There’s a Skilled Trade Labor Shortage. Can We Fix It?

by Maggie Ginsberg

Back in Vinnie Sposari’s day, plumbing was considered a good, honest living. Before shop classes started disappearing from high schools and four-year college was championed as the only respectable career path, Sposari could put a classified ad in Sunday’s paper and have six or eight résumés on his desk by Monday. Good résumés, too. But those days have gone the way of print newspapers.

“Very, very rarely will you get a licensed, skilled plumber calling you,” says Sposari. He’s 55 now and spent his career rising up in the plumbing business. He started straight out of high school and soon founded Sposari Plumbing. In 1992, he bought into a plumbing franchise called Mr. Rooter to “learn the business side of things,” and today he owns Mr. Rooter territory throughout western Washington, covering 3.8 million people, with 65 employees and 30 trucks. He’s watched the skilled labor shortage coming for a long time, but it’s only the past few years that have started to really hurt.

“When the computer age hit, maybe 20, 25 years ago, all of a sudden it wasn’t sexy to be a tradesperson,” says Sposari. “But back then, there were people my age still in it. Now we’re seeing those people aging out, and there’s nobody to backfill them. That’s why we’re having such a crunch now.”

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