ECTC plumbing, pipefitting students

Daniel Dye / The Herald

David Railey, left, Kevin Chavez and Wildermen Javier work in the plumbing and pipefitting class instructed by James Broadway at Elmore County Technical Center.

According to recent data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is projected to grow 14% from 2018 to 2028 — much faster than the average for all occupations. 

New construction and building maintenance and repair is expected to increase demand for these workers, and overall job opportunities are expected to be good.

Elmore County Technical Center (ECTC), in conjunction with Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association and several plumbing businesses, recently partnered to create one of four plumbing and pipefitting programs at the high school level in Alabama.

“Plumbing has always been a community college course,” instructor James Broadway said. “The Greater Montgomery Home Builders Association got together with some business owners and they saw the need to get younger people into plumbing.”

The program at ECTC is in its third year. It was one of three plumbing programs in the entire state at the time when began.

“Right now we have about 30 students,” Broadway said. “We try to get them in here when they are in the 10th grade so we can get three years with them. Plumbing is a licensed trade so you have to have a certificate to go out and work as a licensed plumber.”

When students enter the program in their 10th grade year of school and complete three years of classes then they are eligible to test for a journeyman license.

“The requirement for that license is three years under a journeyman or master plumber,” Broadway said. “Then they can take the program here and then take the written test to get their journeyman license.”

Classes at ECTC are free, other than minimal class fees, whereas a student going into community college for plumbing and pipefitting will typically have to pay for classes.

“Having that journeyman increases the pay,” he said. “A person can go to work with no experience and earn $10 an hour. Coming out of this school, they start out at $14 to $15 an hour.”

According to Broadway, who is a master plumber with 35 years of experience in the field, several students receive jobs from reputable companies every year come graduation time.

“I had five students last year who are actually working in the plumbing field today,” he said. “We have companies that come here and see the students perform and take their applications. When those students graduate they get job offers. Some of those students had no knowledge of plumbing when they came into my class. They just fell in love with the work.”

Holtville High School student David Railey is one student who has a natural talent for plumbing and is already working in the field. He expects to go to work full time when he graduates.

“I enjoy doing this,” Railey said. “I have done this work for a little over a year now. Everything we’ve done here will help me when I get a job.”

While the program is very much a hands-on proposition, Broadway teaches students soft skills.

“The best plumber at a company is not always the best employee,” he said. “The best employees get further than the best plumbers do. My goal here is to get them ready for plumbing and the job force. Getting them to understand if you’re a hard worker, a type of person who can do the basics like come to work every day, put the cell phone down, be drug-free, communicate well and you’re open to change, you can do well in the construction trade or any job.”