HVACR contractors are having a difficult time finding, training, and retaining qualified workers.
Here at The NEWS, we have written this sentence more than a few times over the years.
It seems the message has reached President Donald Trump’s White House and, perhaps most importantly, the desk of his daughter Ivanka Trump.
A $200 MILLION PLEDGE
President Trump signed the Apprenticeship and Workforce of Tomorrow executive order into law June 15, which is designed to expand apprenticeship opportunities in hopes of filling approximately 6 million vacant jobs.
President Trump has directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to draft new rules that allow companies, industry groups, and unions to create and certify their own programs, which would then be approved by the DOL.
The order doubles the current level of funding for apprenticeship grants to $200 million by repurposing money allotted for existing job-training programs.
The initiative would also direct members of Trump’s administration to form a task force of representatives from industry groups, unions, and corporations that would recommend other ways government could help expand apprenticeships.
Finally, the order calls on Congress to allow student loans to apply to technical college education or on-the-job training.
It’s being reported that this apprenticeship effort was largely spearheaded by Ivanka Trump. During the administration’s recent trip overseas, Ivanka Trump, who holds the title of assistant to the president, gained a close look at how apprenticeship programs were run in Germany and other countries, which sprung her to action on behalf of the skills gap American employers are currently enduring.
If you gave me 100,000 guesses on who was going to champion the push for more HVACR apprentices, Ivanka Trump would have never made the list.
DIVING INTO THE DATA
According to the DOL, formal programs that combine on-the-job learning with mentorships and classroom education fell 40 percent in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013. This drop may be attributed to a surge in college attendance, the decline in the number of labor unions, and a perceived lack of blue-collar pay.
Former President Barack Obama pledged to strengthen apprenticeships by pledging $100 million to high-growth industries and recognized new programs in health care, information technology, and supply-chain management in 2014.
Based on statistics from the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, the effort had a positive effect as the total number of active apprentices grew from 410,375 in 2014 to 505,371 in 2016.
And, while incremental growth to 500,000-plus apprentices may seem like a step in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Of the 146 million jobs in the U.S. in 2016, only about 0.35 percent were filled by active apprentices.
The good news is that the number of HVACR industry apprentices is growing faster than the national average. In 2014, the DOL notes there were 1,718 active apprentices in the HVACR sector. That number nearly doubled to 3,135 HVACR apprentices in 2016.
While this is a positive indicator, it’s worth mentioning that of the 292,000 estimated HVACR jobs, only about 1 percent are registered as active apprentices, leaving ample room for improvement.
Love or hate the Trump administration, this executive order seems to be an undeniable win for the HVACR industry.
For starters, this levels the playing field. Students may now use federal student loans to pay for vo-tech or on-the-job education.
And while $200 million is a drop in the bucket of the government’s $4 trillion budget, every little bit counts — especially for an industry so thirsty for qualified help.
Fed up with the lack of options or quality instruction available, several contractors — including Chuck Gassmann, president of Bell Brothers Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa; Brian Leech, owner, Service Legends, Des Moines, Iowa; Jody Perkins, owner, ARC Mechanical Contractors Inc., Bradford, Vermont; and many others — have started their own in-house apprenticeship programs. Assuming this executive order recognizes the value of these contractor-led programs, imagine how much stronger these offerings could become with more significant government backing.
Consider how this initiative could boost the proficiency of the annual national apprentice contest run by Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC); the regional apprenticeship programs operated by Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA); the efforts of the United Association (UA); the pool of talent available through local union organizations; etc.
And, most importantly, contemplate what this could do to the future of the HVACR workforce. Contractors would not only benefit by taking prospects under their wings at a young age, they’d also gain first crack at offering the more outstanding techs full-time employment.
On the campaign trail, Trump suggested, if elected, he’d strengthen the American attitude toward vocational education and apprenticeships. After 14 seasons on “The Apprentice,” President Trump is well-versed with the potential apprentices possess, and it appears as if he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is.
For the HVAC industry’s sake, let’s hope this initiative spurs a new Trump catchphrase: “You’re hired.”
Publication date: 6/26/2017