Meeting HVACR's Labor Needs

January 21, 2008
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It’s 2008; do you know where your future workers are? (If you understood that media reference, you’re probably a Baby Boomer.) The aging of the Baby Boomers is leading to a critical shift in the American workforce. As growing numbers of boomers start to retire, employers in most industries are facing the need to fill their slots with new, hopefully qualified employees.

Where do the new people come from? According to several sources, part of the answer lies in retaining and accommodating older employees, who may not be ready to retire when they reach retirement age. Another solution will be finding and training employees from outside of HVACR’s previously white male demographic. Finally, and perhaps most difficult, will be enticing new workers from potential careers in other industries.

BOOMERS BY THE NUMBERS

According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), the Baby Boom population consists of the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. When they were growing up, this population caused the construction of new schools, houses, hospitals, and eventually resulted in a larger consumer and employee population.

Their imminent retirement has been causing great speculation on how to provide for their health care, retirement benefits, and how to fill the labor hole they will leave behind - already a familiar problem in the HVACR industry.

The need for HVAC professionals is expected to climb, even as the labor pool shrinks. According to Oklahoma State University, in that state alone, employment for HVAC mechanics and installers will jump to 2,630 jobs in 2012 from 2,050 in 2002. Approximately 2,000 HVAC and related field job opportunities will be created between 2008 and 2012 - jobs that will likely go unfilled, the university said.

Factors contributing to the shortage, states the school, include a dropping number of HVAC program graduates entering the trade, an aging workforce, and an increasing demand to transform buildings into cost-effective and efficient facilities.

“The long-term outlook is not good as older, knowledgeable techs are retiring from the workforce much faster than new ones are being added and trained. Many other industries are pulling technicians from HVAC to their respective industries such as oil and gas production, energy distribution, etc.,” due to higher pay and less strenuous work, said Tim Fletcher, Emerson Comfort Systems.

SUPPORT YOUR SCHOOLS

Steps are being taken within the HVACR industry to partner with industry organizations to draw in newcomers. Lennox, for instance, has partnered with HVAC Learning Solutions, said Haines.

“As manufacturers, we need to continue to provide the technical and skill training similar to what we’ve done in the past - albeit, perhaps, at a higher rate,” Dave Pannier, president, Residential Systems, Trane. “We also need to be supportive of skilled trade schools with regard to curriculum development and in-kind support,” he said.

“We offer support for HVAC training schools/programs, offer our own training, and support NATE [North American Technician Excellence] certification and training,” said Emerson’s Fletcher. The company supports industry associations such as Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), Mechanical Service Contractors Association (MSCA), Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA), United Association (UA), and others “with information to help train technicians on our products to improve the products’ performance, longevity, and improve the contractor’s business and reputation at the same time,” he said.

Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee and Johnson Controls entered into a collaborative program called CareerConnect. Steve Olmstead, chair of OSU-Okmulgee’s Construction Division (which includes the HVAC program), described the partnership as a way to increase the number of people enrolling in the program and improving graduates’ career potential. “The company’s contributions to OSU-Okmulgee include scholarships, instruction from industry experts, learning materials, and faculty training,” he said.

Through the program, Johnson Controls donates resources to partnering schools to enhance their learning environments, including supplements to the HVAC program curriculum. The manufacturer also teams up with the university to educate high school students in the area about careers in HVAC.

“To meet the needs of our growing service business,” said David Werts, vice president-Northwest Region of Johnson Controls, “we are taking action that recruits and also develops the kind of talent we look for in professional service technicians. Students who graduate from the HVAC program at OSU-Okmulgee will be among the best candidates the industry has to offer in this region.”

“The distribution company I work for is involved with local chapters of organizations such as ACCA, ABC, and Service Roundtable to provide incentives for persons entering the HVAC industry,” said Boyd. “I myself am on the board of directors with the Delaware Chapter of ACCA, working on the education programs as well as my company’s representative on the Service Roundtable.

“The more all of us work toward opening the way for better HVAC education, the better quality HVAC personnel our industry will have in the future.”

EQUIPMENT CHANGES

“Another opportunity that we, as manufacturers, have is to simplify the installation, service, and diagnostic requirements in system designs that are increasingly complex,” said Pannier. Indeed, this has already been happening.

Many features of Emerson Climate Technologies’ products “offer ease of installation, better reliability, diagnostic capability, and improved comfort and efficiency, as well as excellent product support,” said Fletcher. “All these factors lead to increased technician productivity and reduced callbacks.” Product innovations include “products that are easier to install with additional diagnostics, charge verification, and performance verification,” Fletcher said. “We can also limit warranties on misapplied or incorrectly installed products. And we can support the ACCA guidelines for Quality Installation.”

“The products I represent, as well as all HVAC products, seem to be being designed to be ‘dummy’ proof, so the level of skill from the installer to the service technician does not need to be more than that of counting blinking lights and changing out modular components,” said Boyd.

“I see more and more self-diagnosing components and ‘easy-to-replace’ components than ever before. It appears that the manufacturers of HVAC equipment are doing what they can to protect the equipment from the lack of skill that is within contracting companies.”

He continued: “In my opinion, HVAC contractors need to have more control over the final manufacturing of their combined products. That final manufacturing is done at the home or business of the end user, and should require as much quality control as is affected in the factory where the system components being used require.

“No matter how well HVAC system components are constructed,” Boyd said, “if they are not put together with the same diligence and quality control, the end result will be that of a less quality system.”

Publication date: 01/21/2008

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