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Is the HVAC Industry Racist?

March 22, 2005
Technicians are from Mars Company that do things right Change comes one company at a time

Is HVAC racist? I don’t think so. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone in the industry express a racist sentiment. Of course, as a lily white guy, I may not be the best judge. What I can judge are the statistics, and they reveal HVAC to be a very white, male-dominated industry.

In our industry, 1% of the technicians who sat for a NATE exam are African-American. By comparison, 12% of Americans aged 18 to 64 are African-American. Only 3% of HVAC technicians are Hispanic, compared to 13% of the working age population. Ninety-four percent of HVAC technicians are white.

Clearly, minorities are under-represented in the trade, but that doesn’t mean the trade is racist. Frankly, contractors can’t afford racism. When a contractor finds a good person, he hires him. It’s not the skin color in the truck that matters, but the ink color on the bottom line. Idle trucks equal red ink. Red ink is something we should all disdain.

We do have a problem, but it’s not racism. The problem is labor. And it’s getting worse. In 2002, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that we would need 32% more technicians by 2012.

Many wonder where the industry will find the technicians we need. Where indeed?

Technicians Are From Mars: It’s worse with women. Talk about skewed; 99.6% of technicians are male.

People might argue the point, but anecdotal evidence suggests women may be better technicians than men. When I ran a 65-location contracting organization, our top-rated technician was a woman.

Women make great technicians because they seem more naturally empathetic than men (they are from Venus, by the way). They relate better with customers. In today’s hard-tech/soft-touch service environment, human relations skills are every bit as importantas mechanical skills. Behind every broken comfort system is a broken customer. Successful technicians fix people as well as equipment.

Similar industries aren’t much better. For example, only 0.6% of auto mechanics are women. Yet since HVAC service is more of a “people” industry than automotive service, we should have more women technicians.

Doing It Right: There are companies that do it right. To fill its labor shortage, Frymire Engineering in Dallas created an entire training curriculum for Hispanic technicians, and goes so far as to hold English as a second language (ESL) classes.

Twenty-five years ago, when Ron Smith ran Modern Air Conditioning, he employed three female maintenance technicians. The women outperformed the men. Ron also hired the first African-American technician in southwest Florida. Modern was widely acclaimed as the industry’s preeminent residential service and replacement company, and Ron wound up in the Contracting Business Hall of Fame.

While contractors jumped on many of Modern’s business practices, the industry has been slow to pick up on its diversity.

Change Comes One Company at a Time: HVAC is not an industrial oligarchy where a few powerful people can change things by edict. It’s a fragmented industry with thousands of independent companies all scrambling to take care of daily fires. There is no unifying force.

Change will come in the HVAC industry when independent business owners recognize that it’s in their self-interest to make a greater effort to reach out to minorities and women. Change will come one company at a time. And that time is now.

ou can offer service training and opportunities to women in your office. You can make accommodations for women technicians who may not want to, or be able to, take calls at night. You can reach out to minority churches and offer to create opportunit∝es for people who want to learn. You can volunteer to lead a minority outreach program through your local trade association chapter. You can change where you look for technicians.

Tap into a labor pool your competitors are missing and labor shortages are less likely to restrain your future growth.

Is HVAC racist? No. We’re just missing an opportunity.

Matt Michel, CEO, The Service Roundtable
This RANT is solely the plea ofMatt Michel, who is CEO of the Internet-based (and thus, color-blind and gender-blind) Service Roundtable, an organization dedicated to helping contractors improve their business and financial performance. Visit the Service Roundtable Matt at[email protected]. Subscribe to his free marketing letter
About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.