I Was Born to Be a Plumber

Cornetta plumber
March 15, 2024
By Joe Cornetta

I’ve mentioned before how my grandfather began this journey back in 1946. The country was still recovering from the war, and thousands of veterans were returning home. Housing and building demands put the trades on warp speed. My grandfather stood 5’ 6” tall, established a business, and had the work ethic of 10 men. It’s hard to imagine starting a business in today’s web of regulations and rules; back then, it took a few bucks and hard work.

Let’s not overlook the hardships of our trade 75 years ago. Today’s young apprentices are unaware of how physically demanding this job was back then. No PVC, no AquaPEX or copper water pipe, no wall hung condensing boilers. The RIDGID 300 machine was a luxury no shop could afford. I had a taste of it as a young man, threading 2-inch galvanized pipe by hand for waste and vent piping. “Don’t use so much oil,” my dad would say.

So where am I going with this line of thought? I was born and bred to be in this trade and eventually control the path of our family tradition. Why would a young boy stay home on Saturday and watch cartoons when he could thread pipe and swing wrenches? It’s how we were taught back then. That’s how grandpa’s work ethic was handed down. If you were standing still in front of my grandfather for more than a minute, you’d better be in an elevator. Our multigenerational family business was no different than many others. Our forefathers were products of the Depression. My dad was the same way. Why sit down for a lunch break when you can work straight through?

A Delicate Balance

Through the years our family has hired and supervised hundreds of employees. Today, as in the past, all employees work side by side with family. It’s a delicate balance, having employees maintain a family standard and not feel micro-managed.

If I supervise a tech’s installation of sub-par workmanship, rather than degrade his work, I ask him to take pride. To be successful, a business owner must maintain a solid and trustworthy staff. Owners who are able to ensure that all staff meet the family business standards and take pride in their work are on the path to prosperity.

Every business owner must deal with employees who do just enough to get by. With the shortage of qualified help, we find ourselves with a few number nine hitters in our lineup. Decades ago, my dad would post an ad in the local newspaper and have dozens of applicants to choose from. Recruitment in today’s environment is challenging, to say the least. With a limit on how many apprentices my wife can give birth to, I’m forced to recruit.

Social media and recruitment sites have replaced local newspaper ads and Help Wanted signs in our store window. These sites do a nice job of vetting and sorting applicants. Business owners can post opportunities to join their teams on multiple sites and receive tips every day.

Business owners must also keep their employees happy, because those same sites may lead to techs leaving. Our shop has done well when it comes to attracting young apprentices and training them. The PHCC Academy® is a go-to source for online educational training, and young techs are excited to engage.

New Perspectives

The generation we are canvasing for employment is remarkably different from the past. The young men and women we interview today offer exciting perspectives on our trade. They have different views on how to work. They are more inclined to explore new methods of how to perform tasks easier. Techs in 2024 often research group chat sites for troubleshooting tips. Decades ago, we often changed parts until it worked. As a business owner, I need to entertain any new method simply because, quite often, it works.

Today’s techs also require more positive feedback and reassurance than I grew up with. If my dad said nothing after supervising my day’s work, that was a good thing.

As I wrap up this message, I remember one day I had my hands in my pockets and dad saw me idle. That evening mom asked what I did wrong at work. “Why? I asked. “We worked a typical 10-hour shift.” Dad, she explained, asked her to stitch close all my pants pockets. Today, when I see a young tech, hands in pockets, I chuckle and refrain from calling his mother.

PHCC—National Association President Joe Cornetta is co-owner of Cornetta Bros., Inc., a third-generation plumbing and heating business in Elmont, New York.

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