During the recent NETWORK 2019 50th anniversary celebration event in Washington, D.C., the American Supply Association went to the White House to sign the Pledge to America’s Workers initiative.

ASA pledged to train and educate 35,000 employees over the span of five years. This important initiative addresses the concern of ASA members regarding the huge gap in skilled workers in the PHCP-PVF industry.

“There is a critical need to hire and train qualified replacements throughout the supply chain,” ASA President Steve Cook (Northeastern Supply) said. “ASA is committed to the pledge and excited to participate. However, there still is more hard work to do.”

In fact, statistics show that for every five plumbers that retire, only one is being replaced. According to ASA’s 2015 labor study, the total workforce for the PHCP/PVF wholesale industry is estimated at 205,408 full-time and part-time employees and by 2020, 25% of the employees in the PHCP and PVF industries will have retired.

Beginning in 2018, ASA volunteer leaders met to discuss the future needs of the industry and the customers served. One outcome of the discussions is the strategic initiative – Project TALENT. The overarching goal of Project TALENT is to enable ASA members to attract workers.

The initiative has three key components: 1) Development of a media campaign to brand the PHCP and PVF industries as an industry of choice; 2) Development of a career portal where potential candidates can learn more about career opportunities in the industry and connect with ASA members looking for qualified candidates; and 3) Providing ASA members with a “career opportunity toolbox” that will help them market the industry and their companies and ultimately, attract qualified candidates.

The Pledge to America’s Workers stemmed from part of the National Council for the American Worker where the Trump administration is asking companies and trade groups throughout the country to sign the Pledge to America’s Workers — committing to expand programs that educate, train and reskill American workers from high-school age to near-retirement.

Since President Trump signed the Executive Order, more than 300 companies and organizations have signed the pledge, contributing to more than 14 million new education and training opportunities for American students and workers over the next five years.

ASA members were also on Capitol Hill advocating for legislation such as the Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act. This bill would extend Pell Grant funding to short, job-focused community college education and training, which means that Pell grants would now be available to students looking to go into the skilled trades. Also, the Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, promotes industry partnerships made up of local businesses and industry organizations, workforce boards, and education and training providers to support workforce training programs in targeted infrastructure industries.

ASA members didn’t stop there. ASA members also came together to advocate for CTE programs and apprenticeships in any upcoming infrastructure bill. Any investment to improve infrastructure systems could create millions of new jobs, requiring millions of skilled workers to fill them. ASA supports ensuring there is an educated and well-trained workforce to meet the demand. It is important that during this discussion that while there is a need for plumbing, heating, cooling and piping products for these projects, there also is a need for a workforce to manufacturer, distribute, sell, install and build these critical products, and this component must not be left out.

Together, with the Pledge to America’s Workers and this critical legislation, there can finally be a bridge to start addressing the skilled workers gap in our industry, ASA noted.