Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Plumbing Industry Leadership Coalition (PILC) meeting, which was held at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. While there was a lot of great discussion on a number of important issues, one topic really caught my interest, and that was workforce development in this post-pandemic era.

The conversation began by sharing ideas and strategies for how to get young people interested in a career in the plumbing industry. Then, talks began in earnest about post-COVID realities and how employees desire to work remotely — impossible for plumbers, but something many engineering firms, rep agencies, code bodies and other industry organizations have found some success in, at least in a hybrid model. For one thing, it allows employers to cast a wider net for talent as they are no longer limited to the small fish in the local pond.

However, one comment was made by one of the attendees that really stood out to me, and that was “millennials don’t have a work ethic.” Essentially, this gentleman came to that conclusion because “back in the old days,” employees would attend a conference or trade show all week, then come home and work the weekends to catch up on the work that was missed while out of the office. And in today’s world, nobody wants to work that much. Of course, I’m paraphrasing here, but that was the gist.

As a member of the millennial generation myself, I took a slight offense to that. First off, you should not generalize an entire generation by a stereotype — we’re not all the same. Secondly, why should millennials want to kill themselves by working seven days a week?

In today’s world, work-life balance is just as — if not more — important than pay. According to a 2022 Career Pulse Survey by FlexJobs, 63% of respondents said they would choose work-life balance over better pay.

Not to mention there have been numerous studies linked to why work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment, as it helps reduce stress, which, in turn, helps prevent burnout in the workplace. Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of physical health issues as well as depression, anxiety and insomnia. If you can’t do the math and see why this is bad news for employers, Harvard Business Review reported that the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in health care spending in the United States. Not to mention, lost time on the job due to medical issues.

ASPE Executive Director and CEO Billy Smith said during the PILC meeting that “there is a tremendous need for skilled engineers in the plumbing profession.”

Keeping that in mind, maybe it’s time for the plumbing industry to readjust (not lower) its expectations, as Kerry Stackpole, executive director and CEO of Plumbing Manufacturers International, suggested to the room.

If this industry wants to attract the next generation of best and brightest engineers, it must find a way to not only make the plumbing industry “sexy,” but also offer a better workplace model that supports employees not only in the workplace but also in their personal lives. If work is allowed to intrude on our family time, why shouldn’t family time be allowed to intrude (within reason) during working hours? The younger generation craves that flexibility.

But that’s just this millennial’s two cents.

Don’t miss our coverage of the PILC meeting in next month’s issue.