Mark Ohe, president of Vector Industries Inc., told attendees at the 66th Educational Conference of Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) Canada that the HVACR industry “is highly fragmented, in constant motion, and dealing with uneducated customers” in terms of customers understanding industry technology.
“So we have to accept this and capitalize on our ‘can do’ attitude, our technical skills, and opportunities we create,” he said.
His keynote address came at the start of the three-day conference that took place in Edmonton, a city of 700,000 surrounded by vast expanses of open land, thus the prairie perspective of the speaker, who works in Edmonton.
“Contractors and technicians have little influence in our industry,” he said. “Who has the power? Suppliers? Manufacturers? Banks? Government? Customers?
“In a fragmented industry, it is hard (for any one sector) to be in control. Someone other than ourselves control our destiny.” In some cases, this can relate to governmental and legislative mandates, which he expects will continue to grow. “Anybody see those reducing over the past decade?” he asked.
He said one cause for the dimming of refrigeration contractor/technician influence may come from the trend away from pure refrigeration contractors to those who are just part of a larger HVAC business. At the same time, the decline in the number of mid-size refrigeration contractors can be a factor in lessening influence.
He said the term “constant motion” refers to new technologies and processes and a “highly-skilled yet highly-mobile workforce.”
He added, “I believe that contracting companies in our industry need to drive change just to stay alive and to be anxious to embrace change.”
And while an uneducated consumer could be seen as a plus in terms of open-mindedness when considering product options, they can also be equipment owners “who have a packaged terminal air conditioner and call in a roofer to (try to) fix it.”
He also noted refrigeration contractors are part of a battle “among trades to protect their territory.” He noted, for example, sheet metal workers sometimes doing refrigeration hookups as part of piping work. At the same time, refrigeration workers may now do water hookups once done by plumbing, or electrical connections once done by electricians. He noted the latter is an especially volatile legal issue in Ontario.
As contractors grapple to find and keep qualified technicians, he said those doing the hiring need to be aware that “today’s young people are really bright and energetic, but they are looking for quality of life, balance, and to know why things are done the way they are in a company.”
That is different from those who have been in the industry for a long time, he said, who seldom challenged decisions from higher-ups and were willing to work long hours.
STRESSING THE TRAINING
Meanwhile, the conference itself did its part to keep contractors and technicians up to speed on the newest technologies and processes. The five education sessions were highly technical and detailed covering piping configurations (presented by Gerry Dyck of Engineered Air), compressors and controls (Greg Swiercz of Emerson), ammonia systems (Reg Bruce of Pace Industrial Refrigeration), cooling idiosyncrasies (Garth Denison of Sporlan, a division of Parker Hannifin), and secondary cooling loops (Wes Taylor of Carlyle).
SOCIETY MATTERSMore informal education was the message theme of outgoing RSES Canada President Gord Smith. “If you happen to be an older mechanic who received RSES training, don’t say, ‘I’ve been a member for years and I’d like to go to my chapter’s meetings, but there is nothing to be gained by going.’ But, rather say, ‘I enjoy attending meetings and I am pleased to be able to pass on some of my past experiences to younger members.’ ”
In completing his term as president, Smith becomes chairman of the RSES Canada board of directors. Moving into the top elected position was Dave Chafe, president of Chafe Refrigeration Ltd., a contracting company in Clarkes Beach, Newfoundland. Ron McCarthy, who for many years was with wholesale distributor Kerr Controls before retiring, was given the H. T. McDermott Award as member of the year. Denison was recognized as speaker of the year.
Also at the conference, it was announced that the next biannual RSES Canada Educational Conference would be in spring 2009 in Vancouver, British Columbia.