During an informal meeting with Galveston-area HVAC contractors, the subject of worker shortages kept popping up as each business owner talked with The NEWS about their biggest concerns about the industry and their market. “There is a lot of competition for jobs here,” said Bobby Wasylik of Doctor Cool/Professor Heat. “The local chemical plants take young people away from the HVAC trade by starting them at $19/hour plus benefits.”
He added competitors have gone out of business because some of the good workers they have hired in the past have quit and started their own businesses, adding to the number of HVAC competitors in the area and thinning out the talent pool even more.
Jerry Bosworth of Bosworth Air Conditioning Inc. and president of the Greater Houston Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) said that not being able to pay benefits is a deterrent to attracting good workers. His company does not offer a benefit package.
“I can’t seem to get any insurance companies to come up with an affordable health plan,” he said.
Bosworth noted the recent passing of Texas House Bill 463, requiring service technicians to register with the state, would have a positive effect on the overall job market. “Up until now, the only requirement for being a service tech was to show up for work,” he said. “With this new bill, we can write our own rule requirements, which will include ongoing education and training.”
Bosworth said the HVAC trade in the Houston and Galveston areas have relied on grass roots training more than any formal education. He wants to see more qualified service techs working for local contractors.
That’s good news for Galveston contractors who are looking to raise the bar of professionalism and make the HVAC trade more attractive and accessible. It may bring back education to the area, which one contractor said had all but disappeared. “A lot of people just don’t know what they are doing,” he said.
Doug Long of PowerVac America noted his company would like to add supervisory people, calling it his No. 1 priority. “We need to find people who have good business sense,” he said.
According to the contractors at this Galveston roundtable meeting, there are some HVAC contractors in the area who could use some good business training. These business owners cater to the price shoppers and make it a habit of lowballing other good, reputable contractors. “There is a segment of the market that we will never service,” said Long. “We realize that and we don’t even care about those customers.”
Then there are the customers with a lot of money to spend on their expensive homes but want the bare minimum mechanical systems. “The resort home business is booming in Galveston,” said Ted Waterman of Waterman Air Conditioning. “These people have a lot of money to spend on their homes. The ones with Jaguars in their driveway want the cheapest HVAC system for their house.”
In the end, the prices that Galveston contractors charge for their work will have a direct impact on the quality of workers that come into the market, according to one business owner. “It all begins with contractors charging higher prices to be able to pay good help,” said Andy Prado of Aces A/C Supply Inc. He noted that many other things will fall into place after that and career choices may become more obvious.
“I became an electrician by listening to a sales pitch at a career day. Our trade needs to talk with high school kids about the HVAC trade. And we need to see more Latino contractors and workers. For a long time our trade has ignored them because they took the jobs we didn’t want. But now they are buying from suppliers and taking a lot of the jobs we want.”
“We are competing against shops that have no overhead,” said Wasylik. “And we need to get better.”