In the late 1970s, Steve’s Plumbing was born.
Its roots lie in a local plumbing company that provided the plumbing for many of Philadelphia’s most prestigious houses.
But in the years since Steve’s first apprenticeship in 1976, the plumbing business has been in decline.
In 2000, the company was sold to a company called W.L. Haines.
That’s when Steve and his wife moved to Philadelphia, where he started a plumbing consulting company.
It’s where he met his first wife, Linda.
After the divorce, Linda joined the company as a full-time member, and she became Steve’s vice president.
Now Linda works for Steve’s in the Philadelphia area.
The couple has three sons.
For years, Linda and Steve’s plumbing business kept Steve busy by serving as a go-between for clients who wanted to buy plumbing equipment or repair parts.
But those days are long gone.
Today, the industry is facing competition from the growing use of automated plumbing, which makes it easy for consumers to find and buy plumbing products online.
And with automation comes a new generation of apprentices.
One in five apprentices today is under 30.
This means that many of them may never have seen a real plumbing apprenticeships.
In addition, many of the skills they need to make a career in the industry are lacking, says Steve’s former apprentice, Andrew, who has since retired.
“There’s nothing in plumbing education that I’m aware of that’s geared towards someone like me,” he says.
“So I think it’s important for me to be out there to educate as many people as possible, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to do that.”
With its focus on teaching apprentices the skills needed to be successful, the profession of plumbing has also come under increasing scrutiny over the years.
“I think people are aware of it, but I think that the profession has also been under the radar for a long time,” says Andrew.
“It’s a bit like a circus.
It was never really thought of as a profession, it was just a circus.”
Today, apprenticeships are becoming more prevalent, but the education process remains the same.
“When I first started, the apprenticeship was a lot more specialized,” says Steve.
“You had to go to a school that specialized in what you needed to know, but with the technology, it’s no longer necessary.”
As apprenticeship programs grow, they’re also becoming more competitive with other professions.
“They’re not the only profession where you’re competing with the big boys,” says Linda.
“The big guys are the plumbing guys, the contractors, and the plumbers.
And those are the guys that are going to be in charge of the industry.”
A lot of people in the field say that’s a good thing.
“People need to be able to compete and have their work reviewed,” says Liz, a former apprentice.
“That way they can get the best experience possible, so that they can be better at their jobs.”
Linda says that while the apprenticeships have been good, the current system isn’t working for them.
“Because I’m in the apprentices program, I’m able to see what’s going on, and it’s not like there’s any real education going on,” she says.
Liz says she can’t afford to hire a professional plumber.
“We need to hire someone who is a good plumber, because that’s what the industry needs,” she explains.
In the meantime, Linda says she’s always looking for ways to give back to the community.
She has launched a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities and is currently working on a national program to help people with mental health issues.
“If I have the money I need, I could definitely do more to make it better for the people that need it most,” she admits.
“But for now, I just have to go back to my life as a plumber.”