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The Technician Shortage and One Person’s Solution

July 3, 2000
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A shortage of qualified technicians is quickly rising to the top of the top-ten list of hvacr industry concerns.

The technician shortage has long since surpassed questions over refrigerant supplies, which are understood well enough to become pretty much non-issues, and questions over the impact of mergers and consolidations among wholesalers, contractors, and manufacturers (which is currently confusing enough to be a non-issue among many of us).

Technician Background

The technician concern has a long history.

World War II forced the training of highly qualified technicians needed to maintain mechanical military equipment, such as on aircraft carriers and large troop carriers. Those techs then entered the industry, at first in refrigeration, and then air-conditioning as a/c became more and more important to our industry.

Along the way, some second-generation family members joined the family business, and trade and vocational schools sprung up to offer basic training.

Then, somewhere along the way, the four-year college diploma became the Holy Grail. High schoolers were more enticed by business and computer programs than vocational courses — and high school counselors encouraged that interest even when some students were not four-year college business major material.

Those counselors weren’t the only guilty parties. The media painted glowing pictures of so-called high-tech jobs. Our industry was perceived as a down-on-the-ground-working-with-dirty-equipment type of work.

Within the past few years, however, efforts have begun in earnest to turn around the trend. Trade associations and manufacturers are developing materials showing careers in the industry in a favorable light. And, in fact, the industry is getting a more “high-tech” glitz with a reliance on computer technology, digital readouts, ultrasonics, etc. (Although we do need to understand that when there is a compressor burnout, there is a messy job ahead.)

Will all this work? Maybe. But our educational system has to be reached beyond a brochure or video being dropped onto the overcrowded desk of a high school counselor.

A Challenge

So, now we introduce you to Ron Collier, of Collier Consulting Group. He spoke several months ago at a meeting of the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA) in Incline Village, NV, on the shores of Lake Tahoe. (And you think there’s no glitz in this industry?)

Most of Collier’s talk consisted of ideas sure to raise eyebrows, like raising rates to make money off of prices, not volume. But along the way, he jumped into the fray over finding qualified technicians with the statement, “I know where to get potential and experienced techs and how to get them. Do you?”

His game plan called for contractors to go into high schools and community colleges to promote the pluses of a career in hvacr. “We are not doing anything to foster anyone to get into this industry. What do you spend on marketing your company to your customers? What do you spend to recruit technicians?”

Collier’s point is that most contractors spend plenty of money and effort to find customers (via Yellow Pages, mailings, service specials, and radio and TV ads) and keep customers (via generous callback tolerances, willingness to honor warranties without question, etc.); but not nearly the same amount of money and effort to find, train, and maintain qualified technicians.

Collier wants contractors to go into high schools and community colleges and talk up the industry. He also urges contractors to talk with counselors and take part in career nights.

The task is not necessarily a daunting one. For example, where I live and work, the school system has four high schools and one community college. I know there are many more than five hvacr contractors within that same territory. A few can reach the counselors and career nights, or a lot can reach the counselors and career nights more often.

(I will let you know that I am doing what I can. I’ve added my name to a speakers’ bureau sponsored by the local community college to talk in high schools regarding the hvacr industry.)

Collier has got a good point. You contractors and technicians are in this business because, despite some complaining now and then, you really like hvacr work. And you really want to see this industry grow and prosper.

The opportunity is there. You see it every time you drive from jobsite to jobsite and pass the local schools.

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