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Nationwide Skilled Trade Shortage Creating Critical Need For Plumbers On Long Island

EAST HILLS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Broken boiler? Cracked pipes? You may find it harder than ever to find a plumber.

There's a nationwide plumber shortage, and on Long Island the problem is especially critical.

Don Conway learned the tricks of the trade from his dad, but now his children want nothing to do with his line of work.

"They would rather sit behind a computer, neat and clean," the master plumber told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

He's the vice president of Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling Contractors of Long Island, and he says across the nation there's a plumber shortage as baby boomers retire and the supply of newcomers coming up through the pipeline dries up.

"I'm busy all the time, the phone rings all the time," he said. 

On Long Island, the number of actual plumbers has risen in the last decade -- but not enough to keep up with the growing population.

"The need for service on Long Island is exploding," Master Plumber Chris Ragusa said

Ragusa is one of 6,000 plumbers on Long Island. He's on call 27/4, and even has to turn away business at times.

The demand is fueled by overdue renovations of aging homes in the nation's oldest suburbs and consumers upgrading to more water efficient fixtures and heating systems. Plumbers unions are asking educators to revisit the need for vocational training.

"There's not enough training in the public schools, I think," Ragusa said. "Everyone seems to be geared toward college. College is great, but it's not for everybody."

Plumbers say skilled trades offer young people what college can't guarantee.

"I know what some people with bachelors and masters, and they are sitting on some nice debt right now and looking for jobs," Master Plumber Bobby Gramman said. "I also know some people who are in the trades at young ages already putting down payments on homes."

After a seven-year apprenticeship, a licensed plumber can make six figures and be his or her own boss.

"Starting plumbers can start out at $40,00-$50,000, and as they progress, I'd like to say the sky's the limit," Joe Cornetta, president of Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling Contractors of Long Island, told WCBS 880's Sophia Hall. "Once you progress to a certain point where you become a licensed professional on your own, it's a very, very viable career."

New York State requires plumbers to be licensed.

"No. 1 thing is once there's interest in the career of plumbing, you will probably work under the direct guidance of a licensed plumber," said Cornetta.

As for the rest of us, it's getting cold and pipes will break, so don't be surprised if it takes longer to find a plumber and cost more for emergency service.

The shortage isn't just for plumbing. The other skilled trades such as electricians and carpenters are also experiencing a shortage.

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