongs, as it already is in the rest of the developed world, to being revered, to being something to aspire to?
As Chris says, we need a plan? We need a strategy and we need to gather those with long term interests in our industry to get behind a low profile but concerted campaign to slowly and irrevocable lift the public’s perception of the ancient art and skill of plumbing.
What do you think? Please comment.