HVACR Future Hinges on Recruiting and Training

Aug. 6, 2010
'Find, recruit, and train' must be the mission of every HVACR company. Coastal Mechanical Services, LLC has designed a program that provides a hedge against alarming labor trends.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management Work Place Forecast, the top global trends most likely to have a major strategic impact on the U.S. workplace include:

  • a decline in value of U.S. dollar;
  • an overall decline in workforce readiness of new entrants to the labor market in the U.S. compared to other countries;
  • increased global competition;
  • poor educational performance of U.S. students compared with global competitors. Additional trends related to the availability of qualified employees also reveal some frightening statistics and trends:
  • 42% of new workforce applicants with high school diplomas or general educational development degrees (GEDs) are deficient in basic work skills, the readiness skills which they should have had when hired.1
  • The U.S. high school graduation rate ranks 20 in the world.2
  • Reduced funding of construction vocational training at community colleges has resulted in a limited number of training programs. Furthermore, the negative stigma of construction is preventing its growth as a career option;
  • The average age of a craft professional is 47.3 In 2005, 52% of all construction foremen were of baby boomer age (born between 1946 and 1964); 38% of all HVACR technicians were in that age bracket, as were 38% of all plumbers;
  • By 2014, the number of workers aged 35 to 44 is projected to decline by 2.8 million.4 Employees are needed to replace knowledge and skills of baby boomers as they retire or go on Social Security and work part time.

HVACR employment is expected to increase 9% by 2016 even during the current recession, due to the replacement time of residential HVACR systems, the importance of refrigeration in the health care and education industries, and technology for green building.5

Training to Fulfill the Vision
The implications of a shortage in company leadership and skills are worsened when training budgets are reduced or eliminated. On a positive note, many companies are rejecting that idea and maintaining their commitments to learning. According to a report by the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), although 4 in 10 respondents said the economy had forced them to reduce learning resources to a high or very high degree, extensive cuts to learning programs or content was the exception, not the rule.6

Coastal Mechanical Services, LLC, Melbourne, FL, also values training. Coastal's management team realized early on that its most important asset was its people. Despite economic challenges, rather than cutting its training budget, Coastal maintained training expenditures, and in some cases, increased them.

Our vision is, "To be the preferred mechanical contractor in the Southeast U.S. by providing extraordinary customer service, and a high quality product, faster and at a lower cost than our competitors, and to provide a safe workplace where our employees earn a better than average wage and benefits, and have opportunities for growth and development."

To be the best customer service provider, and produce quality work faster and at a lower cost than the competition, Coastal must grow its people, and show them the "Coastal Way" of doing business. Management at other commercial HVAC companies wonder if Coastal’s employees will leave after the company invests time and money into their training. Sue Holland, human resource director, says the goal is ultimately about the employee, not the company.

"We hope they'll stay, but the goal is to lay down a career path for those who are unskilled, and give them a career that can really get them to go places." she says.

It Starts at the Beginning
CMS training opportunities begin at the helper level and continue through senior management level. Training is monitored, evaluated, and initiated through a training committee, in conjunction with the training manager and the human resource director. Our training programs focus on:

  1. New hire orientation: to introduce new hires to the "Coastal Way".
  2. Technical training: to build skilled craftsmen.
  3. Leadership training: to ensure the company’s future.
  4. Safety training: to maintain or exceed current safety records.
  5. Green building training: to earn credibility on LEED® projects.
  6. Community education: to improve the image of the construction industry and attract younger recruits.

During new hire orientation, new employees are familiarized with CMS, and an understanding of safety the "Coastal Way". Training begins on the first day of employment, continues with on-the-job training by foremen in field, and repeated training, with an increased emphasis on safety, after 90 days.

Our new, in-house apprenticeship school exists to impart a trade to helper level workers, to give them marketable skills to improve their careers, and to build future leaders of the company. The school is registered with the Department of Education, Division of Workforce Education for the State of Florida, and is accredited by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. It offers an 8,000-hour/4-year program plus accompanying classroom training. It currently has 34 active apprentices. Coastal's apprenticeship school includes a soft-skill leadership curriculum including team work, criticism, communication, and conflict management. Coastal also offers craft technical training through on-the-job training, to improve craftsmanship. It's offered one or two times each month.

Foremen Training

Additionally, CMS provides technical and leadership training for its foremen. The technical training is offered once per month, is taught by branch managers, project engineers, project managers, or supervisors, and involves vendors, who bring additional subject matter experts into the field, to discuss subjects such as rigging and system flushing and cooling. The foreman leadership training is offered monthly.

Continuing Education at all Levels
Coastal offers continuing education for technicians, managers, and senior manager candidates. We also offer:

  • Journeyman prep classes, to help participants earn local journeyman licenses. The classes are offered annually in each mechanical trade, and are taught by superintendents and senior tradesmen.
  • Project manager training provides current and aspiring project managers with soft and technical skill training and helps to grow senior project managers from within. Curriculum is in-house or seminar based, and is offered according to the employees’ experience level.
  • Senior management training ensures leadership at all levels, to help develop a succession plan, and to develop leadership skills necessary to take the company into the future. Topics are taught in-house, once per month following a management meeting.

Safety Training
An accident-prone contracting firm is very likely to face severe financial fallout. Regular safety training is one of the key elements to reducing workplace accidents. CMS's safety training goal is to maintain or exceed its current safety record and to retain OSHA compliance. Training is offered annually, and is primarily taught in-house by certified employees. Regular topics include: OSHA 10, fall protection, med gas, first aid/CPR, forklift certification, rigging, aerial lift, drivers’ safety training, and trenching and excavating.

LEED® Accreditation
In 2008, $12 billion was spent on green buildings. This is projected to grow to $60 billion by 2013.7 Coastal's green building training goal is to teach all employees "Green Building Basics," to ensure Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) compliance on current and future jobs, and to enhance the company's green credibility when bidding jobs. Branch managers are actively pursuing LEED accreditation through outside training sources. Green building basics are taught to all first-year apprentices

Destination HVACR
CMS practices community outreach, to elevate the image of the HVACR industry, and to ensure the future of Coastal Mechanical Services, and the industry as a whole. Coastal representatives visit high schools to educate teachers, counselors, parents, and students about the full scope of opportunities available in the construction industry. We also offer internships through high schools and teacher groups, to help them see what the industry has to offer.

Our vision to be the preferred mechanical contractor in the U.S., and to provide a safe workplace filled with opportunities, can only be realized by these types of initiatives. This vision has guided Coastal for the last 25 years, and will continue to position us to succeed into the future.

Joanne L. Stewart, M.A., LEED AP BD+C; GA-C, is training manager for Coastal Mechanical Services, LLC. She is responsible for building new apprenticeship programs and for maintaining and enhancing all company training initiatives. Coastal Mechanical Services, LLC, Melbourne, FL is a mechanical contractor primarily focused on hospitality, education, and health care facilities projects in the Southeastern U.S. It was named the Contracting Business Commercial Contractor of the Year in 2009. Their story can be found by visiting: http://bit.ly/coastalcb

1) American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) Report: Ill prepared US Work Force, July 2009.
2) SHRM Workplace Forecast, 2006-2007.
3) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook and Career Guide to Industries, 2007-2008.
4) ASTD Report: Ill-prepared US Work Force, 2009.
5) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook and Career Guide to Industries, 2007-2008.
6) ASTD Report: Learning in Tough Economic Times: How Corporate Learning is Meeting the Challenges, Aug., 2009.
7) McGraw Hill Construction, SmartMarket Trends Report, 2008.