BCC Plumbing Program fills workforce need

Barton Community College’s plumbing program is small but it fills an important niche in workforce training, instructor Jeff Meyer told the college’s board of trustees on Tuesday.

“Plumbing is a way of life,” he proclaimed, calling it “the most important profession in the world.”

He started in the business in 1987 and in 2021 he took the reins of Barton’s new Plumbing Certificate Program, which would start the following year.

Barton’s program is designed for people who want to start a career in plumbing, although Meyer said one student took the course because she said she never wants to pay a plumber again.

Students who successfully finish the course will earn an NCCER (National Center for Construction Education & Research) introductory to Craft Skills and Plumbing Level 1 Certificate and a 10-Hour OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Certification. With a combination of classroom and hands-on experience, they can gain the knowledge and ability to enter the high-demand field of plumbing. He listed dozens of jobs that can lead to.

Meyer noted that students can receive financial aid for this course and that high school students can take it for free, finishing the course with a $400 set of tools they get to keep.

There’s a shortage of plumbers and those who earn the certificate can earn $18-$24 an hour to start as a helper or assistant with little or no experience after finishing this 18 credit-hour program.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, there is a 55% shortage of plumbers available for work. At the same time, job growth is projected to climb to 14% over the next decade, Meyer said. Industry partners in our area, such as Glassman Corporation in Hays, typically offer students jobs immediately after they finish the program.

“A man from Glassman told me if I had 40 plumbers in my class, they would hire all 40 right now,” Meyer said. “The opportunities are there.”

Other industry partners who support Barton’s program and hire its students include Comfort Pro, Comfort Systems, A & F Enterprises, InteGreen Services, Stueder Contractors, Rube’s Heating and Air, and Moeder Plumbing Heating and Air.

The course is designed so a student can be in class in the morning and go to a job in the afternoon. Although few students take advantage of that, doing so and getting more hands-on experience with a job would be ideal, Meyer said. 

Only two students are enrolled for the fall semester, although Meyer said four others have expressed interest. His class sizes have ranged from two to seven students.

Only a handful of community colleges have stand-alone plumbing programs. 

Washburn Tech offers a plumbing program to both high school students and the general public. Landon Hall at Washburn Tech’s community relations office notes the program starts every August. “It is available as a half-day course. Students can take the morning class or afternoon class, and graduate with a plumbing certificate in two semesters. We had 22 students graduate from the program in 2023.”

Board of Trustees Chairman Mike Johnson asked if Barton should add an HVAC program. Meyer said it would stretch the program from a semester to a year and it would be hard to find a qualified instructor. However, he said, “I think it would attract more students.”

Construction Technology changes

The trustees on Tuesday approved program changes that affect the plumbing program and the carpentry program.

The Carpentry Program will be renamed Construction Technology, reflecting program realignment by the Kansas Board of Regents. This change has occurred because the National Center for Construction Education & Research has updated its curriculum. Construction Technology will move from an 18 credit-hour program to a 23 credit-hour program. 

The Plumbing Program will change from a 16 credit-hour program to an 18 credit-hour program with the addition of a required Introduction to Craft Skills class, to be taught in both programs.

This article was updated on June 3 to correct information about the plumbing program at Washburn Tech.