Many companies are recognized as “partners” with various industry associations, and undoubtedly their respective financial support in the way of dues or sponsorships is critical to the success of these organizations.

But truth be told, as we noted in our 2015 ASA Industry Partner update, writing the check is generally the easy part. Being a true partner means actually participating in activities or initiatives that lead to addressing common industry goals and concerns.

One critically important concern that has been getting a lot of industry attention lately is the decline in people entering the HVAC and plumbing trades. In fact, the number of people entering all facets of the trades is dwindling at an alarming rate. This is clearly an issue that cannot be addressed from the sidelines and industry leaders must step up to the plate to help drive increased respect for and awareness of the wonderful career opportunities that exist within this great industry of ours.

ASA noted in an April letter to Congress, “Nearly 70% of our industry’s current workforce is greater than the age of 35. Nearly 20% are nearing the retirement age, while just 2.6% are younger than the age of 22.” According to the release, these current trends will drive a noticeable shortage of workers in the age groups of 24 years old and younger and ages 25 to 44, the two age groups that will most affect the health of our industry over the next few decades.

Forward-thinking organizations such as the American Supply Association and a number of wholesale and contracting business owners are working together NOW to tackle this issue head on, before it reaches crisis level. They have come to realize that expounding the virtues of our industry across our own ranks has little impact and that the message must be delivered outside to lawmakers who can and will support the trades. Most recently, driving a renewed focus by lawmakers on the revitalization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act has been a key strategy for organizations such as the ASA and the Plumbing - Heating - Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC).

Industry organizations and progressive business owners have also recognized the importance of getting in front of our youth, who are now starting to set their career sights as early as grade school. Working with vocational clubs, guidance counselors and traditional vocational tech schools, industry leaders are reinvigorating interest in the trades as a viable and rewarding career path for the next generation.

ASA manufacturing partners also have a responsibility to help drive workforce growth in the trades. This is especially important to those of us dedicated to the wholesale industry, who work each day to develop quality products that are sold exclusively through wholesale businesses to contracting professionals. In addition to helping support our customer base, we, too, need future generations of skilled craftspeople to design and build our products.

Clearly, none of us living in and dedicated to the plumbing-heating-cooling-piping (PHCP) and industrial pipe-valve-fitting (PVF) industry are immune to the effects of a declining skilled workforce, but we will all be better off by addressing this challenge together. It will take time, energy and commitment, but the dividends of getting involved and taking action will be greater than those derived by the monetary investments we make toward our dues and sponsorships.