Editors Blog


Exactly Why Is There a Worker Shortage?

January 12, 2012
KEYWORDS technicians
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I had the pleasure recently of traveling down to San Antonio and attending the South Texas HVAC Expo put on by the local ACCA chapter. In addition to meeting some great HVAC contractors, I appeared on a panel discussion organized by Ruth King discussing the trends and issues affecting the HVAC industry.

One of the big issues that I have heard about since I started with The NEWS a few years back is the lack of quality individuals out there to fill all the positions in this industry. I have read way too many studies, seen too many statistics, etc., about the topic to relay them all here. Not only that, but anecdotally I have been involved in many conversations on the topic.

But fellow panelist Lee Rosenberg of Rosenberg Indoor Comfort in San Antonio had a fresh view on the topic. He explained to the group that he did not think there was a lack of qualified people to serve as technicians in the industry; instead, he explained that there was a lack of quality companies to hire those folks.

In addition to other examples, Rosenberg talked about contractors who do not watch their financials properly and inevitably have to lay individuals off (or severely cut back on hours) when the busy season has ended. He said this leads those qualified individuals to find another career that is more stable.

I thought this was an interesting perspective on the labor shortage issue. Any thoughts? 

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It's a BIG part of the problem

Chris Compton
January 30, 2012
Lee Rosenberg has it right but the solution is still a long ways off. Our industry (HVAC)is a "familial" business. From reading and retaining all kinds of industry trivia over the years the stated average shop is 5 trucks which means in my mind about 6-7 people. From experience it doesn't matter what part of the country you are talking about the average HVAC contracting firm is small. Those in the industry that might read my reply will agree, many of them represent that typical shop. This is the same issue in most of our sister trades groups; electrical, plumbing, etc...small shops serving a local customer base, making a living but choosing to not pursue a higher level of professionalism in their technical OR business operations. Ironically those that are reading this comment may represent a small shop but just by their attention to this blog show that they are interested in pursuing a more professional level and probably already have. Have you ever noticed in your local HVAC community events that the same people are always attending the Distributor one night stand that presents the latest and greatest technology of one of their manufacturer's lines, or the Community College HVAC program open house or the other events that are focused on HVAC industry issues. It's always the same people attending (the professionals) and the ones that are not attending and never do are the ones that need it the most! I call it the difference between the Men and the Boys. How many times have I heard from a student that his boss thinks that he took way too long to do something or didn't get the service call figured out correctly etc, etc....they are usually upset and in fear of getting canned. The first thing I ask them is if they are getting Journeyman wages (obviously not since they just got out of a program and this is their first job)...of course they say no, he's paying me $________ per hour (pick a number that's low). I then tell them tell the employer if they are expected to be doing journeyman level work then they should be getting journey level wages. Of course you can see where that's going. Lee has it right, one (not the only) of the big issues in our industry that has been prominent for the past 33 years that I've been involved is the lack of a career lattice and the use of one by contractors. One that will give direction and assistance to any competent person that is considering entering our workplace for their career. People that are interested in jumping in won't do so if they can't see a way up. A quality company is a rare bird in HVAC. Why is that...it's because to be a quality operation requires a tremendous amount of work at the front end to set it up and then an ongoing commitment to maintain and elevate the professional status. Bottom line it ain't easy but for those that go there extremely rewarding. As Kyle alludes to, this issue is a very old issue, no one has found the magic pill that will fix it. The only solution is the personal integrity and professional ambitions of the contractor. The good news is that for those that have done the work the financial and personal rewards are amazing, the job satisfaction for the employees is very high and good stuff happens. Years ago I heard a keynote speech in Atlanta at a Focus on the Future conference (precursor to Comfort Tech)...the guy was a Dr. somebody at the US DOL that did an analysis on the National HVAC contracting scene. It was a 20/80 rule demonstration....he indicated that 20% of the HVAC contractors were doing 80% of the dollar volume in the country leaving the other 80% of the contractors to do the remaining 20% of the dollar volume. I believe that still holds today 30 years later. What's the answer? Our answer is to work with and support the professionals, they are the only ones that are going to do anything anyway. The others will turn and churn and keep on doing what they aren't doing. The result is that as an industry we shooting ourselves in the foot but this is a free country, what else can I say?

Kyle Gargaro
February 25, 2012
You make interesting points Chris. Let's just hope the consumers do their research so the quality contractor is rewarded with work. Keep up the good work.

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