Beyond Education: The Skills You Need to Succeed Can’t be Learned in Trades School

Editorial – L. Fuller

A Red Seal Journeyman Plumber Explains the Two Most Important Traits You Need for Success in the Trades Today.
I’d been considering starting my own business for a while.

I have plenty of experience working for property management companies and condo boards, as well as doing health and safety for mostly residential construction companies here in Edmonton, but its been a few years since I’ve been involved with the trades and a lot changes in a little bit of time. People change companies or retire, companies themselves get sold, or fold, or grow too big for your hiring needs, or you just end up losing precious contact information when your phone gets run over by the Foreman’s truck at a job site. So when I set out to put together an updated list of Contractors, I realized there were some industries I’d have to start from scratch with.

At the end of March this year I attended my first Chambers of Commerce networking event. The event cost $9 and was open to members and non-members of the Chambers. I won’t get into what the Chambers of Commerce is or does in this article but if you’re interested in learning more you can click here to learn more (Alberta Chambers of Commerce) and search for the Chambers of Commerce in your area. All around I had a positive experience and collected many business cards that now sit on my desk waiting to used when the need arises. One of those business cards was for a plumbing company though, and since I no longer had a reliable plumbing contact I decided to call the company and see what they were all about.

What Joey looks for in new hires

The company owner did not want to be named in this article. He was going through a restructuring process and passed on being referenced, so for the ease of reading allow me to refer to him as him Joey.

Joey’s company specializes in service, repairs, and residential plumbing but he stressed the importance of continual learning. He acknowledged that there are areas he would like to see his company lean heavier into such as boiler systems and HVAC and that he was currently seeking more training for this. It was refreshing not to feel like I was being pitched to. He was honest about what he could do, and acknowledged that he had more to learn even though he’d been plumbing for more than 20 years. He stated that this is something he looks for in new workers as well.  Coming to work day in and day out without goals or the desire to do better, know more, and be more is not the type of worker he hires. Joey said that he’d come across plenty of workers who you could tell ‘didn’t want to be there’. His advice for these workers was to move on and let someone else have a chance at the job. These workers don’t tend to last long anyways because when the seasonal layoffs start these are often the first ones on the chopping block.

I asked Joey what he specifically looks for when hiring a new worker for his plumbing outfit. He told me that the two most important aspects he looks for when hiring, is someone who is true to their word and someone who follows the Golden Rule, which if you’re unfamiliar with is summed up by ‘treat others the way you want to be treated’. I was initially surprised by this and had expected to hear something more to do with training and certification, but he stressed that nothing is more important than a supportive and positive attitude at work. Good work and quality finishes takes time and finesse. School and work experience go hand in hand in giving a worker the actual ability to do a job and over time, learn to do it right. With enough practice people can usually better the skills they’ve studied in trades school. What is much harder to learn and to refine are skills like conflict resolution, taking constructive criticism, and caring enough about the project you’re working on to give it your best from beginning to end.

The old way is out

Like many of us Joey has worked for companies in the past where he would hear others regularly badmouth or belittle their teammates. Some people would comment about how another worker was too slow or make fun of someone for being overweight or even gay. This type of behaviour is quickly falling out of the realm of acceptable, and even 20 years ago Joey recognized that this toxicity had the potential to impact him further than just in the workplace. Associating yourself with those who lack the skill set to consider other people and their feelings or run their mouth without giving a thought to the content of their words hurts everyone in the long run. Eventually you say the wrong thing to the wrong person and it catches up with you. Wanting to surround himself with a good, clean, and positive work environment was one of the reasons he decided to start his own plumbing company. And being true to your word and giving to others what you want to get back are his top two fundamentals when hiring. 

Employers know that work skills can be taught. Between schooling and mentorship programs, apprenticeships and work experience, skills come with time. But more and more employers are awarding good jobs to workers who have the skills that can’t be learned in school. Almost anyone can enroll in schooling. Most can complete the program. But not everyone will find work that they enjoy or co-workers they actually like and look up to. These jobs will be reserved for the leaders in their trade. The quality of your work and the extent of your schooling matter, but committing yourself to honing the skills mentioned above may be the difference between you being an employee for someone like Joey, or being his direct competition with your own successful business and awesome team of employees.