Welcome to another edition of our Hub Spotlight series where do a deep dive into the men and women who make the trades great. This spotlighted tradesperson tells us that he really enjoys trashy reality TV. “Nothing like kicking your feet up and watching someone making horrible life decisions on 90-Day Fiancé on a Sunday Read more
Welcome to another edition of our Hub Spotlight series where do a deep dive into the men and women who make the trades great. This spotlighted tradesperson tells us that he really enjoys trashy reality TV. “Nothing like kicking your feet up and watching someone making horrible life decisions on 90-Day Fiancé on a Sunday evening.” Joking aside, for Keith McGillivary (@mps_207)—full-time business owner of McGillivary’s Plumbing Services (MPS), Gardiner, Maine, for the past two years—his story into the plumbing trades is an interesting one.
McGilivary’s path started in a small town when a small plumbing business was looking for a helper, and he was looking for a job. “Little did I know it would be the start of where I am now,” says McGillivary. Before college, McGillivary started working for a small plumbing business that primarily focused on service work. The owner, Russell, was/is a great mentor and really took the time to help him understand not only what they were doing, but why they were doing it.
After deciding to pursue plumbing, McGillivary attended Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) for its plumbing and heating program. Through college, he continued to work alongside his mentor, and after graduation, continued to work for him full time for three years. McGillivary then took a job at Bath Iron Works (BIW) as a pipefitter building destroyers, ships for the United States Navy. “The piping systems were complex, and although it was “plumbing on a ship,” it was completely different. I found it fun to learn the ins and outs of that particular plumbing,” says McGillivary.
Eventually, McGillivary joined the Pipefitter Test Crew and tested the piping systems after they were built. He worked there for six years, but the whole time he continued to work nights and weekends doing plumbing work on the side. “This allowed me to gain hours and knowledge for my Master’s test. After passing my Masters, I decided to make the plunge into self-employment because I wanted the schedule flexibility for my family,” says McGillivary.
In fact, McGillivary’s biggest motivation for self-employment was time, rather than money. “I have learned to set firm boundaries for myself when scheduling and taking on jobs. I have been able to take more time off for my family than ever. Being a service plumber, in this day in age, you could work 24/7 if you wanted. I try to work ‘normal’ hours, and if I can take a day off for family stuff, I always do,” says McGillivary.
Shout Out to Mentorship
According to McGillivary, Russell taught him everything he knows about plumbing and owning a business. “He taught me all the hands-on work, how to write estimates & bid on jobs, customer relations, and how to balance a small business/family life,” says McGillivary.
And McGillivary wants to pay it forward. “I definitely consider myself a role model for others looking to join the trade. I feel I am a good example that hard work and dedication pays off,” says McGillivary. “My mentor was so important to my journey that I try to give back what I can by being transparent about my plumbing knowledge.”
Uplifting the Trades
Recently, there has been a big push for kids to attend trade school so there has been a shift in younger people showing interest, says McGillivary. “Trade school was beneficial for me to learn the code side of things, in an environment different from the hands-on work. I think we could get more interest in the trades if the schools showcased all the different avenues someone could go once they completed their schooling, and the financial opportunities that come with them. Everyone expects a doctor to make six figures, but not everyone knows you can make that in the trades without massive student loan debt,” says McGillivary.
“Everyone expects a doctor to make six figures, but not everyone knows you can make that in the trades without massive student loan debt.”
Social media can also be used to attract more people to the trades. “I see it all too often when guys in the trade are way too harsh on people for asking questions on Facebook plumbing pages. There are so many people asking questions for the purpose of learning and gaining knowledge. We were all there at some point, so be kind enough to answer the questions in a helpful manner. Social media can also be used to form “new-to-the-trades” communities and to provide seminars,” says McGillivary.
Social media also has played a huge role in the growth of McGillivary’s business. Starting as a small, part-time business with the help of word-of-mouth recommendations on small town Facebook pages, which made McGillivary realize that social media could be used to showcase the work he is doing on a day-to-day basis. “I use my Instagram to show what I am about as a business and the work I put out. I have found that if a customer can see why you are more expensive than the other guy, then they are more likely to go with you. I use it as an open-door insight to my business both in reels and daily stories,” says McGillivary.
McGillivary uses social media to learn little tricks of the trade that he just wouldn’t have been exposed to, being from such a small town. For McGillivary, it is extremely beneficial to be able to have conversations with such great tradesmen. He also talks to apprentices daily or weekly about projects, and gives them advice. “I wish when I was learning, I had this platform to learn and meet others. As visual learners, much like a lot of trades guys I know, it’s changed the way we can learn,” says McGillivary.
Summers in Maine are short, so McGillivary tries to spend every nice weekend camping in his camper. In the winter months you can find him on his snowmobile at camp. “I would love to ride my snowmobile from camp in northern Maine to the Gaspe Peninsula to complete the “Great Gaspe Snowmobile Tour,” a six-day, 1,500-mile ride around some of the best trails,” says McGillivary.
And the last day McGillivary said it was a great day? “You know it’s funny, as I look back on just yesterday—camping with my family, beautiful weather, everyone smiling, does it get much better than that? So, the answer to that question would be yesterday!”
Go-To Tools on the Job
According to McGillivary, his go-tools are a couple pairs of Knipex Cobra pump pliers, a 6-in-1 screwdriver, and an adjustable wrench. Any good service plumber can fix most things with those!
Also, I find myself feeling naked if I don’t have my Leatherman Wave on me. Another great tool that has many uses.
Lastly, if there was one tool that changed the service plumbing game, it’s the M12 Milwaukee press tool. If you’re running a service company and don’t have one, you’re late to the party.
This Northern California plumber’s tenacity matches the company name through hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn and to keep getting better at her craft. Self-employed and co-owner of Bulldawg Plumbing, Red Bluff, Calif., Laura Nobert’s (@bulldawg_plumbing) real first experience in the trades was working for a few years in general construction with a Read more
This Northern California plumber’s tenacity matches the company name through hard work, perseverance and a willingness to learn and to keep getting better at her craft.
Self-employed and co-owner of Bulldawg Plumbing, Red Bluff, Calif., Laura Nobert’s (@bulldawg_plumbing) real first experience in the trades was working for a few years in general construction with a company that did remodeling in San Francisco. “That job introduced me to power tools, jackhammers, sheetrock, etc. I started as a laborer and grunt and absolutely loved the challenge, and found the work incredibly fulfilling,” says Nobert.
Although Nobert is a first-generation tradesperson, she credits family first. “I had a twin sister who always had my back and supported and encouraged me no matter what my endeavors, successes or setbacks.”
One such setback—an unfortunate incident a bit later in her foray into the trades—Nobert had an industrial accident where she fell from a significant height and landed directly on her head. “The doctors said it was a miracle I wasn’t dead or paralyzed, but I definitely was injured and was pretty much in bed for three years,” says Nobert.
Shortly after recovering, Nobert made neon signs and worked with hot glass, which was fulfilling, creatively. “But when I got the opportunity to try plumbing, I jumped at the chance, both boots in. Luckily, the idea of learning such a valuable and challenging trade TOTALLY eclipsed my lifelong ‘poop fear.’”
For the past eight years she’s been killing it as a plumber working mainly service work and drain cleaning. “I love the satisfaction that comes from solving a complex mystery or the feeling that comes with overcoming extreme physical challenges to get the job done,” says Nobert.
Yet, being a woman in the trades has its share of funny looks—from others. “When I knock on a door, I almost ALWAYS get met with confused or incredulous looks. Sometimes people blurt out stuff like, ‘Is the real plumber still in the van?’ Or: ‘You’re the WHAT?!’”
A real facet of working in a male-dominated industry, Nobert feels like she is under a higher level of scrutiny than male counterparts. “I’ve noticed that when I work with men, people will automatically talk to them first or make comments like: ‘Oh, is she your sidekick?’ Some will laugh at the idea of me crawling under a house, because they think it’s a joke. Oh, and I worry that if I ever need to find another job, seeing a female name on my resume might keep companies from considering me.”
Being a mentor or trailblazer for other women to follow in the trades, Nobert never really stopped and considered it. But perhaps she is already. “I guess I’m more of a one-on-one kind of person because I usually just focus individually on the people I come in contact with. Like when I work for women who seem interested in the trade/tools/mechanics, I try to explain things, show them how things work, how to do it themselves, etc. More often, I encounter women who are intimidated and scared by the whole process. Often, it’s just because no one has ever explained or showed them how things work, so the topic is just a big, scary mystery. I have a lot of compassion for those women, so I try to help them feel more secure by explaining things—showing them how to shut off water and gas supplies, clean aerators, etc. I always tell them they can call me if they have questions or are nervous about anything.”
And the best advice she can give anyone, “I would tell any person wanting to enter the trades that the desire to learn and the willingness to work hard and not give up are traits that really make a difference.”
That willingness to learn is so critical. “I know that blue collar work used to be kind of an embarrassing career and that tradespeople were considered uneducated but I feel as though shows like Dirty Jobs have really helped to elevate the trades to new levels in the United States. Social media accounts—like Mechanical Hub—are continuing to make great strides in promoting the trades and sharing the knowledge so that important progress continues. I think that encouraging pride and respect for the trades definitely increases its appeal,” says Nobert.
In fact, social media has had a great influence on Nobert (@bulldawg_plumbing). “I am so grateful I found this community on Instagram because it’s made a huge difference in my life and career as a plumber. It’s given me the opportunity to learn so much more than I ever would have without it—seeing what other people achieve inspires me to keep learning and trying to improve my skills and abilities. There are just so many talented tradespeople on Instagram. I love how supportive people are towards each other and how they are willing to share their knowledge so freely. It’s amazing to have a place to share this passion with other people.”
In closing, the last time Nobert said it was a great day? “I was probably crawling out from under a house, hanging out with my daughter, or playing with my son.”
Oh, and the name Bulldawg? “I’ve had two bulldogs in my life; they are an impressive breed. They never give up, even when they are in pain, and I really admire that kind of heart and tenacity,” says Nobert.
Expecting his second daughter at any moment, Omar Harris (@omartheplumber) knew he wanted to do something so he could provide for his family. The goal was to find a career that was an absolute necessity so job security would always be there. “I remember discussing what I wanted to do with my fiancé, Xylina. She Read more
Expecting his second daughter at any moment, Omar Harris (@omartheplumber) knew he wanted to do something so he could provide for his family. The goal was to find a career that was an absolute necessity so job security would always be there. “I remember discussing what I wanted to do with my fiancé, Xylina. She told me ‘whatever it is that you want to do I support you 100%, as long as you’re happy. Even if that means selling flowers on street.’ It would change the dynamic in our household greatly,” says Harris. Xylina repeatedly told him this before he eventually made the final leap.
“My fiancé plays a major role. Without her, the whole family dynamic would fall apart. I am fortunate. She’s a great mom, a great friend, and she really keeps everything in the family running. She’s extremely patient and understanding when I’m dead tired. I will forever be grateful for the sacrifices she has made and for the unconditional support she has shown me,” says Harris.
But Harris would be remiss if he didn’t mention his parents. They worked hard for what they have and “they instilled in me the drive needed to be the best at what I do. Growing up, they always told me learn a trade because you can demand your own salary,” says Harris.
Harris initially started out as an apprentice with a local union doing construction plumbing. He eventually left to go a private company that mainly did service and drain cleaning. “I learned a lot with that company and made some really good partnerships/friendships. It allowed me to grow, not only as a man, but as a plumber, too,” says Harris.
For the past two years, Harris has worked as a plumber for Broward County Facilities (Florida) as a plumber specializing in drain cleaning. Some may not know, but Harris is a certified HVAC technician and Certified Fire Inspector for the state of Florida. One of the most rewarding aspects of the job for Harris is seeing the customer’s smile after the work is done, correctly. (Some of Harris’s go-to tools are RIDGID RP241 press tool, RIDGID E110 wrench, Fluke T5 600 Voltage, Continuity and Current Tester and the Milwaukee Tool M12 PEX Expansion Tool Kit.)
As far as learning the trades, Harris is always learning. “I love to learn from others so that I can be the best plumber I can be,” says Harris. One of Harris’s mentors and a person he looks up to is Hiram Martinez, master plumber, A to Z Statewide Plumbing, West Park, Fla., who taught Harris a lot, and was very patient with him. Another influence includes Conrad Ensenat, a residential plumber. “He’s a great friend, but he also taught me a lot.”
John Driscoll Jr., owner, A to Z Statewide Plumbing, took Harris under his wing and really showed him the ropes in drain cleaning. “He always drilled into my head to never skip steps and to take my time following the steps. He really helped me with laying the foundation of my plumbing skills,” says Harris.
Harris also recognizes John Thompson, a great person with whom to speak. From his family values to how he runs his business, Thompson has garnered a tremendous amount of respect from Harris. George DeJesus has also been instrumental in showing Harris a lot of “tricks of the trade.”
And Eric Aune. “I learned a lot from watching him on YouTube; he’s a great teacher.”
But does Harris consider himself a mentor to others? “Honestly, yes I do consider myself a role model. I feel like if I can make it, anyone can. I’ve had a lot of hardships in my life and I’ve been able to overcome them. Many didn’t believe in me but I was fortunate enough to have a few who did. I’m willing to help anyone who would like to learn,” says Harris.
How can the industry promote the trades? Acceptance and training, says Harris. “We need to have plumbers from all walks of life from all over the world. In addition, we don’t need to be so hard on someone trying to learn. At times, I’ve seen this industry a little too hard on some individuals. It can be a little intimidating for someone just starting out. Instead, we need take the opportunity to coach, teach and possibly train the individual so that in the future they can be a better plumber.”
Social media has opened many great opportunities for Harris. “It has allowed me to participate in my friends’ lives who live in other states. On Instagram, we have group chats just to check in or ask questions. Social media is a great platform to build connections with people from all over the world. It is a useful tool to learn from and utilize to keep up with the ever-growing industry,” says Harris.
Speaking of social media, Harris recently was chosen to attend a past RIDGID Experience. “The RIDGID Experience was a phenomenal time!” says Harris. “I met some great people who now I consider great friends. I gained a lot of knowledge and have a pool of great minds to pull from when I need help with something. I am very grateful and honored I was chosen for the RIDGID Experience. RIDGID is a great company and it’s awesome that they host that event. How many other companies are doing this?”
The last time Harris said “today is a great day,” he was removing a mainline stoppage and there was a clean out right in front of the house, holding sewage. “I removed the stoppage in three feet, and I actually yelled out on the top of my lungs, ‘TODAY WAS A GREAT DAY!’”
In the end, Harris spends whatever free time he has working out and spending time with his family. And, most of all, trying his best to spend time with his kids, to be there for all of their accomplishments, and incorporate his family into what he does. “I try to be the best version of me for my kids. My family has been my backbone in this journey and I hope to instill that same drive I have in me, in my kids.”
Purpose. It is a powerful thing, and it can have a great influence on one’s life path. For Chris Ramos (@bold_cityplumber), he found purpose in his family and his work. You see, Ramos had rough upbringing, to say the least. Growing up in Ossining, N.Y., about 35 miles northeast of New York, Chris’s mother lost Read more
Purpose. It is a powerful thing, and it can have a great influence on one’s life path. For Chris Ramos (@bold_cityplumber), he found purpose in his family and his work. You see, Ramos had rough upbringing, to say the least. Growing up in Ossining, N.Y., about 35 miles northeast of New York, Chris’s mother lost her best friend and sister—his aunt—and had been in the middle of a divorce and custody battle with his father. Her life started to spiral out of control, and Chris took to the streets, dropped out of school at 16 years old, and made some bad decisions. “I was hard at listening and I just didn’t want to be at home,” says Ramos.
Meanwhile, Chris’s father, his grandparents and his cousin, Jay, would always tell him he needed to do something better with his life. “I just didn’t want to hear it; I was very upset with how things were at home,” recalls Ramos.
Eventually, at the age of 19, Ramos met his girlfriend and eventual wife, Laura. At the time, she had a 3-year-old boy named Derek. “After dating for awhile, I realized I wanted to be a big part of Derek’s life, and I wanted to be a father to him. Yet, I needed to change things with my life first,” says Ramos.
Ramos finally decided to start working different jobs and jumped around for a while until he bumped into a family friend named Dougie, who had been a plumber for many years. Remembering the advice from his cousin Jay, finding a trade could change his life for the better. “Jay was a big part of me turning my life around. Every time he saw me, he would say, ‘Chris, join the trades before you end up in jail or worse.’”
So, Ramos told Dougie he needed a change to make money and do better for himself, his girlfriend and her little boy. “Dougie encouraged me look in the local Penny Saver magazine and find an ad of a local company that was hiring apprentices/helpers. I called a company and asked if they were interviewing. They invited me to their location and hired me on the spot as an apprentice,” says Ramos.
Soon after, Ramos’s wife became pregnant with their daughter, Julianna. At the time, Chris and Laura were living in his grandparent’s house in a very tiny basement studio. “We knew it was time to move out and start our lives as a family in our own place. We decided to move to Florida, and we have lived here ever since, and have another son, Christian Jr.,” says Ramos.
While Ramos has been plumbing for most of the time in Florida, he did take a short break from plumbing to see if he wanted to do something different. “I went to work for FedEx but realized plumbing is where I needed to be. It is my passion.”
Currently, Ramos works for a small company that’s close to home. He is in charge of service plumbing as a residential plumber, which includes drain cleaning and sewer inspections. “I’ve been with this company for a few weeks as I recently made a job transition to be closer to home. This will help me be closer to my wife and kids throughout the day.”
Comfortable in his career, Ramos loves customer service, and the feeling when one is able to diagnose an issue and come up with a resolution and repair it, leaving a happy and satisfied customer. “The customer has paid you their hard-earned money; it is your duty to provide outstanding service and quality work. This will determine the longevity of your career in the trades. Your reputation and your integrity are important,” says Ramos.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been up and down, says Ramos. “Some customers don’t want you in their homes out of fear of getting the virus, understandably so. We make sure to use gloves, masks, shoes covers and eye protection. We dispose of the gloves and shoe covers after every job for the safety of our customers, and ourselves. We also call ahead to ask the customer if they have experienced any symptoms or have any underlying health conditions that could put them at risk.”
Uplifting the Trades
Ramos believes that the trades need more dedicated schools, and more talks with kids in high school to let them know that there are more options and alternatives. “Let’s introduce them to the trades and show them they could make a great living and earn a skill that no one can take from them. They will carry the skill with them for the rest of their lives.”
Ramos suggests to find a company that is offering a helper position or an apprenticeship program. “Be patient and soak in all the knowledge; stay off the phone while at work and bring a note pad. Stay focused, stay hungry and never become complacent. But always make sure to put family first.”
Lately, Ramos has been busy with his Boldcast Instagram Live show on Sunday nights. Ramos always wanted to put together a podcast as he’s been a fan for many years, and they have helped him get through his work days. “I was in the middle of putting together a podcast for audio podcast platforms until I started to talk with my buddies ProDrains and Quays Plumbing. They had thought about doing it on Instagram and I was offering my help anyway I could to get them started. One day, I went live with another friend of mine, The Impetus, and it started to take off. The next day I put together some promotional content and scheduled my very first live event,” says Ramos.
On his very first live show, so many big names from the community showed up and chatted with me. “It really helped the show take off. There wouldn’t be The Boldcast Live if it wasn’t for that first lineup of guests that showed up, without being scheduled. And, of course, the fans that viewed the show.”
The show has taught Ramos so many great things—from the awesome knowledge being put out there from every guest to learning how to become a great promoter and staying organized. “My goal has always been to give back to this community.”
Interestingly, at a very young age, Ramos has dealt with very bad anxiety issues. “Before every Boldcast Live event, I get sick to my stomach and have almost gotten sick during the show. I’ve got a great poker face, I guess. I’m working on these issues, and working on making life easier. The Boldcast has helped me break through it and face my fears,” says Ramos.
When he is not on the jobsite or working on his next Boldcast, Ramos likes to spend time with his wife and kids, and go to the beach or go fishing. He also enjoys video editing and graphic designing. “Do your absolute best to be there to be present for your wife and kids. You can never get back lost family time,” says Ramos.
In fact, when asked about the last time he said he had a great day, “I was spending time with my wife and kids, or plumbing. It’s what I know, it’s what I do, and it’s my passion.”