ACHRNEWS

Associations Work Together to Solve Labor Shortage

January 21, 2008

There is one strong development in regard to the labor shortage issue in this industry. The alarming reality is that it is bringing many contractor associations together in an effort to not only find ways to overcome, but supply productive solutions for, the ever-growing problem.

“Meeting the labor shortage is more than developing a career brochure or patting a young HVACR student on the back when we see her at an industry event,” commented Paul Stalknecht, president of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). “It is greater than empty words and lofty ideals that get voiced at sterile meetings.”

It’s one of the reasons why ACCA, among other strategies, paired up with both the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) in sponsoring and uniting in the production of the HVACR and Plumbing Instructors Workshop. For the first 10 years, the meeting of HVACR instructors was originally administered by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). However, in 2006, RSES, ACCA, and PHCC joined ARI and the Council for Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE) to expand the workshop.

“Expand we did, nearly doubling attendance from previous levels,” said Mark Lowry, executive vice president for RSES.

For the record, this year four more associations joined as sponsors: SkillsUSA, North American Technician Excellence (NATE), Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Heating, Airconditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). Lowry expects the program to continue to grow.

“The workshop provides an opportunity for educators who are the shapers of tomorrow’s workforce to share ideas with peers not only from similar academic settings, but also with corporate trainers while they learn directly from manufacturers the latest technological developments,” he pointed out.

Another collaborative effort for ACCA, RSES, and PHCC is the development of a four-year series of manuals designed to be the curriculum for structured apprentice programs. The material is not to be exclusive to model apprentice implementations. Rather, it is designed in collaboration with Delmar CENGAGE Learning to serve as the text for formal postsecondary settings as well.

“The design is specifically geared at engaging young people entering the field and/or industry for the first time, with relevant real-world examples and case studies to put contextual reference to each lesson’s objectives rather than present in a traditional, theoretical manner,” explained the RSES leader.

The contractor associations contacted by The NEWS include the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), ACCA, RSES, and PHCC. Below is a rundown of what each association is doing in the effort to resolve the labor shortage issue.

HVACR instructors gather around an exhibit booth (above) at an HVACR and Plumbing Instructors Workshop, sponsored by a host of association groups, including PHCC, RSES, ACCA, and ARI. HVACR instructors, among other program choices, learn about a new technology at a manufacturer’s booth (below).

ACCA

Stalknecht said ACCA is taking the approach of finding out what technicians say is the most valuable education and training they received, and helping to make sure it is offered at the highest levels of instruction and quality.

“ACCA wants to promote the fact that our industry is very profitable for smart people who want to work hard,” said ACCA’s leader. “We want to make sure that our contractor business owners are smart business men and women who know how to manage people, grow their abilities, train to erase their deficiencies, and provide opportunities for advancement and growth.”

According to Stalknecht, the association is looking to mobilize its member contractors at the grass roots level to keep local training institutions at high quality, well funded, and guided by input from contractors. He said ACCA is determined to foster positive relationships with industry educators and provide world-class educational materials for one and all in the classroom and labs.

• ACCA is, as Stalknecht put it, “building platforms with our industry partners,” designed to put the spotlight on the labor shortage issue.

ACCA, along with many other industry associations, has formed the HVACR Alliance. (For listing of participants, see sidebar.) This alliance deals at the CEO level with a wide spectrum of short- and long-term challenges and opportunities that cut across the board.

“One of the primary initiatives of the alliance has been to put the labor shortage on the front burner and acknowledge that we collectively must take the lead in strengthening technical education opportunities and funding,” said Stalknecht, who has opened doors for the alliance to engage with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in their workforce development issues.

As part of this dialogue, ACCA members participated in an Industry Workforce Summit sponsored by the chamber and have also engaged with high-level representatives from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education to solidify the need for first rate-technical education.

“At the behest of our contractors, ACCA has partnered with PHCC and RSES Educational Foundation to develop a comprehensive set of HVACR textbooks,” added Stalknecht. “The four books of the series are geared to meet the needs of apprenticeship programs and other HVACR educational programs.”

• The association seeks to strengthen its ties with industry educators through support of their efforts in the classroom and labs, as well as developing and updating educational materials and products. Stalknecht said ACCA takes its relationship with its education provider partners “very seriously.”

“We exemplify that seriousness through the development of new technical manuals and products and the systematic upgrade of existing manuals,” he said. “ACCA chapters across the country also sponsor and fund local apprentice programs to help train the future workforce.”

In the past years, ACCA has fostered numerous partnerships and alliances on achieving ANSI certification, in designing protocols for quality installation standards, and new and innovative tools that can help instructors “in more effectively using ACCA manuals in the classroom and field experiences,” he said.

ACCA staff is also inaugurating a new communication tool with its education and training partners, aptly named The Educator.

• ACCA’s leader said the association is constantly evolving partnerships with students currently in HVACR educational programs. In some instances, the establishment of ACCA student chapters has, in Stalknecht’s eyes, “proven to be a vehicle to send a solid message to students about the important role groups, such as ACCA, will play in their professional development.”

Stalknecht said ACCA is a proud participant in the upcoming Association for Career and Technical Education Convention and will take part in a presentation for school counselors and administrators on the career opportunities in HVACR.

• ACCA understands the grave importance of reaching out to parents, school counselors, and students at a young age and putting forth the message that “a career in the HVACR industry is full of promise,” said Stalknecht.

ACCA is developing materials for parents, school counselors, and younger students that can be used to promote the benefits of the HVACR industry. In Stalknecht’s estimation, it is important for both parents and school counselors “that they realize the earning potential that exists for those entering the profession.”

He added, “It is also vital that they see very relevant career paths that a young person could choose after he or she comes to work for a contractor.”

• On a final note, the association advocates that, on this issue, contractor members themselves are the best representatives in “making the case,” explained Stalknecht.

To “tell the story” about the benefits of working in the HVACR industry, ACCA is providing information to members on CDs that can be used when contractors are participating in career day activities.

Stalknecht added that ACCA will help meet the labor shortage by making sure that the industry is welcoming to women, minorities, second careerists, older workers, and retired military men and women.

RSES

Although, in a sense, RSES has been providing career development tools to individuals, especially at the early stages of their service or installation professional life, for more than 70 years, executive vice president Lowry said the need for the kinds of programs RSES offers “has never been more critical than now.”

“RSES is the one HVACR industry association dedicated to the technical education and training of service and installation technicians, obvious core components of any attempt to expand this workforce,” said the leader of RSES. “Because the issue requires far more attention and resources than any one organization can provide, RSES joined forces with other prominent HVACR industry associations to collaborate on a number of initiatives over the past several years, as well as expanding upon specific RSES offerings.”

According to Lowry, RSES continues to expand its own core offerings and programs. In recent years, Lowry pointed out that the student program was refined to combine aspects of several [confusing] different programs for students into a single program. RSES also offers full benefits of membership to students enrolled in accredited academic institutions at one-half the normal dues.

“Most importantly, it lets students know there are resources available for their continuing education needs once they graduate their initial program,” he explained.

One of the most significant steps RSES is taking to help attract new faces to the HVACR industry is through the offering of technical content via the Internet. Rolling out in mid-2008, Lowry said RSES chose “to embrace this medium with the realization that traditional classroom training is no longer the only viable delivery mechanism.”

“While guidance and mentoring are critical to student success, particularly in longer, more comprehensive courseware, the initial modules offered will be highly interactive and animated in nature,” said the association’s chief. “This design should help show young people, who are used to an electronic interface, that the HVACR is a contemporary industry, as well as provide sufficient meaningful content for the seasoned professional seeking continuing education or refresher courseware.”

Per Lowry, the bottom line is this: RSES is addressing the current workforce shortage by staying true to what it does best - provide meaningful, necessary technical theory and training in a relevant context. However, delivering that knowledge has evolved, by necessity, as he put it, “to address the needs and desires of Generations X, Y, and ‘Why.’”

“How RSES material appears and in what medium a student receives it may be different than even 10 years ago, but RSES remains committed to delivering on its mission for many years to come,” Lowry summarized.

HVACR instructors listen to a speaker at last year's HVACR and Plumbing Instructors Workshop. The event provides an opportunity for educators, considered to be the shapers of tomorrow's workforce, to share ideas with peers.

PHCC

As chief operating officer (COO) of PHCC Education Foundation and vice president of education for PHCC-National Association, Gerry Kennedy is fully aware of the critical nature of the growing workforce shortage in the HVACR industry. He is quick to quote the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which forecasts that HVACR jobs will increase by 29 percent, or 38,000 jobs, by 2014 and, in addition, 27,000 new HVACR techs are needed annually to replace retiring workers - numbers current training programs cannot begin to meet, said Kennedy.

“It’s not a single-solution problem,” said Kennedy, “but it is one that requires a singular, collaborative focus.”

Like RSES, it combined with ACCA to nail down collaborative efforts (as noted per above).

The PHCC Education Foundation continues to provide career materials, as well as a scholarship program, that awards over $100,000 in scholarships to students who are enrolled in industry-related majors. More than $1.45 million in scholarships has been awarded over the history of the program, said Kennedy.

In 2007, there have been a number of other collaborative initiatives, including:

• In February, Kennedy met with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education, Dr. Pat Stanley, to discuss federal initiatives to promote career and technical education. According to Kennedy, Dr. Stanley offered assistance and asked for help from PHCC business owners to support new strategies to train the next generation of skilled workers.

• In April, PHCC Executive Vice President Ike Casey and Kennedy met with staff leaders of 11 industry trade and professional organizations to begin development of an implementation plan to address the shortage of skilled workers in the plumbing-heating-cooling industry. That group then met with representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor; the American Association of Community Colleges; the Association for Career and Technical Education; and other experts to discuss the critical shortage of skilled workers in the HVACR and plumbing industry.

According to Kennedy, Dr. Arthur Rothkopf, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pledged that the chamber would support postsecondary educational opportunities for all students, not just those attending college.

“This is the first time that the Chamber of Commerce has embraced the need for postsecondary skilled training for all workers,” said Kennedy.

• In March, Kennedy was appointed to the National Advisory Committee for the Architecture and Construction Career Cluster.

• Also in March, PHCC President Jo Rae Wagner addressed the national meeting of the State Directors of Career and Technical Education. She discussed the critical shortage of skilled workers in the plumbing and HVACR industry and asked educators to partner with business owners to strengthen existing and start new programs to train the workers needed by the industry.

• In May, Kennedy met with executive director Jan Bray and Dr. Tom Applegate of the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) to initiate plans to bring the plumbing and HVACR industry message to teachers, counselors, and administrators of career and technical education programs.

Also in May, Michael Honeycutt, Kennedy, and Dick Shaw co-authored a white paper, “Achieving Tomorrow’s Construction Workforce.” (For its full content, go to www.achrnews.com and click on extra edition and web exclusive.)

• In June, president Wagner addressed teachers and state directors attending the SkillsUSA Call to Action meeting in Kansas City, Mo. Her message was that business owners want to work with educators to recruit and train the skilled workforce needed by the plumbing and HVACR industry.

• ACTE Executive Director Jan Bray spoke to the PHCC/Foundation board of directors on June 29 about ways business owners and industry leaders can work with local educators to train the skilled workers needed by the industry.

• President Wagner and Kennedy participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Sept. 24-26 Education and Workforce Summit to learn more about what other industries are doing to address the shortage of skilled workers. At the conclusion of this meeting, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced plans to actively advocate for skilled worker training at the national, state, and local level.

• Over the 2007-2008 timeframe, pilot workforce development initiatives are being implemented in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas. In Kennedy’s estimation, it is essential that state and local coalitions be developed that include trade association chapters, local chambers of commerce, contractors, and suppliers, as well as secondary and postsecondary educators. The emphasis will be to build relationships between local business owners and educators to train skilled workers to HVACR industry standards.

• Representatives of the PHCC Educational Foundation and ACCA exhibited and presented a panel discussion “Hot Careers That Pay Cold Cash!” at the Association for Career and Technical Education Convention, which was held Dec. 13-15, 2007.

• As has been done over the past few years, the PHCC Educational Foundation and several other industry associations will present a panel discussion and exhibit during the SkillsUSA Championships, June 25-27, 2008.

“Combined with PHCC’s ongoing work continually to update its instructional programs to provide top-notch training materials and instructional resources for PHCC chapters and community and technical colleges, these workforce development initiatives are key to mounting a strong collaborative effort to resolve pressing workforce supply issues for our industries,” summarized Kennedy.

Sidebar: Alliance Members

Members of HVACR Industry Alliance include:

• Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

• Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI)

• Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA)

• American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

• Heating, Airconditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors, International (HARDI)

• Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI)

• Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA)

• International Institute for Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR)

• National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA)

• National Air Filtration Association (NAFA)

• North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

• Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors – National Association (PHCC)

• Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Publication date: 01/21/2008