Improving Our Image Is the First Step

January 19, 2009
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Butch Welsch

Recently, I drove by two just-off-the-road construction sites in two different states, 1,200 miles apart. It was interesting to see the similarities. Both activities consisted of the construction of sewers or something similar several feet off of the road. In both cases, one lane of a two-lane road was blocked, for no apparent reason, as no work or storage was taking place there. This naturally upset the passing motorists.

The most notable similarity was that in both cases, I counted 12 workers and in both cases two were working and 10 were standing around watching. Since traffic was slowed to nearly a standstill with the one lane closed, all of those unhappy motorists could see the congregation of “non-working” workers. What’s my point? Unfortunately, in the minds of most of the public, we as HVAC contractors are grouped with those construction workers whose productivity is certainly suspect.

Is a parent, perhaps with their children, who sees such a jobsite going to encourage their child to want to work in that field? How many parents would say, “Look Johnny, how would you like to go into construction work where you can be one of those 10 guys that are standing around not working?” Again, I know that we should not be included in that group, but the fact of the matter is that we typically are included with them.


We have all heard that in most contractor surveys (at least before this recession), that finding good, qualified people was the biggest problem that they faced. Can we all see the connection here?

If we are going to attract the best and brightest into our industry, we have to improve the image of our workers. Changing an image is not an easy thing to do. I believe that we have greatly improved the image of the HVAC contractor from what it was 40-50 years ago. That in itself is a tremendous accomplishment and a real tribute to those in the industry. But while we have improved the image of the contractor, I’m not sure that we have sufficiently improved the image of those actually performing the work.

I don’t mean to imply that no progress has been made in this area. Organizations such as North American Technician Excellence (NATE) are working vigorously to improve the skills of the technicians we employ. Through continual training and the certification that follows, there will definitely be an improvement in the image of the worker in the field.

I believe there is more we can and must do to improve the image of our workers. Certainly more and specialized training must occur so we can truly say that we are a skilled trade. In our advertising, be it manufacturers or contractors, we need to continually emphasize the importance we put on the skill and professionalism of our employees. We have to differentiate ourselves in the eyes of the public from those industries and contractors where there isn’t the same concern for the level of training and productivity.


Our profession wants and needs to be considered by parents and their children as one in which they wish to participate. We must make it clear we provide a good wage, good benefits, and interesting and diverse work. But even more important, we need to make it clear that in our industry, workers can take great pride in their accomplishments and at the end of the day feel like they have really made a difference. Surveys of the generation coming into the workforce say that feeling like they can make a difference may be the most important thing that generation is looking for in a career.

We have all seen the demographic numbers regarding those who will be entering the workforce. Since the traditional HVAC employees are going to be coming in smaller numbers than ever before, it is more important than ever that we make more of an effort to make our industry attractive. None of us can do this alone. Contractors, wholesalers, and manufacturers must all work together so that we will have the right people in the right numbers to fill our workforce needs.

Publication date: 01/19/2009
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