Where Have All The Qualified HVAC Workers Gone?

June 20, 2015
There is construction career advocacy happening in New Hampshire. New Hampshire Construction Career Days is a two-day event that invites high school students from across the state to attend a hands-on career fair.

Economists believe the construction industry is on the rebound. Take HVAC for example, The U.S Department of Labor has predicted that the market will grow by 34% or 90,000 jobs between now and 2020.

You may already be experiencing a spike in work, but you may be finding yourself with the lack of finding qualified workers for what you believe is a good-paying job. You’re stuck in a dilemma of trying to take on new work but not having qualified workers to take on the job. You take the work and hope you’re more experienced team can manage it and not get burned out in the process. Well, you’re not alone.

We know a shortage of skilled craft workers is sweeping through the construction industry.

Over the last few years, the industry has lost more than two million jobs. Sure you can blame the lagging economy, but the real driving force is the aging workforce. The average age of the more than seven and half million people employed in the industry is 55 years old. That means within the next decade, our industry will be facing an even more devastating loss in the workforce than we are experiencing today…unless we help.

In addition to the aging workforce, the nation is seeing a rise in college loan debt, meaning there is more and more emphasis on four-year degrees versus career technical education. Two thirds of undergraduate students who attend a four year college graduate with on average $26,600 in debt. That’s a lot of debt for anyone to manage especially a 21 or 22 year old person.

So what can we do as an industry, as a business owner?

MSI is a proud sponsor and participant of New Hampshire Construction Career Days which is a two-day event that invites high school students from across the state to attend a hands-on career fair.

We can get involved and establish advocacy within our own community to help change the image of skilled careers in our trade with both parents and secondary education institutions. We need to help reinforce that a career in the construction industry is a great career. A career that pays well, has benefits, and can be obtained with virtually no debt.

MSI Mechanical Inc. is a family owned and operated business in Salem, New Hampshire. My father started the company and like many business owners he put a lot of sweat equity to grow the company. I was fortunate to have grown up around a parent with strong work ethics and who never shied away from hard work. Throughout high school I worked at MSI and I learned the trade by going into the field and getting hands-on training. It was during this experience that I knew I wanted to pursue HVAC as a career rather than going to a four-year college like many of my friends. Books weren’t my thing, but tools were. Imagine all the high school students that feel the same way I do, but these students don’t have the opportunity or the exposure to the construction industry to see what options they have.

There are 87 high schools in New Hampshire and only 27 have Career Technical Education (CTE) programs. That means more than half of New Hampshire High School students are not getting an opportunity to experience construction as a career unless they take it as an elective in high school.

Brian Hooper, right, and student-turned-employee Mike Mingace, left, with faculty of Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational School.

So how are the majority of our students getting exposed to our industry if there isn’t anyone showing them?

This isn’t only a problem in New Hampshire, but probably in your state too.

In NH there is advocacy happening and I’m happy to part of the movement to raise awareness that there are career options in the construction industry.

MSI is a proud sponsor and participant of New Hampshire Construction Career Days which is a two-day event that invites high school students from across the state to attend a hands-on career fair. Dozens of businesses throughout the construction industry participate. It’s a great way to showcase the options a student has after high school.  More than 5,000 high school students have participated since the program started in 2009. To read more visit: to explore how your community can actively engage high school students.

New Hampshire Construction Career Days is a great start but I felt more needed to be done to help our own employee funnel and that’s why I started our own School-to-Career program at MSI.

MSI graduates. From left: Mike Mingace, class of 2007; Jose Lope, class of 2010; Tim Matall, classof 2009; Zach Bernard, class of 2013.

Our School-to-Career Partnership is a multiple state-wide effort assisting local schools and communities to develop a learning system that promotes attainment of high academic standards, career development and workforce preparation for students. Our mission is to prepare every student to make responsible, productive career choices and manage the challenges accelerated change in the workplace by bridging school-based and work-based activities. We have obtained four full-time employees through this partnership, specifically with one local school, Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Massachusetts. We partner with this school because they are close to one of our largest customers allowing students access to hand-on, real-world training.

Brian Hooper tells Black Stone Valley students about HVAC career opportunities.

"Having MSI as our partner in vocational education gives us a means to show our students a vision for their future,” said Daniel Morin, HVAC instructor at the Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School. “We appreciate their ongoing support in our endeavor to produce the HVAC&R technicians of the future.  It lets us show them a career path that does not require a traditional 4 year college education that their vocational education will continue once they leave us."

How can you create a School to Career Program?

  • Review your customer base and identify a major company with a diversified amount of HVAC service and mechanical equipment that provides you enough work for two full-time employees (80 hours per week).
  • After you identify your customer, find a high school with a Career Technical Education Program (CTE) nearby.  The school should have a 20 mile radius from your customer. Students will need to be able to drive themselves from school to the jobsite and or arrange for their own transportation.

For example, EMC Corporation is one of MSI’s biggest customers with 15 buildings and five full-time employees on site every day. We use this site as a way as an environment that benefits the student. Your technician can train the student the correct way and at a lower cost to the company with the potential of hiring the student upon completion of the program.

Finding the Student

  • Near Perfect Attendance
  • GPA of 3.5 or higher
  • Application plus a recommendation Letter
  • Interview student either during their junior year or the summer before their senior year
  • Interview the student on the job site
  • Successful student hired at a reasonable rate
  • Hours: 7:00am-3:30am
  • Must have working vehicle and or transportation to and from jobsite
  • Basic hand tools that are required in the CTE Curriculum

Evaluation Process

  • Every month evaluation by technician
  • Evaluation must be completed by October of school year so you can hire someone else if your first choice doesn’t work out

Hiring Process

  • If student is successful, offer him/her a FTE
  • Or Internship is over without any employment

Meet Blackstone Valley Graduates and MSI Employees

The average age of the MSI Mechanical Systems workforce is 32.

In addition to establishing your own School-to-Career program, collaborating with your local ABC chapter will help retain your young workforce. Last year, I had the honor of being Chairman of ABC NH/VT. Along with my fellow board members we established a Young Professional Group (YPG) within the local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC NH/VT). This allows the ability to blend generations. Not only is mentoring an effective way of transferring knowledge to the next generation, but also it adds the personal connection to keep both the mentor and mentee involved and interested.

In addition to the YPG group, we collaborated with Manchester Community College to help establish a Student chapter of ABC. This allowed the students to gain exposure to the organization and the benefits of collaborating with their peers. Again, both of these organizations were established to help further construction as a career and to open relationships within the industry for the students.

Brian Hooper is vice president of operations, MSI Mechanical Systems, Inc.