HOW ONE COMPANY’S EFFORTS ARE HELPING TO CLOSE THE WAGE GAP AND BRING FRESH LIFE TO THE INDUSTRY
BY LISA KOPOCHINSKI
National Apprenticeship Week — held last November — is a big deal for the construction industry. Approaching its sixth year, this nationwide celebration gives businesses, communities and educators the opportunity to showcase their apprenticeship programs and apprentices while providing valuable information to career seekers.
TATRO, a Garden City, Kansas plumbing and HVAC company and AGC of Kansas member, with more than 60 years of experience, was especially happy that the week coincided with its recent apprentice graduates.
“This program is a great opportunity for workers to get a formalized education and develop their career, while also earning a full-time salary the entire time,” says TATRO President Justin Sanchez.
“Our goal is to continue training a new generation of plumbing and HVAC contractors that can improve the industry by implementing advanced training and practices by partnering with colleges and universities across Colorado and Kansas.”
Formed in 1952 in Garden City, Kansas, TATRO began as a residential plumbing company before expanding into commercial and industrial HVAC and plumbing construction projects.
Serving Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado, as well as a portion of the Oklahoma panhandle, TATRO has been involved in just about anything you can imagine when it comes to pre-construction, design, build and maintenance of some interesting projects over the years.
“Our job portfolio includes schools, residential and commercial builds, as well as more unique and interesting projects like expanding and upgrading the systems at the Garden City Zoo and the design and construction for the HVAC and water systems for a water park in the area,” explains Sanchez.
While the company ownership has changed over the years, its commitment to the community has not. TATRO has set itself apart from competitors by investing in the community in multiple ways.
“We are helping to build the future of the industry with our internship and apprenticeship programs, and sponsoring activities and events that connect us with our customers,” says Sanchez.
“Our leadership has deep experience in construction, engineering and design that involves new and emerging technology, as well as in the traditional elements of our trade with plumbing and HVAC systems.”
APPRENTICESHIP AND INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS
TATRO’s apprenticeship program dream began 10 years ago, but was placed fully into existence in 2015 with its first class starting in the fall of 2016. The company’s apprentice program is the only state-registered plumbing program west of Wichita. Once participants complete the program, they have the opportunity to test for their journeyman license in plumbing.
For the core of the apprenticeship program, TATRO partners with a local community college to provide the classroom hours required for the program over four years — at no cost to those enrolled in the program. The apprentices are employed full-time, including benefits with TATRO where they are paired with licensed plumbers for hands-on learning on active projects. They also attend classes at the college to meet requirements for their licensing. The company participates in two primary programs: apprenticeships and interns.
“Apprenticeships are full-time positions with the company that are ongoing during the licensing process,” explains Sanchez. “Internships are short-term and typically occur during the summer between college semesters. This program is a great opportunity for workers to get a formalized education and develop their career. Currently, we have 17 enrolled apprentices.”
TATRO began hosting interns in 2012. For its internship program, the company partners with local universities in Kansas and Colorado to train those seeking a bachelor’s degree or higher for a future in construction management, mechanical engineering, mechatronics, and technical programs, such as HVAC technicians or industrial maintenance.
“We believe in building future contractors and engineers by offering summer internships that provide students with more than just a way to satisfy course requirements and help break the mold of what people think of when it comes to plumbing and HVAC systems.” ~ Justin Sanchez
“Our interns have a chance to help develop projects that include pre-build planning and designing utilizing computer-aided design (CAD) programs, problem solving and more,” says Sanchez.
“We are really proud of the work we are doing with local universities to raise awareness of the advancements in construction management, engineering and other areas of focus that demonstrate what is possible in this field that demands technology advancements, environmental considerations, increasing intelligence and more. Interns are typically hired every summer between semesters.”
CHANGES OVER THE YEARS
Much has changed over the past decade or so in the construction industry, particularly with respect to technology advancements.
“Every area of our lives has driven the construction industry to push itself to get smarter,” says Sanchez.
“Not only are both apprentices and interns needing to be more tech savvy for what was once thought of as a simple trade, TATRO wants to stay at the head of that curve and remain leaders in this space.”
For example, in the last 10 to 20 years, Sanchez says the industry has gone from analog to digital in almost every way imaginable on a construction site.
“Pre-construction design and custom fabrication have been game changers for trouble shooting before a project even begins. There are significant environmental considerations that must be implemented and managed. Consumers are more aware than ever about water conservation and about being careful to keep winter heat spending in check. The list could go on and on. All of these small things add up to the fact that if TATRO doesn’t evolve along with these trends, we would not be able to provide services to the level we have committed to.”
Lastly, Sanchez says he cannot emphasize enough how important it is for TATRO to offer job opportunities to young people today, who are not automatically thinking of becoming a plumber or HVAC technician.
“These jobs — whether it’s the management and engineering side for the college grad, or the ones in the dirt implementing a complex system and trouble-shooting for a homeowner in crisis — this is a great career with a lot of benefits that reach multiple levels, including both community and individuals.”
As for what the near future holds, Sanchez says TATRO plans to continue its pursuit of young people to the trades through school career fairs starting at the elementary level and continuing to middle schools, as well as recruiting bright young people straight into its apprenticeship program upon graduation from high school. “We will continue working with local universities to strength student knowledge through working internships. This is critical for the success of young adults entering the workforce. We will also continue strategic growth through all of our business segments. This is not a shotgun approach of simply bidding more work, but rather working with those who we know and trust to expand our company. Bottom line: It’s all about relationships.”