As he enters his fourth year of schooling to become a licensed plumbing contractor, Steven “Chico” Martinez of Manchester already is putting in long days on the job and in the classroom.
On class days, Chico is up at 5:30 a.m., putting in a full day as a plumber’s apprentice helping install heating and cooling systems, or remodeling or repairing all types of plumbing, before heading to four hours of evening classes at the New Hampshire School of Mechanical Trades in Manchester.
He has gotten help along the way from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s Medallion Fund scholarships, which help people who are training in the trades or pursuing certifications in emerging technical sectors and other high-growth occupations in demand by New Hampshire employers. Medallion scholarships help cover costs for certificates, licensing, apprenticeships and two-year college degrees.
“The scholarship is definitely a huge relief,” said Chico, who is 29. “School can be expensive on top of paying all of the bills that come with life. The financial burden and weight that they lift off your chest, metaphorically speaking, is indescribable.”
Chico is completing his Gas Service Technician apprentice work and classes, the third and final phase toward his gas license. He begins the fourth year of plumbing school in September.
His plumbing apprenticeship requires 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience in addition to four years of classes that will lead to a journeyman plumber’s license, and, if all goes to plan, a master plumber’s license six months later.
Chico said the challenge and long hours are worth it.
“There’s a lack of tradesmen like plumbers, electricians and (building) framers,” he said. “In high school, people kind of looked away from the trades, almost looked down on it, but without those things none of us would be thriving or surviving.”
Chico turned to plumbing after working as a warehousing supervisor. He is thriving in his work and classes and transitioning to become a foreman at his plumbing job.
“It’s a very good learning experience,” he said. “The materials and tools are constantly evolving. There are different job sites. There’s always room for growth. It’s fun.”
His work includes installing heating, cooling and gas systems and running water in new homes or businesses; remodeling projects; or crawling into tight spots to replace aging pipes in older buildings.
“Plumbers are a lot more well-rounded at a lot of mechanical things than a lot of other tradesmen because plumbing involves so much more than people think about,” Chico said. “Many people don’t realize that I am the one who installs your dishwasher or your stove and hooks up all of the gas lines.
“Many people think a plumber just plunges a toilet or unclogs a drain,” he said with a laugh.
Chico said the Medallion Scholarships and the Foundation support will have an impact far beyond his own tuition.
“They are an investment in my future which ultimately is investing in their future and the health of the nation because that’s what plumbers are,” he said.