ACHRNEWS

Tracing the Causes of the Tech Shortage

March 28, 2001
I’ve just finished research on air conditioning and refrigeration in the 1940s. It’s for part of the News’ celebration of its 75th anniversary this year. The story is scheduled to appear in the April 30 issue, which highlights “75 Years of Cooling.”

It actually was a fairly easy story to do, because through much of that decade there was a single theme. Our industry — as well as the rest of the nation — had a single-minded purpose, that of winning a war.

One aspect was especially striking. That was the need for qualified refrigeration and air conditioning technicians. Yes, that’s a need today, but imagine how critical it was during the first half of the 1940s.



The War Years

There were training schools aplenty those days. But the real training came under trial by fire — such as keeping refrigeration equipment running on troopships, and providing cooling to assist in the servicing of planes on the airfields. The story also includes instances of unique and creative methods of keeping food cool on the beaches of Normandy, as well as designing, building, and shipping ice machines — within a matter of months — to remote tropical islands.

Those skills taught under fire were put to good use during the post-war building boom. In fact, many of those who learned their air conditioning and refrigeration skills aboard troopships or on remote airfields or in war production factories remained in the industry for 40 or more years.

Then came the 1980s. Those war veterans were in their 60s and starting to retire. Some handed down their skills to the next generation, but apparently there weren’t enough Baby Boomers interested in the industry, because cries about qualified technicians were sounding loud in the 1980s.

Compounding that was the chaos of the 1980s, caused by the CFC issue and a wave of new EPA regulations. Technicians in the field were suddenly being asked to undergo new training and certification. More than a few technicians wanted to bail out of a “regulated industry,” and a wave of potential new techs was turned off by the obvious confusion.

It was a double whammy: WWII-trained techs retiring and the next generation not sure what they were getting into.

We are still sorting that out two decades later.

Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or PowellBNP@aol.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 04/02/2001