Is There a Tech Shortage?

May 31, 2010
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Technicians coming out of school can’t find a job. Laid off technicians can’t find a job. Contractors struggling to hire can’t find HVACR technicians.

These are three common scenarios currently occurring across the nation. Contradictory at best, the issues bring to light a question that has surfaced again in the HVACR industry, “Is there a technician shortage?” There is no cut and dried answer to this question, but there are some key factors that help explain the atmosphere in which some technicians continue to search for work, while some contractors continue to search for technicians: Baby Boomers, lack of interest, economy, and technician quality.

BABY BOOMERS

Baby Boomers help hold off the shortages that have been predicted across the HVACR industry. As early predictions came in, “The Boomers are leaving,” rang out like Chicken Little’s cry, “The sky is falling.”

Theories held that when the majority of Baby Boomers retired, it would create an incredible workforce shift. In turn, the shift would yield a sharp drop in experienced technicians. In essence, this Baby Boomer effect was creating pent up technician demand that would inspire steep shortages. Some regions are experiencing shortages, others are not finding this to be the case, and the intensity predicted has yet been felt industry wide.

Some theories about the effect retiring Boomers will have are changing, especially with the growing trend of Boomers delaying their retirements - perhaps because of their dwindled retirement nest egg. According to an employment projections summary issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers 55 years and older are expected to make up almost 25 percent of the labor force in 2018.

“As the members of the large Baby Boom generation grow older and continue their trend of increased labor force participation, the number of persons age 55 years and older in the labor force is expected to increase by 12 million, or 43 percent during the 2008-18 periods,” explained the BLS summary.

The Congressional report - “Retiring Baby Boomers = A Labor Shortage?” - discusses the actuality of severe shortages in Baby-Boomer dependent industries.

“Those who assert that the need to replace retiring Baby Boomers will result in a shortage of workers usually consider only the labor supplied by the Baby Bust generation [Generation X],” explained the report. “This 45 million Birth-Cohort, which immediately followed the 76 million Baby Boomers into the labor force, is not the only source of replacement workers: the 72 million members of the Echo Boom [Generation Y] began to enter the workforce in the 1990’s.”

LACK OF INTEREST

Even with the slowed retirement of the Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y poised to help fill the gap, HVACR industry contractors are concerned about the lack of interest in the HVACR trade.

“Fewer of the X and Y generations are joining our industry,” pointed out Louis Hobaica, president of Hobaica Services in Phoenix. “It seems as though their work ethic doesn’t necessarily meet our industry’s demands.”

Russ Donnici, president of Mechanical Air Service Inc., San Jose, Calif., was concerned as to how the different generations perceived the HVACR trade.

“There are some manual labor aspects of the industry that may seem unappealing,” he said. “There is a shortage, and there will continue to be one until we really start promoting our industry as an exciting industry that can have a substantial effect on our environment in many different ways and provide a higher than average standard of living for its workers.”

Lack of interest, however, is not found only in Generations X and Y. Many of the current secondary education programs nationwide disappoint diverse trades as they fail to endorse them as widely as other, more traditional programs of study.

“I think there will be a shortage for years to come due to lack of interest by high school graduates and vocational/technical schools closing HVAC classes,” warned David Hutchins, president and owner of Bay Area A/C in Crystal River and New Port Richey, Fla. “Too few of our high school graduates have any interest in working with their hands. They aren’t interested in the trades, factory work, etc. They value white collar jobs more highly, even if they pay less money.”

ECONOMY

The economy has been a significant hurdle for most U.S. businesses, especially small businesses. The recession, which was officially declared to have begun in late 2007, brought new challenges that were heightened for diverse trades because of the burst residential housing bubble. Some contractors struggled to survive and were forced to lay off employees. Others grew through maintenance contracts and acquisitions.

As these growing contractors looked to hire employees, what they found was that the HVACR technician labor pool had received a good mixing. Residential, light commercial, and commercial market lines were crossed as the residential housing market slumped first, followed less drastically by the commercial market. The labor pool was further muddied by an influx of alleged independent contractors - many technicians who had been laid off began working for themselves. In this crowded, muddied market, competition became fierce and the overall employment balance in the HVACR industry suffered.

As the 2010 recovery heads into the second quarter, however, the economy is slowly balancing. Many trades seemingly have experienced the slowest of recovery rates in the United States, but as new business trickles in and HVACR contractors begin to hire, the question of finding a technician may be better posed as, “Is there a qualified technician available?”

TECHNICIAN QUALITY

To answer that question, Donnici suggested that a definitive line be drawn between technician and qualified technician.

“There are many technicians out there looking for work. Unfortunately, many have little or no experience, which generally isn’t a problem if they have the attitude and aptitude for the job,” he explained. “The hard fact is that many try to be a technician but will never be a qualified one. Unless we really police our trade, the poor quality of workmanship will always be an issue.”

Donnici is not experiencing a qualified technician shortage at this time. “Due to our benefits and training opportunities, we typically have many more applicants for a position than we can hire.”

Technician quality and availability is regionally different. On the opposite side of the United States in Orlando, Fla., Ken Bodwell, operations manager, Innovative Service Solutions, is looking for some quality technicians. His company recently lost two technicians to competitors and due to growth was already in the market for two additional technicians.

“What we hear is that there is massive unemployment, so there shouldn’t be a technician shortage,” said Bodwell. “But, the good technicians didn’t lose their jobs in the downturn. Contractors found ways to keep them. What technician candidates are left in the market doesn’t always make for a good hire.”

IS THERE A TECHNICIAN SHORTAGE?

The answer to this question truly depends on many factors, even beyond the keys covered above. The future of this issue is unknown, but for now, The NEWS would like to know what your answer is to this question. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ACHRNews and tell us your technician shortage story.

Publication date: 05/31/2010

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Qualified Technicians

Eric
May 31, 2010
We constantly get applicants with 5 plus years of field experience that do not even make 50 on our entrance/qualification test and of course allways say they do not test well but when you ask them to tell you their procedure to diagnose a system they also have now set way of doing that either.

Qualified technicians

Richard Parker
May 31, 2010
There are far too few Qualified Technicians in HVACR , 100,000 to 200,000 I have seen mentioned in surveys. Half the service calls I answered were behind companies unable to fix the problem/problems. Usually there were multiple problems.Some problems were created by the previous service company.

qualified technicians

Don Dalphin Jr.
May 31, 2010
Most applicants I see dont have the comprehensive skills necessary to follow a system in their minds to determine where the problem is, all they want to do is be "parts changers" thinking that (a) it covers their butts and (b) it makes money for the company, while it may cover their butts, that client will remember that they were sold a bunch of parts and most likely not call our company back. LikeRrichards comment above, I have lost track of how many jobs I went to that were messed up by the previous company, a few years ago I worked for the home warranty industry ( BIG MISTAKE) they sent out 7 numbskulls out to this one house and kept adding freon as the low side was running low, turns out it was a plugged strainer at the mertering piston, and I recovered 28 pounds of r-22 from a system designed to hold 8.....

Qualified Technicians

Bobicehouse
May 31, 2010
First. Most so-called qualified technicians I have met while being an instructor feel they have no need to prove what they know, yet as previously stated cannot pass an exam. Second I blame alot of the employers lately who are more intersested in parts sellers rather then repair pros. The statement "Do you know what it costs to keep a truck and mechanic on the road". turns my stomach.

Qualified Technicians

Stu Gupton
June 1, 2010
As to getting Technicians into the field, first, companies must be willing to hire apprentices and grow the techs. Also,historically, trades man have always been underpaid for what they do. Companies charge $85-125 an hour for a trades man and he gets $20-30. This is not a very interest generating salary for the future tradesman much less the Tech in the field. When we start treating our techs well industry-wide, we might see a long term turn around.

Qualified technician

timothy s moore
June 1, 2010
i'm african american try so many times nobody realy want hire someone who looks like me and grade are very good .

Qualified Technician

Elmer Eash
June 1, 2010
In my area (Indiana) good techs get $40,000 to $80,000+ per year. We need more good techs, but very hard to find. Most are barely parts changers. I have seen guys spend 12 grand & 4 weeks in specific HVAC schools and come out with very little comprehension and unable to do anything more than say "you need a new, more efficient system". There is tons of work out there, we need techs who can accurately trouble-shoot.

Qualified technicians

Jason B
June 1, 2010
We need to stand behind more organizations like NATE. It is the closest thing our industry has to proof of basic knowledge or journeyman status among technicians. If we start making this a mandatory requirement, we will start to see an increse in quqlified techs.

Qualified Technican

David W. Bonser MSEE PE
June 1, 2010
I am a Instructor of HVAC/R at the Monroe Career and Technical Institute, Monroe County Pennsylvania. I instruct in basic and advanced studies and train hands-on for the HVAC/R fields. I see a tremenious need for the basics being thought in school. (The three R') Most of the stundents I teach drop out in a very short peroid because of communication, math and science skills, which should have been learned in public schools, not trade schools. Our problem is development of a new bred of technical personnel who are thinkers and not test takers! Very Truly; David W. Bonser MSEE PE MCTI

Qualified Technicians

Jim
June 2, 2010
The fact is, the pool of qualified technicians is small and will get worse as time goes on not better. Think about your friends, neighbors and family members. How many have said "Junior is really bright, we're encouraging him to learn a trade." Never happens. Instead, parents encourage their slow, unmotivated, malcontent children to learn a trade. I used to believe that above-average pay and benefits from our industry would be enough to turn the tide. I don't think so anymore as most people have no idea how much a good technician can make. Instead, the solution will come from technology and those manufacturers that embrace it. It seems that manufacturers will soon have no alternative than to make hvacr technicians irrelevent.

Tech Shortage - WHY?

Alex Walter - Denver
June 6, 2010
A major reason for the HVAC professional shortage is our LOUSY working conditions. The industry, especially unitary equipment manufacturers, NAHB. NATE and ACCA need to work toward improved working conditions. I have a list of 21 places where mechanical equipment should not be located. http://dl.dropbox.com/u/458200/When%20Buying%20%26%20No-No%20Loc%20List/Alexs-NO-NO%20List_10-29-2009-2.pdf If and when we make our working conditions better, i.e. equal to that of the so called white collar workers we will find more smart, well educated people willing to be HVAC field workers.

Tech Shortage - WHY?

Alex Walter - Denver
June 7, 2010
A major reason for the HVAC professional shortage is our LOUSY working conditions. The industry, especially unitary equipment manufacturers, NAHB. NATE and ACCA need to work toward improved working conditions. I have a list of 21 places where mechanical equipment should not be located. http://dl.dropbox.com/u/458200/When%20Buying%20%26%20No-No%20Loc%20List/Alexs-NO-NO%20List_10-29-2009-2.pdf If and when we make our working conditions better, i.e. equal to that of the so called white collar workers we will find more smart, well educated people willing to be HVAC field workers.

Tech shortage

John Siverling
June 7, 2010
I have been a qualified commercial service tech since 1976. I myself remember talking at Rses meetings about Tech shortages coming in the future and that was in the early 90's. I myself have noticed a work ethic shift over the years. More pay wanted for less work and a unwillingness to put in the long hours it takes in this trade. Also the self study and OJT it takes to be that good tech. I've also noticed a lot of employers care more about the buck then pride in their work quality so they dont mind those unqualified techs as long as they sell. Newcomers to the Trade no happening, lets face it its not easy work and the environment can be toxic. Not what gen X and Y like.

Tech Shortage

Joe Tech
June 8, 2010
We are truly in the midst of a maintenance crisis: Check out SkillTV.net for more information on this subject

Qualified Technicans

Kenneth Touw
June 16, 2010
I'm a small co. in Monroe co. Pa. Finding good techs is almost inpossable.The young men don't have the basic education or work ethic to even be trained.They expect top dollar but don't or won't put in the HOURS that are needed to excell in this field.ON CALL is like a curse word even at time and a half.Neat apperance and customer service are totally alien to them.So all us BABY BOOMERS better not plan on retireing or this country is going to be in bad shape.

Tech shortage

Mr. Tech
June 17, 2010
Not seeing a shortage but in the company I work for I see the lack on interest. And the lack of care over the senior techs. Techs that are in the feild for years get no repect for what they know or worked hard to learn. But the new generation coming in the field now have no interest at all to learn. Sad that most of the helpers are pay as much or more the the senior tech. And they learned that they can keep there hand in there pockets and get money for nothing. Some of these guys go in a truck and have been in the truck and have no clue how to fix anything. Sometimes I don't understand what companys are looking for in a tech. Most of these techs. don't know the basics at all. I understand that as a company it great charge the customer for the first tech. then send a good one out to fix it right. I feel it is wrong. I had worked hard to get here and see no future in the field anymore. The guys that have done this for years don't want to be in the trade anymore. There no repected for the true tech. and that maybe everywhere but it around this area.

Tech shortage

Mr. Tech
June 17, 2010
Not seeing a shortage but in the company I work for I see the lack on interest. And the lack of care over the senior techs. Techs that are in the feild for years get no repect for what they know or worked hard to learn. But the new generation coming in the field now have no interest at all to learn. Sad that most of the helpers are pay as much or more the the senior tech. And they learned that they can keep there hand in there pockets and get money for nothing. Some of these guys go in a truck and have been in the truck and have no clue how to fix anything. Sometimes I don't understand what companys are looking for in a tech. Most of these techs. don't know the basics at all. I understand that as a company it great charge the customer for the first tech. then send a good one out to fix it right. I feel it is wrong. I had worked hard to get here and see no future in the field anymore. The guys that have done this for years don't want to be in the trade anymore. There no repected for the true tech. and that maybe everywhere but it around this area.

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