We need more tradespeople

As wait times for qualified tradespeople lengthen, homeowners may be tempted to make do

Already the predicted shortage of qualified tradespeople in the Northwest is  being felt in Terrace, if my experience is representative.

Ever since a Coleman gas furnace left us freezing one Christmas Eve in the 1970s when its ignition system failed we’ve religiously scheduled an annual pre-winter check-up for our gas furnace in September or October.

Early in October 2011 I phoned the plumbing and heating company we had depended on for 30 years. I requested they service my furnace including thorough vacuuming, and replacement of the filter. Usually that’s all that’s needed.

The office said their  furnace mechanic was working in the Nass for the next two months, but as soon as he returned to Terrace my address would be on his list.

At the end of November I phoned for an update. He was still busy. I’d have to be patient for a few more weeks.

As the temperature dropped and the days crawled by I fretted a cold snap might disclose some vulnerable connection, although I had no reason to doubt the appliance’s health.

As the months stretched to four I couldn’t help wondering if the company wished I would take my business elsewhere, if only they could come up with a gentle way to move me along to some hapless competitor.

Last Monday I woke resolved to take the yellow pages by the binding and phone a competitor before I was left depending on wood heat even in the wee hours of the morning.

As I enjoyed my morning coffee while reading the daily newspapers on-line, my service company phoned.

“Do you still want your furnace serviced?”  asked the receptionist.

“Absolutely!” I said. Her unexpected news made me giddy.

“He can be there sometime this forenoon if that is suitable?” 

“Perfect!” I said.

An hour later the mechanic phoned. “Do you still want your furnace serviced?” He sounded doubtful.

“Yes, I do,” I assured him.

“I can be there in 20 minutes,” he said. And he was.

A prime source of comfort for any homeowner comes from hiring a qualified tradesperson to competently carry out whatever work you need done, whether it’s replacing a light bulb from atop a ladder, exchanging a washer in a dripping faucet, or plugging a leak created by a woodpecker in the steel roofing near the ridgepole.

Conversation during my two earliest calls to the office led me to fantasize building was booming in the Nass requiring installation of basic heating equipment and plumbing fixtures in several houses, maybe even an apartment house.

Instead I learned Monday from the mechanic that much of our local tradesperson shortage is due to  workers heading for employment in Kitimat. Scarcely a week goes by when he isn’t coaxed to move to the Alberta oil sands for a high-salaried job.

Over many years living in Terrace I’ve learned to place my orders at the first hint repairs may be in order, and then  wait until a workman can fit in my job. Several weeks was not an undue waiting time.

But if my furnace experience is a typical sign of today’s situation, wait times for a plumber or an electrician could be approaching making an appointment to see a vet, or an orthopedic surgeon for a knee replacement. If oil sands’ and Kitimat salaries follow, even their hourly cost could draw closer to that of medical specialists.

As wait times for qualified tradespeople lengthen, homeowners may be tempted to make do with the more immediate help of someone unqualified to do a proper, safe job. This situation could have been minimized if we had continued training tradespeople despite fewer jobs.