Maine facing shortage of plumbing, HVAC technicians

    One of the trade fields experiencing the biggest backlog for customers in Maine is plumbing, heating and cooling technicians. (WGME)

    PORTLAND (WGME) – One of the trade fields experiencing the biggest backlog for customers in Maine is plumbing, heating and cooling technicians.

    One program in high school, one in college; both have been bringing in new teachers to address a literal pipeline problem, people can't find a plumber.

    "Every place around here says, 'three or more weeks,' even if some of it is just basic plumbing jobs," P.A.T.H.S. Plumbing, HVAC Teacher Paul Chapin said.

    At the plumbing and HVAC program at Portland Arts and Technology High School, teacher Paul Chapin is hoping his training takes students to new heights in their careers.

    "There's just such a huge call for HVAC technicians; plumbers as well," Chapin said.

    The HVAC and plumbing fields are both dealing in energy, fluid movement and black iron pipe, but also needing training and certification in things like a scissor lift.

    "You never know what you're going to be doing,” Chapin said. “Every day is something different. I've seen parts of Portland where people have lived their whole lives that they will never see. I've been on rooftops on beautiful days. You walk up to a piece of equipment that didn't work when you got there and when you leave it's working. It's a good feeling."

    That tangible sense of accomplishment is one of the best parts of the job, Chapin says, which is why he was initially reluctant to leave the private sector to become a teacher.

    Chapin is only graduating 14 seniors in his 2-year program this year, and he says students from the 19 sending schools in southern Maine aren't always aware of the program.

    "Unfortunately, I think a good portion are getting pigeonholed off the course; they don't know what they don't know. So they don't know that this is a viable option," Chapin said.

    There’s good pay, and no debt from college. Still, students don't jump in assured they will end up working in the field.

    "My students have been telling me that this is a kind of backup plan to college," Chapin said.

    And more college programs are creating programs for students who may have that buyer's remorse, or can see it as an option right after high school.

    "Students were calling the admissions and they would say, 'Well, we don't have HVAC and we don't have plumbing,’” CMCC Dean of Academic Affairs Betsy Libby said.

    Central Maine Community College is adding a new HVAC-plumbing program this fall, and they too have recruited a passionate private sector contractor to build out their 2-story instruction space, Marc Gilbert says whomever teaches students there in the fall will prepare them to be intuitive investigators.

    "You open the door, click, you hear a little tick, 'Oh that steam radiator isn't working right. There's some condensate; oh, there's a little bubble coming through that hydronic heat,'" CMCC contractor Marc Gilbert said.

    And some at CMCC may still come from vocational schools.

    “I don't expect to come out of here professionals,” Chapin said. “I think a secondary school is a good way to go if you're not going to find an employer who is going to train you or more licensing and what not under you."

    CBS 13 reached out to several plumbing and HVAC consultants in southern Maine.

    We couldn't speak to any, they're way too busy, as Chapin says, three weeks booked with customers because they need more workers.

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