During Comfortech 2014 in Nashville, it once again became clear as crystal that the HVACR industry is facing a labor crisis.
For the past five years at Comfortech, I’ve been in charge of leading a “Refrigeration Roundtable” panel discussion on key issues facing commercial refrigeration contractors. Five supermarket executives, five contractors and industry sponsors (this year’s sponsors were Emerson, Danfoss, Heatcraft, and Hussmann), are presented with a slate of major topics, and they go at it friendly-like, for five straight hours.
But, as can happen when you have knowledgeable and experienced people to rely on, the discussion could have gone on for 10 hours; that’s how passionate and concerned the panelists were about some of the topics I put on the table. They included the coming changes in refrigerant options, the growing popularity of new refrigeration systems such as carbon dioxide and improving training industry-wide.
But the panelists seemed most passionate and concerned about what the HVACR industry will do about the shrinking numbers of young people that want to enter this trade. A number of the contractors on the panel spoke of winning major new contracts, but seriously wonder how they’ll get the work done.
Refrigeration contractors have a tougher go of it, because on-call hours are especially necessary because of food preservation issues. A cooler of bad meat or freezer of melted ice cream is much more costly than a 10% discount an HVACR tech can put on a bill for lost heat or cooling for a half-day.
However, make no mistake about it, for both the HVAC and the refrigeration trades, each year sees a departure of retirement age technicians, followed by a much smaller number of replacements.
This trend must be reversed, and soon.
Key to this change will be parents and school administrators. Both groups want Jimmy and Jenny to enter college. Parents, because they’re blind to the possibilities of non-four-year degrees, and high school counselors, because they want the bragging rights and future enrollments their schools enjoy by directing more students into the upper grades.
True, in some places neither parents nor counselors may be aware of HVACR careers, and the great money these jobs can bring. I always hear $50,000 as the wage a technician can ultimately make (over time) if they advance through training, additional certifications and experience.
But then, there are those who have heard of HVACR, and decide that’s not for their baby, even if they kinda/sorta feel their baby isn’t cut out for college. That’s a pride issue.
As with many things, it’s easy to dismiss this by saying “it’s not my problem,” or, “the work will get done somehow,” or “they’ll have to make equipment that can repair itself, ha ha!” But even though you, as an HVACR distributor, haven’t the immediate, mission- critical need for technicians, they do represent your future customers, and the well-being of current customers. So, there are ways you and contractors can help. I know of HARDI’s career development initiatives for various distributorship careers, and product training events, but could your efforts be expanded to reach future technicians as well?
Career days hosted at your store, or participation in local job fairs can be a great way to introduce students to HVACR. Show the products and technology, and if you think it will help, let them know this business is using smart phones and tablets more than ever. The “millennials” are into gadgetry.
Contractors: are you visiting local schools on career days? Have you ever stood in front of a junior high or high school class and talked about what you do? Have you ever run ads on local TV or radio promoting careers in HVACR? Have you investigated at a local community college to see what they offer? Are you talking to customers about HVACR as a career for their son or daughter?
Manufacturers can also play a role in promoting HVACR careers. Your presence in your city already gives you some major visibility. Can’t you find a way to leverage that, beyond equipment contributions to the local voc-tech school? Yes, you need people to work on your assembly lines, but could you also lend some help to technician development?
This problem can only be solved by all constituencies, working together.
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