The Hippo


Jun 3, 2020








Russ Small the plumber. Photo by Ryan Lessard.

Be a Plumber
And 6 more careers with a big future

By Ryan Lessard

 Last week, the first cohort of about 50 students who were able to spend all four years of high school at the Manchester School of Technology graduated. The time they spent in school was largely characterized by the freedom they had to experiment with new ideas, tinker with various machines and tools, explore technical careers through job shadowing and complete projects that almost always resulted in the creation of something useful. In many ways, this is the opposite of the cookie-cutter classroom experience most of us are accustomed to — shackled to a desk, nose in a book, hands used for writing and little else. 

Recent graduate Anthony Mulone used to tag along with his mechanic dad when he worked, and by eighth grade he knew what he wanted and what he didn’t want.
“I see how packed the schools are and I wasn’t going to be comfortable in that tight of a space. I never really liked sitting at a desk,” Mulone said.
He, like many of the students at MST, described himself as “hands-on,” someone whose learning styles are better suited to the project-based curriculum the school provides.
“It’s really brains-on,” said Dan Cassidy, who teaches manufacturing and welding at MST.
Cassidy says there’s been a cultural shift recently as more people start to recognize that these vocational programs really require a lot of technical know-how and math. Where once schools like MST were treated as de facto dumping grounds for unruly kids or students who were failing academically, today they’re a haven for a different kind of nerd who likes to create things and wants to use their knowledge for something they can connect to the real world.
“My first year here was very interesting. There were some hard-core kids with a lot of drug problems,” Cassidy said. 
But this new batch of kids is a breed of capable workers who will be equipped to not only fill some desperately needed holes in the job market, but make a decent income in the process.
Unfortunately, there was a period of time when we stopped producing that kind of workforce, according to Cassidy.
“There’s a generation that was not trained [in the hands-on trades],” Cassidy said.
In the dawn of the internet age, students were encouraged to join fields like IT; as a result, we failed to train enough plumbers, mechanics and manufacturers. 
And as women have seen their career options open up in recent decades, roles traditionally filled by them, like nurses and teachers, have seen their numbers begin to dwindle. 
Even bakers are struggling to hire help.
In New Hampshire, these job holes are expected to widen in the next several years due partly to industry growth but mostly because of imminent baby boomer retirements and a loss of new workers to neighboring states that offer better pay.
Here’s a look at some of the jobs the Granite State expects will have an increased need for workers, what the work is like and how to enter these fields.
When Russ Small of Chester was in his 20s, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. After he got out of basic training for the National Guard, his buddy got him a job as a loader at a shipping dock for True Value. He would load trucks every day, making about $16 an hour. After about eight years, he knew it was a dead end.
“Me and my buddy were like, ‘We’re better than this.’ I wanted more for myself,” Small said.
Thinking he would become an electrician, he enrolled at a community college and became an HVAC mechanic. Soon after, he took plumbing classes and added that to his repertoire by the time he was 26.
Today he’s 39, and he’s considered to be among the youngest plumbers in New Hampshire. He recalls sitting in a room of 30 plumbers brushing up on the state code to renew their licenses last year. Only one guy was younger than him, in his 30s. The rest were in their 50s.
“Our apprenticeship program been basically the same in the last 40 years. It hasn’t changed and we have to upgrade it,” said Bill Trombly Jr., the president of Bill Trombly Plumbing, Heating and Cooling.
Trombly, who is also the current chairman of the state’s mechanical licensing board, sees the issue on many levels. As an employer himself, he struggles to find plumbers.
“For my company, I’ve been looking for a licensed plumber probably for … a month,” Trombly said.
As someone who sees the need for educating new plumbers, he’s seen high school programs shrink and disappear. And as chair of the licensing board, he sees barriers for people who might be interested in the trade.
Since the apprenticeship program is designed for young people straight out of high school, the pay is prohibitively low for some people in the first few years. Small said you make about $12 an hour. And since employers can’t bill for their work, they’re limited by how many apprentices they can take on.
“In today’s society, you can’t afford to have two guys on the truck and only being paid for one,” Trombly said.
Also, the plumbing classes are required by state law to be four years, which scares off potential tradesmen and slows the production of new workers. Trombly said he’s working to change that to two or three years through new legislation and more effective curricula. 
“In another 10 years or so, if things don’t change, we could be in a crisis,” Trombly said.
While employers might be raising wages to attract workers, most have held the line on prices by finding efficiencies in vehicles and other areas. But that won’t last for long.
“I think prices are going to go up [because of] supply and demand,” said Dave Pelletier at the state’s plumber and steamfitter union.
He said they used to see about 100 applications for apprenticeships in a year, but this year they only had about 14.
There are currently about 460 plumbing apprentices in the state. Trombly said about 10 years ago he would have normally seen 1,000 apprentices.
There are now only about 3,000 licensed plumbers — “not a lot,” Trombly said.
“I think in the future there’s going to be more money to be made,” Pelletier said. “There’s going to be all these baby boomers that need work done on their homes, on their second homes, new buildings. And there just aren’t enough people around to do that work.”
To become a plumber one needs to get an apprenticeship either directly with an employer or through the union, which pairs you with a master plumber. You get licensed as an apprentice and get an apprentice card. During your roughly two-or-three-year apprenticeship, you must complete four years of training at one of the few state programs. There’s one at MST. Then you take an exam to get licensed by the state. 
Trombly says it costs about $1,500 to $2,000 a year for the plumber and gasfitter training. And he estimates plumbers make between about $60,000 and about $85,000 annually.
General repair & maintenance
Closely paired with plumbing and pipefitting, other fields of building repair are also in demand. 
Russ Small recently finished a bathroom remodel at a townhouse in Nashua. He says the project involved a lot of skills beyond plumbing.
“Most of my work is more carpentry than it is plumbing, I bet. Because once I throw the tub and the valve in, it’s the tile guys, then it’s the carpentry guys putting the vanity in, finish all the molding, putting the paint on the thing,” Small said. “If you’re a plumber, you’ve got to get into everything, electrical, carpentry … to a certain extent.”
Additional technical fields in need include regular building maintenance — which may not necessarily require licensing — for simpler repair projects, carpentry, electric repair, as well as air conditioning repair and installation. The latter is often abbreviated as HVAC, which stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
HVAC workers are in such high demand right now, companies are snatching them up after only one year of training in community college, assuming they finish eventually with night courses, according to Trombly. 
Manchester Community College is constructing a new building to expand its hugely popular HVAC program.
There’s also a four-year HVAC school offered by the state.
“You can get an HVAC degree for $1,200 … and you can get a job the next day making $60,000 to $100,000,” Trombly said.
General maintenance and repairmen were listed by the state’s labor projections to have the most job openings with high school level education or equivalent requirements; that’s 158 average annual openings from 2014 to 2024, according to New Hampshire Employment Security. If you add car and diesel engine mechanics, industrial mechanics, carpenters, HVAC workers, electricians, plumbers and steamfitters to that list, the number goes up to 496.
Electricians are facing the same flood of retirements the plumbers foresee. And like plumbers, they have to work hard to break into the field. A would-be electrician needs to compile 8,000 hours of apprentice work in order to become a journeyman and that usually takes about four years working full time. At the same time, they must take four years of electrical classes, about 600 hours. For those living too far to attend classes at Department of Education-run schools, online courses are available.
Community colleges such as MCC and Lakes Region Community College in Laconia offer an electrical associate degree as well, but while an associate degree is not required by the state to be licensed, the program fulfills the 600 hours needed in half the time.
The state also offers American Service Excellence certification for all kinds of car repair. There are 40 different tests you can take to get certified for things like collision repair, heavy truck repair and more. You must have work experience to start adding these credentials to your resume. But students can take a student ASE test without any work experience to get a good start in the career. The Environmental Protection Agency also requires anyone who works with or purchases refrigerants to take and pass an exam.
CNC Machinists
Dan Cassidy, the MST teacher, believes the middle class is built on manufacturing. 
The state projects the industry need for machinists to be the second highest after general repair and maintenance workers by 2024.
Mulone, the recent graduate of MST, said he’s already well into his first year at Nashua Community College taking a class called Advanced Manufacturing for Precision Machine Tools. He hopes to soon get a job at a place like GE in Hooksett where he can run a CNC (computer numerical control) mill, a sophisticated boxy machine that is programmed by its operator to automatically cut, drill and mold metal and plastic objects into specific parts needed in large supply for future complex assemblies.
While Cassidy came from a welding and mechanic background, he encourages his students to pursue machining because it pays well and the education is relatively cheap.
Two years at a community college costs about $12,000 and one can easily earn about $70,000 as a CNC operator. Cassidy knows a former student who is currently getting his master’s degree in engineering at the University of New Hampshire who is earning $40,000 just by working as a part-time machinist. 
And more money can be made by working your way up in a company to the point where you oversee a “cell” of machines and their operators.
The return on investment is high, and Cassidy said one big area of need isn’t at the top of the manufacturing food chain, but somewhere in the middle.
“I think the money to be made is between the ‘rocket scientists,’ the chief engineers, and the operators. Somebody who can communicate between these people who think … and these people who see what’s going on,” Cassidy said.
The most valuable employees for manufacturers, much like with plumbers, are those with know-how in a lot of different areas. 
“The important thing is they learn how to use basic hand tools, problem-solve, research and work in groups. That’s an employer’s dream,” Cassidy said.
He encourages students to pursue post-secondary education, but he thinks too many students aren’t getting into the machining field.
Cassidy said parents tend to push kids away from manufacturing because it’s viewed as menial labor for low pay. And he is all too familiar with the source of the stigma attached to manufacturing — memories of the turn-of-the-century mills, what he calls “true sweatshops.”
“My whole family came from the mills in Manchester. My grandfather ran the boiler room down there; my father was the greaser and greased machines all day,” Cassidy said.
But he said that’s no longer the reality. Conditions are much cleaner and more comfortable than they once were.
“In reality, somebody sooner or later has to make that table. Somebody sooner or later has to sew something together,” Cassidy said.
Nowadays, Cassidy is noticing more girls in his classroom, which may serve to bolster the workforce need in this area. Ironically, the movement away from the traditional division of labor between the sexes in America over the years has had the opposite effect in other fields, like teaching and nursing.
When Sue Lemire and her twin sister Simone were very young, they both knew what they wanted to do.
“My mother was a nurse and by the time [my sister and I] were in third grade we knew that’s what we were going to be doing,” Lemire said.
Lemire is a charge nurse, which is like a supervisor, at the cardiac unit of Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, and a baby boomer who plans on retiring soon.
“I don’t plan on going to 65. I plan on going two more years, [retiring when I’m] 62,” Lemire said. 
And she’s noticing other baby boomers in the field are probably going to retire early as well, due in part to the growing stress of the job and the demands on their time.
But Lemire still loves what she does. The New Hampshire native said it was a calling, and income was not a driving force.
“We certainly didn’t get paid a lot when we started, 37 years ago,” Lemire said.
But times have changed since then. 
CMC’s Director of Nursing Jennifer Torosian says a registered nurse in New Hampshire can make around $29 an hour. At 2,000 hours a year, that would equate to about $58,000.
The most recent wage survey by Employment Security pegs the starting rate at $24.43 and the mean wage at about $32.30.
Currently, CMC employs about 650 registered nurses with associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees and about 20 nurse practitioners with master’s degrees. And there are openings for about 20 full-time and part-time nursing positions that vary by specialty.
So, far the hospital is finding most of the nursing staff it needs by graduation season, but that’s not going to last for long as the state projects there will be 491 job openings for registered nurses between 2014 and 2024. About 60 percent of those openings are from “replacements” while the remaining ones are from growth in the healthcare industry.
“We face some challenges now,” Torosian said.
She said that even though the hospital partners with educational institutions in the state to provide scholarships, tuition reimbursement programs and bonus incentive programs, schools have a limited number of slots for nursing students.
“Five or six years ago… there used to be about 400 applicants; now they’re lucky if they have a dozen,” Lemire said. “There’s more leaving than coming in.”
As a labor statistic category, registered nurses constituted the greatest number of projected job openings in the state regardless of education level. One must at least have an associate’s degree to become an RN, but hospitals like CMC are pushing to get their nurses to obtain their bachelor’s degrees (BSN). That’s in order for the hospital to obtain Magnet status, a seal that requires a number of bars be reached in an effort to improve the quality of care, including that 80 percent of its bedside nursing staff be BSNs.
Lemire’s sister Simone hurt her back just two years into her nursing career and decided to become a nursing instructor at Manchester Community College. Despite the push for more BSNs, Lemire always relays what Simone tells her: Do community college first.
That’s because it’s far cheaper and you can start working two years in.
“The difference is you’re coming out with a $70,000 to $80,000 loan, versus $150,000 or $200,000. That’s the difference if you go to a community college,” Lemire said.
But there’s an unintended consequence of this push that may further hinder hospitals’ ability to fully staff their nursing shifts.
“Once you open the door for the BSN, they’re going for their master’s and becoming [physician assistants] or nurse practitioners,” Lemire said.
And that’s already starting to happen.
“We have several nurses now who are going back to become a nurse practitioner, so then we are not able to keep them in the pipeline,” Torosian said.
Once they become nurse practitioners, they are considered a type of “provider” in New Hampshire, and therefore get paid more with a less intensive workload. Their mean hourly wage is about $51.06, a 58-percent raise and a move into six-digit salaries. That makes for an attractive career move for anyone in the nursing field, but it also means fewer rank-and-file bedside nurses.
Still, the state has need for NPs as well. They top the list of job openings that require a master’s-level education (followed by occupational therapists and physician assistants), with 46 projected openings until 2024. But 60 percent of those openings are actually a result of industry growth and 30 percent due to replacements.
New Hampshire hospitals also have Massachusetts healthcare institutions to contend with. Hospitals in the Bay State can offer $35 per hour for someone who would earn about $29 per hour up here. 
Lemire said she hears from some newly minted nurses who live in Massachusetts and commute to New Hampshire to work, that the Massachusetts hospitals don’t want to hire anyone without at least a few years of work experience. So they get that experience up here and move back home when they can get a job that’s closer. Torosian estimates the turnover for new nurses is around one to five years, and this may be one of the contributing causes. 
The statewide turnover rate for registered nurses was nearly 14 percent in 2015, according to the New Hampshire Hospital Association.
Lemire said that with advances in medicine over the years, their jobs have only gotten more complex as new interventions are added to their toolkits and patients are staying alive longer than they used to.
“We’re getting lots of 98-year-olds, 99-year-olds and 100-year-olds on this floor,” Lemire said.
And the heroin epidemic in the Northeast has also changed the job in many ways. Lemire said fresh grads are in for a lot of heart-wrenching moments as they see the number of often young people — sometimes as young as 18 or 19 — coming in for opiate overdoses mount. And many of them don’t survive, Lemire adds. The 439 overdose deaths seen in New Hampshire last year belie the thousands of overdoses where first responders intervened with Narcan to bring the patients from the brink of death.
Lemire has also noticed more men graduating as nurses these days, but the field is still dominated by women.
There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the nursing and teaching professions. Both were traditionally female jobs that relied on a steady stream of workers who had few other choices only a few decades ago.
“When my mother graduated from high school, she had the choice of being a nurse, a teacher or a secretary. That was it,” said Scott McGilvray, the president of  NEA New Hampshire, the statewide teachers union.
He says about 70 to 75 percent of teachers today are female and, now that they have more options, fewer are getting into teaching.
“This is not a problem that was created overnight,” McGilvray said.
One potential barrier is that teachers are held to high standards of education and training. For example, they must take exams to show proficiency in the area they want to teach in and renew their certifications every three years, a process that requires them to have done 75 hours of professional development. 
This may seem burdensome to some folks considering teaching, but as with medical professionals, McGilvray says teachers must be held to high standards that shouldn’t be lowered just to fill the ranks quickly.
McGilvray thinks one thing keeping people from becoming teachers is bad PR. He says public schools get a bad rap from all the media coverage of school district budget woes and school board squabbling, but there are a lot of success stories in the schools that don’t get told. 
Meanwhile, some laws make the Granite State a less attractive place to teach, according to McGilvray, such as a five-year probationary period for new teachers. During that time, they can be terminated without just cause or an appeal process with hearings.
“No other state in the country has that many years of probation,” McGilvray said.
There are currently about 14,500 teachers in New Hampshire, and while enrollment is dropping due to aging demographics, retirements are increasing for the same reason. The greatest needs are in preschools, elementary schools and middle schools. Preschool teachers can get certified with an associate’s degree while the others require a bachelor’s. 
While the state projected teaching to be a favorable job market, it fell short of the most favorable category because of declining enrollment. Despite this, there are expected to be 154 elementary school teacher openings, 134 secondary school teacher openings and 99 preschool teacher openings, largely due to retirements.
There are also some critical shortages in special fields of teaching, especially in STEM.
“Are you gonna become a science teacher at Central High School or are you gonna go down to Dyn and work there?” McGilvary said.
Generally, with a bachelor’s degree and some training to get certified, one can become a teacher earning anywhere between roughly $33,000 and $73,000 per year, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education. The average annual salary for teachers at public schools was $56,616 in the 2015-2016 school year. The average starting pay was $36,149.
The pay largely varies by what part of the state you’re working in.
The comparison to nurses starts to break down when you look at professional development. While getting a master’s degree is usually a lucrative move for most nurses, it may actually hinder one’s ability to get a teaching job as many public school districts cannot afford to employ master’s-level teachers, according to McGilvray.
Becoming a teacher often starts in college but the amount of time would-be teachers spend in K-12 classrooms during their training has increased a great deal over the years.
“You used to just go through, do a few observations during your first three years and then for 12 to 16 weeks you student teach and then you’d be off,” McGilvray said.
Now, a student teacher starts spending time in schools doing a lot of in-depth work, like crafting curricula, during each semester.
Generally students take the Praxis 1 exam before finishing college. If they pass they can start student teaching, and ultimately they take the Praxis 2 and file paperwork with the DOE to get certified.
One wouldn’t think of bakers as being as much in demand as repairmen and nurses, but the state does project a number of job openings in this field. One reason is the category definition used to track the statistics is very broad. It includes the small mom-and-pop shops, plus grocery stores, restaurants and commercial production facilities. Restaurants, caterers and food manufacturers together make up half of the bakers in New Hampshire. 
The self-employed baker working in the little bakery around the corner is only a small piece of the pie — nearly 6 percent of the bakers in the state. But even those little guys are feeling the pressure caused by a crimped supply of new bakers.
For those looking to become artisan bakers, there are some college-level programs like the Bakery and Pastry Arts associate program at SNHU, which offers internships at restaurants and study abroad opportunities. Another route is apprenticeship under a local artisan baker.
The state lists bakers as only requiring a high school level education and folks like Franz Andlinger, the owner of Bread and Chocolate in Concord, are willing to take on apprentices without any baking knowledge. All that’s required is passion and a willingness to learn.
“There is a lot of interest and there are a lot of opportunities,” Andlinger said.
Some of the recent interest is coming from popular Food Network shows, but Andlinger says too often kids are given false expectations that they’ll become quick masters without putting in the blood, sweat and tears.
“The kids see those shows and they want to be the next Emeril. They want to be the next Bobby Flay, whoever,” Andlinger said. “Those are highly skilled people and you’re not going to break into something like that on a whim. It’s very highly competitive.” 
Andlinger is currently hiring an apprentice, but for the past two months or so he hasn’t gotten many bites. An artisan baker from Europe, Andlinger says he can make an apprentice into a baker in just one year, two at the most. During the apprenticeship, the student would be paid about minimum wage. After that, they would be paid between $10 and $12 per hour. His best employees he’d pay between $12 and $16. 
But there isn’t a steady supply of new apprentices and folks rarely stay more than a year. Many kids just need a summer job. In the 25 years he’s been in business, he’s only apprenticed about seven people. 
The real money for artisan bakers is when they become self-employed. Andlinger says when a qualified baker goes into business for himself, he can make anywhere between $75,000 and $250,000 per year — not bad for just a high school education. But if they want to scale up their business, they might be in for a rude awakening.
“I think it’s great that there is so much opportunity for people to open up their own places, but for somebody that is looking for additional people, [they’re] probably going to come to the realization that it’s not going to happen,” Andlinger said.
Some have turned to migrant workers to solve this problem.
“Some of the bigger bakeries, if they have bigger orders or the holidays are coming, they can just call up an organization and say, ‘I need 15 bakers for a couple weeks,’” Andlinger said.
Some large-scale bakery operations for retailed bread products in the area, like Rustic Crust in Pittsfield, also use foreign workers in the country with long-term work visas.
“We have folks from Indonesia, Nepal, we have a few Hispanic folks,” said Rustic Crust CEO Brad Sterl.
He estimates around 20 to 25 percent of his workforce is visa workers. Sterl’s company has grown in leaps and bounds in only a few short years, but he’d grow faster if it weren’t so hard to find commercial bakery workers.
“We don’t see it getting any easier,” Sterl said.
In 2005, he had 12 employees. Since then Rustic Crust has grown about 30 to 40 percent each year. Sterl says he had about 100 employees in 2014 and just two short years later he’s up to about 170. He estimates about 135 of those are directly involved in the baking.
“When your business is growing at that pace, getting the new people to do the jobs … that’s the task,” Sterl said.
The state only projects 16 job openings for bakers from 2014 to 2024, but since Sterl has 15 unfilled positions right now and wants to reach 200 employees by this time next year, that might be understating things.
Every company needs people to crunch the numbers to make sure they are keeping track of money going out and coming in. They need them to help with taxes. And occasionally the most advanced accountants are needed to look at a company’s numbers to give an outside perspective, an in-depth review and an opinion on how well the numbers can be trusted.
To be an accountant, one must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in accounting. A number of local programs exist at UNH and SNHU. 
From there, folks can start working as accounting clerks. Alison Perrella, a co-managing partner at Howe, Riley & Howe, says starting pay for entry-level clerks is usually around $20 per hour. 
But the possibilities for higher salaries are seemingly endless as the state and nation are facing a massive shortage of accountants.
Perrella, who started accounting in the mid-1980s, remembers when the opposite was true.
“In our day, there was a huge competition amongst employees to get jobs. There were more of us boomers out there than there were jobs,” Perrella said.
But the industry is desperate for new blood now, and that means higher pay.
“We bend over backward to try to attract and retain and recruit people,” Perrella said. “Everyone is paying more than they should or could just to recruit and retain candidates.”
In New Hampshire the average yearly pay for accountants was about $68,000 annually in 2015 according to NHES. Experienced accountants earn up to $78,000. 
For the really advanced accountants known as Certified Public Accountants, such as Perrella, pay is a closely guarded number so firms they compete with don’t catch wind of it and scoop up all the new grads.
“Literally, it is that competitive to get candidates to come work for you,” Perrella said.
With a bachelor’s degree, you can work your way up in a company to the position of controller (manager of accounting department) or chief financial officer if you are part of a startup.
CPAs work in public accounting firms as independent auditors who can opine on another company’s spreadsheets or help companies with their taxes as consultants.
But to be a CPA requires accountants to get a master’s degree. Then, after a few years working in a public accounting firm and training for the CPA exam, they take the test to become certified with the state. Then it takes 40 hours of training each year to keep the license.
Perrella said firms in New Hampshire are finding that even if they can grab the new grads as they walk off the proverbial graduation stage, the recruits don’t often stick around.
“A year or two or three in, after the training, they find either sitting and taking the CPA is difficult … or they end up finding that they want to be with their friends in a more urban area,” Perrella said.
While the shortage is nationwide, this phenomenon may be worse in New Hampshire because accountants are finding slightly better pay in Boston, young people enjoy urban areas more, and places to the south offer a cheaper cost of living and warmer climates.
So, even if they don’t become CPAs, they can earn more money and buy more with it in other places. Plus, CPA work gets very busy during tax season — you are required to work six-day weeks for three months of the year — and some may see that as a barrier to a good work-life balance.
But sticking with it can have sizeable returns in the long term. According to the 2016 Robert Half Salary Guide, experienced CPAs with management roles in small or midsized firms can easily earn six-digit salaries, from $108,000 to as much as $172,000. Large firms pay up to $200,000 for a managing partner. 

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