Company lays out cash to train in trades

January 27th, 2016

News Coverage:

January 25, 2016 1:03 AM

Company lays out cash to train in trades

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

You’ve seen the signs around town. Korte Does it All! Plumbing, heating, air conditioning, electricity, the works. 

The company founded in 1965 by patriarch Jerry Korte grew from one guy riding around in a truck to 100 people today. Korte’s headquarters on Stellhorn Road is a gleaming affair with a lobby, conference rooms and plenty of space.

On the second floor, a viewing gallery looks out over a well-stocked warehouse, just in case a customer’s hot water heater has exploded or a heating system just conked out.

Technicians fan out in the region, their trucks tracked by a GPS system that keeps them connected to job after job. And now that the cold has come, and it’s the season of burst pipes, customers will be glad to know there’s a weekend crew, taking emergency calls.

But worrying over his inventory of generators or water heaters or expanding his already successful business isn’t what keeps Jerry Korte up at night.

No, it’s the state of the trades. “We just want to get more of them (high school students) interested in it. They (students) don’t even know where to go to get into the trades,” Korte says. 

He pores over publications like the Airconditioning Heating and Refrigeration News, a Troy, Michigan, publication that inspire him to expand the trades.

Headlines like “Five Ways to get Five Star Recruits into HVAC” get him thinking. Why not have a “National Signing Day” when a young man or woman announces he or she wants to get into plumbing or electrical?

“We don’t have near as many coming in as retiring,” Korte said. “We have 4,000 journeyman plumbers in Indiana and a third of them are going to retire in the next three years.”

As far as apprentice plumbers, almost none. “I’m talking here to South Bend, you’re lucky if you get 10 every year,” he says, exasperated.

Korte was instrumental in getting the ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) training program started at East Allen County Schools two years ago and approves of the initiative at the Career Academy at Anthis that will soon offer courses in HVAC and plumbing, besides the current offerings in homebuilding, electricity, masonry and finished carpentry.

The field is wide open and there is a need in all the trades. 

What were they thinking when they cut out the trades in high school 15 years ago? he asks himself over and over. 

“No shop classes, no home ec classes. God, people need that stuff now,” Korte says.

About a year ago, Korte did his own bit to help the cause. On the second floor of his Stellhorn Road sprawl, there is the Jerry A. Korte Technician Training Center. There isn’t one aspect missing there for the trades – mockups of kitchens, toilets, tubing, water heaters, circuit boards, generators, the gamut.

New hirees, East Allen students and Korte suppliers have used the facility, which he said cost him about $50,000 to $60,000 to create.

“If we don’t do it ourselves, we hire trainers to come in and do it,” Korte said. 

He’s also open to other groups training at the lab, as he calls it.

“We’d work with them,” he said.