Only black master plumber in Syracuse started his own business, still struggles to expand
Who is NaDonte Jones?
Race/ethnicity (self identify): African-American
Resident: Solvay, NY
Job status: Self-employed business owner, N.J. Jones Plumbing
Wage: About $13,000 in 2014; about $22,000 in 2015
Marital status: Engaged
Number of children: 5
Number of people in household: 3
Brief work history: Master plumber; in the plumbing business for 19 years, worked for a number of different companies, started his own business three years ago
A sit down with NaDonte Jones
Q: How did you first get involved in plumbing?
A: I’ve been in the plumbing business for 19 years. How I first started plumbing was actually by going to the Jamesville county jail. They offered a job skills training class by BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) — the certification they give you doesn’t really count in the real world. But they gave me the chance to take the course at BOCES in Liverpool, and towards the end of the course I did an internship with the first company I’ve ever worked for, Central Mechanical. From the internship, I got a job with them and worked for them for about 13 months.
Q: How did you become a master plumber?
A: I’m the only black master plumber in Syracuse. I know a bunch of guys have tried to pass the master plumber test but for whatever reason, they can’t pass it. When I took my test, I actually broke my ankle before so I had six months without working where I could spend a lot of time studying, and I was already studying before that. The first written test was easy because of my studying, but the practical application part can be really hard, and a lot of guys just can’t seem to figure it out. I’ve been asked a couple times, how are you the first black master plumber? Well the hell if I know, I just did what I had to do.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I love what I do, and I’m good with my hands. Like one of my old bosses said, I’m ‘mechanically inclined.’ When I was a kid, my mother said I used to always take things apart and put them back together, and she always said, ‘Boy, you’re going to be in either construction or destruction!’ For my jobs, I decide what goes where, how it goes in, and that’s basically what I love.
Q: Did you ever have trouble finding a job?
A: I’ve been laid off a bunch of times, but there’s only been two (or) three times when I’ve been out of work for a year or more, so there’s not a lot of times I’ve had problems getting a job. I had someone tell me early on, plumbing’s a good profession because you’ll never be out of work. It’s somewhat true, because construction plumbing is seasonal because of the winter here in Syracuse, but that’s the nature of the beast. As long as I have these hands and feet, I’ll be all right.
Q: What is a typical work schedule?
A: I get up about 7 a.m. Usually when I was working for other companies, I’d have to be at work at 7. But now I leave the house around 7:30 and get to the site around 8. I have to pick up materials, take calls, quality control type things before I start working. We work 8 to 4:30 but my team is pretty efficient, so we often get done early. Then I go home and work on something else to try to get more jobs and work, or make dinner, then wait for my fiancée and daughter to come home. I work Monday to Friday, Saturday or Sunday if needed but usually not.
Q: What is your biggest daily challenge?
A: Right now, it’s getting this business to a point where it basically runs itself. That’s the hardest thing right now. I’m trying to find more and more work so I can get more employees. I got offered a $1.5-$2 million project, but I have two employees plus myself so there’s no way I can do that job. I don’t have the capital in place to pay the employees I would need, or the resources I would need to find the employees. I don’t feel like anyone’s hindering me or stopping me, it’s just something I have to do. I can’t get mad. It’s just a stepping-stone; it’ll come in time.
Q: What discourages you?
A: Not much. I’m a problem solver; I have to figure out a way to get it done. If I am discouraged, though, that’s usually with emotional stuff because that I can’t figure out. But other than that, anything financial or business, I just find a way to get it done.
Q: What is your relationship like with your kids?
A: They’re 22, 19, 17, 15 and the daughter who lives with me is 6. I’m involved in all of their lives still. I just picked my oldest daughter up the other day to visit me and her mother; she’s staying with her mother. I have two kids in Alabama living with their mom and I just surprised them over Thanksgiving and visited them. I have one kid in California. I have no problems with their mothers or my children. We all get along.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I like to cook. My fiancée, Tommie, and I have started but abandoned several businesses, but we like to do cooking festivals. Because of what I do, my time off is lazy days, so I don’t really do too much besides cook and have dinners at the house with all of the family sometimes. All my other time is all about the business; I’ve been studying how to do estimating more and get better at that.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone unemployed looking for a job?
A: It’s hard. But exhaust every resource you have. You might have to do things you said you never would simply because of pride, but as long as you take that into consideration, and as long as you keep pushing, you’ll be all right. Whether it’ll be enough to let you do everything you see everyone else doing, you can’t really say that. But if you keep doing what you need to do you can eventually get to that point. The other thing is, you can have one job that you need to support yourself and one that you actually love, so that at some point you can keep working and leave the one and just do what you love.
If you’ve been following this series by Inspiration for the Nation, it’s now a good time to take stock of your level of financial preparedness, particularly in today’s uncertain business/political climate.