Refrigeration Equipment Simplicity Might Be the Way to Go

A Consultant Looks at Drawing in and Retaining Refrigeration Techs

January 27, 2014
Attracting young people to the industry (such as this contestant at a past SkillsUSA competition) is becoming more important as older techs retire.
Attracting young people to the industry (such as this contestant at a past SkillsUSA competition) is becoming more important as older techs retire.

Here’s a sobering thought for you: The average age of a refrigeration service technician that works on supermarket equipment is greater than 55. That’s according to Terry Roberts, president of Merchandising by Design, who gave a talk on the topic “The Art and Science Behind Compelling Fresh Food Formats” at last fall’s Food Marketing Institute Energy and Store Design Conference.

Her question was, “Who’s going to maintain these stores” after these ‘seniors’ leave the industry?

In one respect this goes back to the oldest (pardon the pun) topic in the industry: finding, training, and holding qualified service technicians. Roberts referenced that issue in her talk, and offered some approaches for the supermarket refrigeration sector to do a better job in that regard.

She encouraged simpler system designs so the learning curve isn’t that steep for young folks as one way for the refrigeration sector to gain and retain techs. She has a point. We in the industry keep talking about how complex our systems are as if it is a badge of honor. But a counter argument is, “Can we actually make systems simpler?” Like Roberts, I’m not an engineer, so both she and I don’t have the answer. We are just posing the question.

A second point of hers is for the industry to develop more of those mobile apps that young people have grown up with to help in understanding systems. They can certainly access and use those far better than my senior self, just as they can text far better with far fewer words and more abbreviation codes than I ever could.

Regarding Roberts’ call for simplicity and more mobile apps: Lets c wha u can do w/it, k?

Publication date: 1/27/2014

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Donald brian Baker
February 5, 2014
Peter, Peter, Peter... if your email inbox is not jammed with comments I will be amazed. You have opened up what I would call one of the best topics to date surrounding the skills issues. I need a little time to prepare my response because there are so many things to talk about. In the meantime I'm hoping you'll be busy reading the many comments that I feel you will get. Also the Capitcha's could be shorter... they SUCK!


Donald brian Baker
February 6, 2014
Peter, where does one start to address your question? There are a few things... 1. Aging demographics in the trades (We all knew this and chose to do little or nothing to build or retain the knowledge so as to train entry level personnel. A lot of this was how compensation was paid and has traditionally been paid and so protectionism took root. 2. Who will now maintain and install these systems? Good question, when you cannot throw a switch and ‘poof’ insta-tech! We all share the blame including the end users for NOT allowing of REFUSING to pay for a highly skilled trained journeyperson and APPRENTICE. Wow! What a novel idea... actually mentor like we did years ago when times were different. 3. Simpler systems – LOL ROTF Sure... let’s turn back times, to simpler times. This is not even reality given the technological changes that we’ve seen. Let’s go back to times when we didn’t spend so much time on worksite safety regulations, environmental regulations, energy efficiency, etc... Dumb it down is that message. 4. More mobile apps. Sure, we need to be more efficient, and to meet the skilled labour shortages we will introduce systems that can be monitored adjusted and tuned by a wiz kid sitting in a building ½ way around the world looking at a screen. We already have systems that are self diagnosing and self commissioning is right around the corner and when guys like GOOGLE get into the business. Hang on... the landscape will change and if we don’t like it, too bad because we had the chance to direct the Industry and we have on many ways failed. We do little to help ourselves and stand united against regulations that hold the legitimate contractors to standards that are not enforced against those who are not qualified or whom operate illegal operations. There is no enforcement or little. As such, the front line contractors who have been under the thumb of regulators for years have been beaten down. On top of this clients refuse to pay for more than one person and so the on-the-job training and mentoring has been lost and with it the knowledge and skills of generations. We again gave up and let it drift away. With no enforcement others picked up the work and called themselves contractors when clearly they have no skills or qualifications and again we failed. The winner the end user because they felt they got a lower cheaper cost. Now, they are finding it’s harder to find a good knowledgeable contractor than a medical doctor. Surprise! I wonder if people would be happier if we made airplanes simpler. How about making it easier to be a Doctor? It does not matter what the occupation, skills shortages will be felt because the next generation of workers were the smallest generation because people stopped having babies. Now we face a crisis and we all knew it was going to happen. Aging population, increased health needs, etc and somehow we feel that we can fix it with more money. Good luck worldwide there is a shortage. Technology will help somewhat, but no matter what we will require higher skilled trained technicians and they will cost more and demand more. Supply and demand... it’s great and we will rise and maybe be paid and listened to now for what we know and can do. People have been getting a free ride and I hear the crash coming. For the retailers to just now get how serious this is comes as no surprise to me. The big problem will be are consumers ready for the higher prices and delays that are sure to be realized. Thank you Peter for raising this and I am sure there is far more to be discussed and debated. If there is one thing we do poorly is openly discuss and debate issues like this at our Industry events and conferences. This was and remains so serious that a full week conference on this event is long overdue and we need all the players and front line staff to be a part of the debate and discussions. Long overdue! Keep up the good reporting.


James Bass
February 6, 2014
I'm sorry, but at 70 yrs, of age and a very successful lifetime career servicing all sizes and types of commercial equipment (majority supermarket equip) I just cannot condone any simplifying of equipment or systems. They are the way they are to do very complicated jobs. I have first hand seen what happens when techs(?) try to service something in a simpler way. I have found that most people in this field do not want to do the dirty work involved. Perhaps the more pertinent question would be----who will change the oil in a rack or lift the compressor to the mezzanine, or keep the machine wiped down for easier and more effective leak detection etc. I came up through a state apprenticeship program starting at the bottom and working up and didn't mind the small stuff at the beginning. Apps. and computers are O.K. but they don't do the hands on. P.S. I have been self employed the last 11 years, alone, and the thing I see missing the most is common sense. Thanks for listening, Jim Bass

Senior Hvac Tech former business owner

Jeff Johnston
February 7, 2014
It is not because it's complicated. I have been in commercial refrigeration for 20 plus yeas, have worked for major grocery chains. I love refrigeration but I do commercial hvac now. The grocery business does not want to pay for service. Refrigeration is not as high volume as product going down a checkout counter. They expect everything priced to them to be as low margin as they get. It doesn't work that way. I am more involved with knowledge doing refrigeration and on call with lot more pressure and I love it, however wages and benefits for commercial refrig compared to hvac is lacking. Walmart wants their tech's on call 365 24hrs with the option to call backup in, which affects a yearly bonus, all for $25 hr. I make $37 doing hvac. This issue of pay for the skill requested needs to be addressed more often and honestly. It is not because younger generation is not smart enough, what an insult. They are smart enough not to go into a lower paying field. It is getting harder to find people to really work but that is a political issue, stop subsidizing career students and unemployment. I can't cover it all here, you have to love refrigeration to do it, I do but the pay for what is expected is not there combined with the fact that supermarket people will always go with the cheaper option, so companies will come and go in this field. Refrigeration people need to become smarter business people and stop cutting each other off at the knees. Thanks for letting me rant.


Ron Loundon
February 14, 2014
65 and still at it!



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