How North Bay building corporations try to recruit reluctant youthful staff

Garrett Anken enjoys his career and finds it rewarding. But he’s made decisions that many of his Gen Z peers haven’t.

Anken, 24, works as an apprentice plumber at Peterson Mechanical in Sonoma, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company that serves Napa, Marin, Solano and four other counties in the Bay Area.

“I enjoy being active and seeing something positive come out of it because essentially we’re helping (people),” Anken said. “If we go into hospitals and run water, gas or oxygen lines that people use, it’s helpful for them. So it’s almost like a reward at the end. I have a good feeling afterwards.”

But Anken’s interest in craft trades isn’t common today among either the blue-collar Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) or the younger end of Millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996.

The reasons seem to lie in a long-held stigma that white-collar jobs are preferable to blue-collar careers. That message is driven by a number of factors, including little promotion of craft careers; a lack of outreach opportunities for young workers who did not grow up in this environment; and parental pressure to get a four-year college degree.

“A lot of people go to four-year school and then go back into debt,” Anken said. “You earn money while you go to school and you get all the benefits.”

Anken is a member of UA Local 38 Plumbers, Steamfitters & HVAC/Refrigeration, which currently represents about 2,500 members in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, according to its website.

More money, more opportunities

The theory that chasing a college degree gives students a head start on entering the white-collar workforce better than manual workers isn’t necessarily true, a Sonoma County executive found out.

Amy Christopherson Bolton, President of Christopherson Builders, made $48,000 a year from her first job after graduating with a master’s degree in science. She thought that was a pretty good starting salary.

“People I knew who became plumbers and[other jobs]made $65,000 to $70,000 a year,” she said. “So all those years that I spent in school started at a much lower price.

“Another thing about the trades is that they offer a really nice kind of low-barrier entry way to become your own boss and start your own business,” added Bolton. “If you work in a typical white-collar job, starting your own business is this huge, scary, and expensive task.”

fruits of his labour

Zach Brandner, President and CEO of Peterson Mechanical, grew up in a largely family-run business and worked in the field from an early age before leaving to take the suit-and-tie route and become a mechanical engineer.

But life away from construction sites was not for him.

“From an architectural engineering perspective, you put these buildings and plans on paper and then you leave your office,” he said. “And you have no idea if they were built or what it looks like.”

Brandner returned to Peterson 15 years ago in an administrative role, which also required him to be out in the field at times.

“I wanted more interaction and I wanted to see the tangible results of my work,” he said.

Brandner took over as President and CEO last summer.

Although Brandner now runs the company, he still knows first-hand what is happening in the field and still visits construction sites. He said he feels most comfortable in the construction industry and its culture.

“I think it’s because I grew up in it,” he said. “It goes back to that family theme.”

Brandner sees little interest in manual trades among younger employees today if they did not grow up in this environment.

“It’s kind of been brewing for Millennials, and now it’s picking up again for Gen Z,” Brandner said. “It just seems to be overlooked. College is advertised just as well as where you go to make a living.”

Research Oriented Solutions

Peter Tateishi, CEO of the Sacramento-based, California arm of the Associated General Contractors advocacy group, is to find out why someone chooses a four-year college degree over a trade.

“What we see as the biggest obstacle for Gen Z is the influencers around them, which at this point means Millennials and Gen X,” Tateishi said, “and even Boomer parents who still think that a four.” -Year-end must be the direction for their children to lead healthy, sustainable lives.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button