By Staff Writer, PHCC-National Association
After more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association (PHCC) reflects upon the many ways it helped members—our country’s essential workers—to protect public health, safety and the environment during the crisis.
National fear and chaos reinforced the need for the plumbing and HVACR industry to come together and maintain high standards. PHCC was there to guide the way.
When the World Health Organization declared the pandemic in early March 2020, PHCC took immediate action informing its members about coronavirus and its impact on their businesses, employees and customers.
Within the month, PHCC quickly assembled an online COVID-19 Resource Center featuring relevant resources that helped p-h-c contractors navigate the many unexpected changes they faced.
Drawing on a tradition of reliability and trust established in its 139-year history, PHCC swiftly mobilized to bring its members the resources they needed during the global health crisis.
Initial Outreach, Assistance
With a sudden shift to remote work for staff and a focus on safe operations in the headquarters building (“Safety for Staff and Community”), PHCC initiated frequent increased communication with members to inform them of the latest guidelines and help them protect their employees, customers and communities. All the while, PHCC’s volunteer leaders kept in touch via regular video and email updates to remind them of the many resources available and reinforce that the association was there to help. Early on, PHCC also identified and shared sources for hard-to-find Personal Protective Equipment, including face masks.
In addition, the association provided chapters and members with a customizable version of PHCC’s updated Crisis Action Plan and produced helpful boilerplate materials, including a customer safety flyer and sample messages to explain how PHCC members are adapting their service calls and office policies with safety as a top priority.
President Jonathan Moyer (2019-2020) and then President-elect Hunter Botto shared a special video message with members in April 2020, alerting them of the new online COVID-19 Resource Center and a new Contractors Talk online community. In addition, the leaders announced that the PHCC Disaster Recovery Fund was available to help anyone whose business suffered because of COVID-19 and that national dues would remain unchanged in 2021 in recognition of the struggles caused by the pandemic.
“As we experience challenges related to COVID-19, I want to make sure you know that PHCC is committed to providing the resources you need to get through this crisis,” President Moyer said.
Education, Training Go Virtual
As in-person meetings were canceled due to mandates limiting group gatherings, PHCC quickly adapted to find new ways to facilitate meetings through virtual components. Zoom technology was most commonly used.
The spring 2020 PHCC Board of Directors meeting, typically held in conjunction with the PHCC Legislative Conference, was converted to an online format. This first-ever virtual board meeting provided a forum for board members from across the country to address association and member needs.
Access to COVID Resources
PHCC transitioned its Resource Center to a COVID-19 Recovery Center in June as different parts of the country adopted a phased approach to economic and physical recovery. Many new resources were added, such as articles on how businesses reimaged their workspaces, member discounts and industry partner resources.
During the nation’s ongoing recovery efforts and changes in guidelines and protocols, PHCC members could count on this reliable, up-to-date online resource to keep informed on the latest developments affecting their businesses.
Live and On-Demand Webinars
PHCC also offered a COVID-19 Recovery Webinar Series for live and on-demand viewing. The free webinars were well attended and offered several solutions-based sessions from industry experts on topics like financial management, how to apply for federal loans and effective customer connections in the “New Normal.”
To ensure the content offered in the webinar series and other PHCC programs was timely and relevant, PHCC kept a pulse on contractor sentiments through ongoing impact surveys to determine challenge areas to address.
Virtual Workforce Development
For students already enrolled in the PHCC Educational Foundation’s plumbing and HVAC apprentice online courses, the pandemic caused no disruptions. They were joined online by those taking in-person apprentice training offered by PHCC chapters that needed an online option.
To promote the industry and attract the millions of newly unemployed looking for work, the Educational Foundation offered its Pre-Apprentice Training courses free of charge through the end of the year. More than 400 students enrolled.
For construction managers, the PHCC Educational Foundation partnered with Kirk Alter of Fast Management Inc. and Purdue University to host a weekly live discussion group. The free Survive and Thrive in Times of Crises series ran for 10 weeks from March through June 2020 with the goal of helping contractors stay ahead of the rapidly changing business environment.
When it became apparent that PHCC members would not be able to meet in person in Dallas for PHCCCONNECT2020, volunteer leaders and staff tapped into creativity, adaptability and connectivity to host a comprehensive online event – the first of its kind in the association’s history.
Harnessing the power of technology, the virtual annual convention provided a rewarding opportunity for p-h-c contractors, industry partners and PHCC’s affiliated groups to reconnect. Previous cloud technology investments by PHCC made this a smooth transition.
Industry forecasting, advice, best practices and tools from PHCCCONNECT2020 helped participants move their businesses forward during the challenging times. Four keynote sessions were offered, along with more than 20 education sessions. Afterward, registrants’ access to the virtual experience was extended with on-demand educational content.
Despite the cancellation of the live PHCCCONNECT2020 and other scheduled in-person events, PHCC negotiated for little to no financial penalties for the events that were postponed or canceled.
Pandemic Voice for the Contractor
With safety and shutdown measures in place in Washington beginning in spring 2020, PHCC had to swiftly adjust how it engaged with federal policymakers to ensure the p-h-c contractor’s voice was heard. PHCC’s staff of experts prepared numerous video messages, PowerPoint presentations and email communications to update members on important topics.
The PHCC Government Relations team effectively secured key legislation to help insulate p-h-c contractors from the harmful economic impact of the COVID pandemic.
The lobbyists worked at the federal and state levels to have plumbing and HVAC professionals classified as “essential infrastructure” workers and to remind lawmakers that PHCC members provide critical services to help combat the pandemic. PHCC created an ESSENTIAL graphic that members could post on social media, their websites, or in their offices to spread the word that they were open for business and could be counted on to follow proper health and safety protocols.
Interpreting Relief Packages
The team filtered through the maze of comprehensive relief packages and federal safety requirements to identify what members needed to know. In addition, staff met with the Department of Labor (DOL) to discuss registered apprenticeships, supervisor ratios and ways the DOL can help advance the p-h-c workforce.
As member contractors continued to face challenges in their businesses, PHCC undertook advocacy efforts to secure business-friendly legislation, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and subsequent extensions, which helped many business owners keep their companies afloat and their employees on the payroll.
More than 80 percent of PHCC contractors applied for or intended to apply for PPP assistance when it was available. The association also applied for and received a PPP loan that helped fund staff operations during the pandemic.
A year into the pandemic, PHCC made members aware of additional provisions of the American Rescue Plan that could impact p-h-c contractors. This $1.9 trillion COVID response bill provided additional emergency funding to state and local governments to fight the pandemic and mitigate its economic and public health consequences.
Currently, plans are underway for a June 15-16, 2021, PHCC virtual Legislative Conference. Due to the pandemic and security protocols in place on the U.S. Capitol grounds, the virtual event will provide a new opportunity for PHCC members to meet with legislators and their staffs via web conference. Key issues will include workforce training and apprenticeship; rebuilding and reinforcing America’s water infrastructure; and the importance of maintaining a diverse and cost-effective energy portfolio.
2020-2021 PHCC President Hunter Botto said PHCC never wavered during the pandemic, from promoting professionalism in our industry to protecting members’ best interests.
In a letter to members in January 2021, he wrote, “This past year is proof that we are stronger together. You are a part of a powerful and resilient association, a network of more than 3,300 contractors and state and local chapters that are here to help.”
A positive indicator that members recognized and appreciated this unwavering commitment came after PHCC completed its annual membership renewal campaign for 2021. The association realized an increase in both renewing members and new members.
Another encouraging sign — PHCC members responding to a spring 2021 Contractor Sentiment Survey indicated they were cautiously optimistic that we were turning a corner toward better times and noted that their businesses stabilized after several difficult months of disruption.
President Botto said he was grateful for the loyalty demonstrated by members throughout this crisis. “I’m thrilled to see the growth in membership when business owners are assessing the ROI on every expenditure. Now more than ever, they can see the value of supporting and engaging with their association.”
Pre-Pandemic Times or Better
After a challenging 2020, the plumbing-heating-cooling industry is gradually returning to pre-pandemic times. Predictions are that the economy will return to normal by fall 2021 … but not without its share of challenges.
As recovery efforts and the number of people vaccinated increase, PHCC Executive Vice President Michael Copp reflected on the last year: “Despite a pandemic, protests, plagues, unemployment, a recession, wildfires, hurricanes, and a presidential election, our association and our industry continued to demonstrate a resiliency and determination that, in a larger sense, defined this great nation.”
THANK YOU to our Valued Partners! With your generous support, we were able to continue to provide value to our members and meet our industry’s needs during challenging times!
Staff Writer , PHCC-National Association