Joey Villarreal is on his way to make history; after finishing his apprenticeship, he will become the first licensed plumber in the state of Texas who is deaf. Working as a General Maintenance Worker for PRIDE Industries for the last eight years, Joey built up his skills while maintaining military and federal buildings.
“Coming to PRIDE was completely different than any other job,” said Joey. ” I had worked at a print shop where I was the only Deaf employee and struggled with communication. My friend John Ferrales, a General Maintenance Worker at PRIDE’s Ft. Bliss, TX location, encouraged me to apply to PRIDE, and I was hired in December 2011.”
The unemployment rate among individuals who are deaf is incredibly high. Fewer than 40 percent of people with a hearing disability work full time, according to the Yang-Tan Institute at Cornell University’s analysis of 2016 American Community Survey data. Despite the misconceptions that deter businesses from hiring deaf and Hard-of-Hearing employees, they can meet and exceed the job requirements, if given the opportunity.
“The General Maintenance Worker position at PRIDE is perfect for me, as I enjoy working with my hands and figuring out creative ways to fix things,” said Joey. “There is no better feeling than when I’m able to solve a problem that no one else can figure out.”
To facilitate communication, Joey uses VRI (a service that offers a sign language interpreter on-demand) to communicate with co-workers and customers, in addition to the on-site PRIDE ASL (American Sign Language) Job Coach and the IMO App to video message (for ASL signing). With these tools, Joey was able to start mastering a trade while expertly serving PRIDE’s customers.
After years of earned expertise working in the plumbing department, Joey felt ready to advance in his career. “Joey has been a great asset,” said Facilities Supervisor Mike McKibbin. “He has an incredible wealth of knowledge that he shares with the rest of the team, he can repair anything from pneumatic pumps, water lines, and general plant utilities.”
While maintaining his current position last summer, Joey started his apprenticeship under Plumber Lewis Ikey. The plumbing apprenticeship requires 8,000 hours of work, and he will become eligible to test for his journeyman license in 2023.
“Joey always does wonderful work and is always willing to take the time to show new employees (including me) around the facility,” said Raina Stevens, PRIDE Job Coach, and ASL Translator. “We appreciate his efforts towards making our facility a better place to work.”
Joey recently represented PRIDE Industries in the community by giving a presentation to high school students about his experience as a Deaf person in the workforce and finding a career in the technical trades field. “It felt important to encourage the students to aim high for their goals and get an education and on-the-job experience.”
Congratulations Joey! We are looking forward to seeing you earn your plumbing license and making your mark in history.