A few weeks ago while having breakfast with some women from my church group, we were discussing our children and what those of age were planning to do after high school graduation. The topic of college was high on the list, along with much debate over the cost of a four-year degree and the number of college graduates with student loan debt who continue to seek employment while living back at home with their parents.
As a member of the HVACR workforce, I have long been hearing about the impending shortage of HVAC technicians. So I brought up this topic to my lunch group. “Have your children considered entering trade school? Do you realize that salary potential in the trades is respectful and climbing? Let me tell you about the HVACR trade specifically
In a recent regional “Women in HVAC” event held in Minneapolis, an HVAC instructor from a local trade school spoke about the career potential for her current students. Contractors have already reached out and “claimed” some of these students for employment even before they have finished their degree program. Compare that to my niece, who recently graduated with a four-year degree in marketing and continues to search for an opportunity that does not require one to three years of experience. And 10 years from now, is her earning potential any higher than that of an HVAC technician?
In general, it is said that people with a four-year college degree make more money than those with a two-year degree or less. But according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, “Averages lie. You can get a particular skill in a particular field and make more than a college graduate,” he says. For example, he says the average electrician makes $5,000 a year more than the average college graduate. And the country is going to need a lot more skilled tradespeople.
According to Monster.com, “Skilled trade jobs are expected to increase faster than the national average of all jobs, which is 11 percent, over the next 10 years. Population and business growth, remodel and repair needs and maintenance of older structures are the reasons the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a roughly 20 percent average job growth rate in skilled trades careers.”
There are two main industries that have demand for full-time HVAC technicians: construction/installation and service/repair. Positions can also be found on the manufacturing side of the business.
“If you are looking to break into the construction industry, trade schools are great,” says Dan Ross, a former senior recruiter for Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers. “We like to see that someone has received a formal education in the trades. It shows initiative.”
Ross says it’s helpful to find a trade school that offers an internship program, so you graduate from school with hands-on experience.
Many manufacturers and utility providers partner with local community colleges and trade schools to offer students the opportunity to earn a two-year associate degree while receiving on-the-job training. Scholarships are also available, like the two $1,000 scholarships awarded annually by Women in HVAC. This keeps the cost of trade school way below that of a traditional four-year degree, and students can often graduate with no debt.
It is now my goal to spread this message to all parents of high school students. We need to get the word out that a career in the trades in not just “what my grandfather used to do,” but a rewarding position in a physically and mentally challenging field, for males and females alike. Will you join me?Career & Educational Resources
Mary Jo Gentry is marketing communications manager at Ritchie Engineering Company, Inc. She also serves as secretary of Women in HVACR.