Money Talks: How To Solve Our Labor Shortage

July 1, 2003
One of the most discussed problems in our industry, besides lack of training and the weather, is the pronounced dearth of technicians and installers entering

One of the most discussed problems in our industry, besides lack of training and the weather, is the pronounced dearth of technicians and installers entering the HVAC industry.

I recently spoke to my sister, who is a teacher in Connecticut, when the conversation turned to what’s going on with college graduates. She mentioned a recent report she read on stated that less than 30% of new graduates find jobs in their chosen profession. Even more disturbing, another report on said more than 60% of them move back in with their parents because they can’t afford to live on their own.

Imagine what we could do with these able people in our industry?

If our educators, guidance counselors, and career counselors were taught more about the opportunities in the trades today, they could easily convince thousands of students to consider the trades as a career.

Even though there are many reasons to become a trades person besides the money, let’s look at it strictly from a financial perspective. After all, the mantra of Generation X is “Show me the money.”

Here are two scenarios, one where a high school graduate goes to college, the other where he pursues a career in the trades through vocational training.

The college student, who will graduate with a four-year degree, comes from a middle-income family who can’t afford the full ride. Even with his parents’ assistance, the student takes out $80,000 in loans over the four years. He also works part-time to take care of necessities, making $12,000/year for four years.

Upon graduating, our student finds work, earning $18,000 in the first year. He can’t afford living on his own, so he moves in with his parents.

We could fill pages with the different variables and factors, but let’s conservatively look at his 10-year income
history from when he starts college.

During the four years of college, he earned $48,000 part time. In the next six years, with promotions and increases, he goes from $18,000 to $60,000/year.

Let’s say he makes a total of $198,000 during those six years. When you add in the $48,000, he’ll have made $246,000 in 10 years. That’s an average of $24,600/year! Don’t forget the $80,000 in loans still outstanding. Prior to taxes, loan interest, living expenses, etc., our college student will have netted +$166,000 over 10 years ($246,000 - $80,000 = $166,000).

Now, let’s look at our same high school graduate entering a two-year vocational program in HVAC. In the first two years, he could work part time making at least $12,000 per year while attending school full-time. His parents could probably afford the two-year school, and if not, there are so many aid programs available, he could easily graduate debt-free. So after two years, he owes nothing and made $24,000.

After graduating, he is instantly snapped up by an HVAC firm, starting at $12/hour, making about $28,000 in his first year with some overtime (remember, this is the same kid who could have gone to college). During the next 8 years, he becomes a lead technician, perhaps specializing in controls or commercial work, maybe air balancing, and begins earning upwards of $60,000 in his eighth year.

Based on steady increases, he’ll have made more than $366,000 in eight years plus the $24,000 in the first two, for a total of +$390,000 in 10 years!

By the way, if $60,000/yr. for a top tech sounds outrageous to you, you’re probably not paying enough, and likely not charging enough for your services.

Compare this to the first scenario at +$166,000, and our technician is $224,000 ahead of his college graduate counterpart.

If we extrapolate reasonable increases until retirement for both, the technician could easily out-earn the college grad by half a million dollars or more. Now remember, we’re looking at average students here, not top-of-class engineers or business majors. The thing to keep in mind is that for every college graduate earning six figures there are probably ten others making less than $40,000/year.

Our industry associations are doing a decent job of creating materials espousing the benefits and wonderful career opportunities in our industry to high schools guidance counselors and advisors. They should continue the good fight. However, maybe it’s time to take off the gloves and present a convincing argument to students in hard dollars and cents. After all, money talks!

Dominick Guarino is chairman and CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), a national training, certification, and membership organization. NCI offers advanced training in sales, marketing, air balancing, diagnostics, design, indoor air quality, CO, and combustion efficiency. He can be reached at 800/633-7058, or at [email protected]. For details on training topics and schedules, and information on National Comfort Team, visit

About the Author

Dominick Guarino | Chief Executive Officer

Dominick Guarino is CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (, the nation’s premier Performance-Based training,
certification, and membership organization, focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. His email is [email protected]. For more info on performance-based contracting, go to or call NCI at 800/633-7058.