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Bo Deangelo of Precision Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Boulder checks the refrigerant charge on a client's air conditioner.

Where the jobs are

Medical and trade workers remain in demand

By Deborah J. Myers, For the Camera
July 8, 2002

Gregory Tibbets became a service technician after completing a four-year degree in anthropology because he needed to make a living.

"There was no money anywhere unless I went for a master's," said Tibbets, who works for Precision Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Boulder. "I went to a technical center and took a six-month HVAC class in six hours a day."

Now Tibbets earns a base of $15 per hour with additional commission based on the number of hours he works.

"I'm working 10- to 12-hour days now," he said.

Although displaced white-collar professionals — like the bishops in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Gondoliers" — are "plentiful as tabby cats," medical and skilled trade companies still seek workers.

"There are so many companies trying to recruit people for medical positions," said Judy Podgurski, area sales manager for Manpower and member of a work force board for local counties.

The demand for healthcare continues to soar because of the aging population, said Theresa Szczurek, president of Technology and Management Solutions. "There is an increasing need for healthcare and medical services."

Skilled trades, such as carpentry, electrical and other building-related technical positions, also seek employees.

"We're seeing a surge for these types of positions as well along the Front Range, especially as you see construction continuing to pick up," Podgurski said.

The reasons behind the blue-collar employee dearth are twofold.

"Within some trades, 50 percent of the skilled people are nearing retirement," Podgurski said.

The other issue is the small number of new trade employees.

"The overall profile of a Boulder County (family) is that the parents have advanced degrees and encourage their children to follow the same route (instead of) getting into a skilled trade," Podgurski said.

A possible solution is for white collar professionals to shift career gears.

"The theory about having more than one profession in your lifetime is quite true," said Clive Jones, a manager at Economic Data Resources LLC in Boulder. "Even if dot-coms come back, I expect the industry to be cyclical and volatile because of the nature of technology."

But that kind of career change requires new skills.

"You'll need some training, but you don't have to get a Ph.D.," Jones said. "But you have to be more on the ball as far as adapting to these transitions."

Szczurek suggests a lateral career shift that would keep the employee's newfound skills close to their previous job's needs.

"Engineers could easily move into plumber and electrician careers," she said. Some of them have carpentry as a hobby.

"Some white-collar careers require a massive base of knowledge in science, which is also what you need in healthcare," she said.

Szczurek is interviewing hundreds of people in all areas of employment for "Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Principles for a Meaningful Life," a book she plans to self-publish.

Szczurek believes that white-collar professionals in Boulder County resist this type of career move because "it's a blue-collar versus a white-collar thing," she said. "People are seeking meaning in their work. Perhaps these skilled trade positions are not providing the meaningful work white-collar people want."

But people who have first trained for skilled trade and medical positions are generally happy with their employment, Szczurek said.

"The handyman gets flexibility in his life to pursue his passion," she said. "He also gets to problem-solve and create."

Other perks can include "the freedom the industry provides, such as working outdoors and at different sites," Podgurski said. "Skilled trades aren't just capitalizing on brute strength."

With cooler autumn temperatures, the amount of work in the plumbing and heating business diminishes until winter, when furnaces need repair, Tibbets said. Although the flexible schedule can add variety to the job, it can also be inconvenient.

"Being on-call isn't one of my favorite aspects of this work," Tibbets said.

Positions in the medical field also require such sacrifices.

"These require a lot of giving," Szczurek said, "and can be very draining. There's an imbalance in the medical industry with the power and money and who's doing the work."

But medical careers have advantages, too.

"People in medical positions I've interviewed have found meaning in their work in their ability to connect to people," Szczurek said.

Changes in salary between white-collar and medical or skilled trades are not an issue.

"Skilled trades are long-term career opportunities," Podgurski said. "The wages can be quite good. For people who want a lot of investment by employers into their careers, schooling is often paid for, and they can have work opportunities immediately with a few years' commitment."

For medical and skilled trade companies seeking employees, the key is to target youth.

"The (career) decision is made early in the schools system, by age 14 or 15 or earlier," Jones said. "The larger service companies should develop outreach to high schools. That is one of the things we are learning."


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