Flow Right CEO Lance Harvey demonstrates to Paragon Learning Center students the importance of an air gap in the school's kitchen sink.

Flow Right Plumbing, Heating and Cooling owner Lance Harvey was having trouble finding licensed plumbers and HVAC technicians for his rapidly expanding business. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and train people for the jobs he needed to fill.

Flow Right has instituted an apprenticeship program certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. It has also created an internship program and is partnering with local schools to talk with students about the need for employees and the benefits of pursuing a career in the trades.

Innovative programs like these, plus an employee incentive program, have won accolades for Flow Right, including a 2019 Colorado Companies to Watch award.

“The apprenticeship program came about as a direct response to what was happening in the recruitment world here in our local market,” said Jessica Navas, HR director. “It’s a four-year program where individuals can do their online curriculum, and that’s coupled with on-the-job training.”

Through the online curriculum, provided by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, students learn about the codes and procedures that govern their trades and work alongside licensed journeymen mentors to put their knowledge to work.

The internship program, started in summer 2018, is designed to give high school students and adults looking to change careers an in-depth look at the plumbing, heating and cooling industry.

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The 12-week program includes classroom meetings plus ride-alongs with Flow Right teams.

Flow Right developed the curriculum for the internship program, and its journeymen demonstrate the skills essential to their particular areas.

Once interns have completed the program, Flow Right assists them in applying for and getting their licenses.

Navas doesn’t know exact count but says these two programs have “doubled the number of licensed plumbers and HVAC technicians” the company employs.

The company adopted Paragon Learning Center in Pueblo, said Jimmy Roybal, business development director at Flow Right.

Harvey, Navas and managers of the HVAC division conducted a field trip to the school, where they explained the utility systems that serve the school and how they work to maintain their comfort, health and safety.

“For a lot of students, the utility room is an invisible space,” Roybal said. “We are able to talk with them about what it means and open their eyes about the career possibilities and the type of people it takes to make those things happen.”

The company is in discussions with several Colorado Springs schools to bring the field trip program to their students as well, he said.

Flow Right employees get benefits comparable with those in union shops, and employees whose work is mentioned in positive reviews receive small bonuses and recognition in front of their peers at weekly meetings. Employees also get incentive bonuses for referring additional business from customers they’ve served.

“We’re very team-oriented, so we have a low turnover rate,” Harvey said. “We realized that we sell labor; we sell man labor hours. Our people are the key.”

Harvey grew up in the Pueblo area and started working in his father’s landscaping business when he was 12 years old.

“At age 25, I realized it was a really hard way to make a living,” he said.

He got a job with a plumbing company and within five years had earned a master’s license.

In 2008, he founded what was then called Flow Right Plumbing, Heating and Irrigation.

“I had been running the previous plumbing company I worked for, and a multitude of their contacts started contacting me,” he said. Within two weeks, he had to start hiring and soon moved the business from his basement and garage to the Pueblo office.

“Through hard work, dedication and 18-hour days, we grew approximately 40 percent a year from 2008 to 2017,” he said. “It’s been a little bit higher in 2018-19. ”

“We have a different vision than most plumbing companies,” Harvey said. “We provide a multitude of services — plumbing, heating, cooling, excavation, residential and commercial new construction, commercial, residential and industrial service. We provide hydronics [fluid-based heating and cooling] as well, which is a specialty in the heating and cooling industry. That’s a lot of why we’ve grown so fast.”

Flow Right opened an office in Colorado Springs last year, positioning itself to grow in El Paso County, into Denver and beyond.

“We’re already doing a considerable amount of commercial new construction up that way,” Harvey said. “We’re now going to start taking the residential market by storm and continue to build our customer base in the commercial market. Colorado Springs, here we come.”