Have you ever heard this statement: “I wish I could find people to go into our trade?” Maybe this statement sounds familiar, too: “Kids these days do not want to work in the heating and air conditioning field.”
This is a concern that many contractors have. The lack of a qualified work force affects not only our HVACR trade, but also many other skilled trades.
Back in 2005, the company I work for, Pro-Air Services Inc. of Decatur, Ala., received an invitation to participate in a local Career Day at a junior college for the area’s ninth through tenth grade students. The initial thought of standing at a booth and talking to high school kids for a period of eight hours did not seem like a good idea to me because:
(a) That would have been a direct cost with no initial return on investment;
(b) As an industrial and commercial HVAC contractor, our work force tends to need more experience than hiring someone straight out of high school; and
(c) What do you say to a high school kid?
The president of our company decided participating was a good idea, and I would be the one to do it. We were not at the event to hire high school kids but to encourage them to think about a future in the field of HVACR. The goal was to increase young people’s exposure to our industry in a professional environment.
I saw the list of names of other companies who signed up to participate. It was a list of corporate giants, departments of the military, health care industry, engineering and software companies. I instantly noticed I would be the only HVAC contractor at the event. I was not only the lone HVAC contractor at the event, but also the only skilled trade contractor participating.
All of the sudden it dawned on me that what we needed was more exposure to our workforce of tomorrow.
A DAUNTING TASKThe corporate giants have household name recognition. A number of children want to join our military. How many children are encouraged to go to college and become a nurse or doctor?
When children are between the ages of 15 and 18 they are all going to be an engineer. I would be surrounded by much larger organizations that could promise a kid an exciting job as an engineer, doctor, nurse, computer programmer, etc.
How would I, as a local HVACR contractor, talk to these high school kids about an exciting career solving technical problems, installing equipment that controls indoor climate, and a job that involves ever advancing highly technical DDC control systems?
Hey, wait a minute. That can sound somewhat challenging to young people when phrased properly, or so I thought.
The day of the event was at hand. I knew that I could communicate the challenges of today’s HVACR field. I also knew that I could show researched data that would communicate the demand for skilled labor in the HVACR field. Still, the task of drawing students to my booth with only me, a few displays, and Pro-Air refrigerator magnets to give away would be a challenge. I had to have a catch for this, my first event.
I got a University of Alabama football player to stand at the booth with me. I told him, “You do not have to talk about Pro-Air, just tell the kids to stay in school and make good grades.” The “celebrity” worked out perfectly.
One of the corporate giants whose display and labor expense was probably 20 times my expense asked, “Can we trade you our bowl of candy for your football player?” I was able to reach many young people and tell them how our industry can offer long-term security, ever-increasing wage scales, and a challenging technical work environment.
I have participated in the Career Day every year since then. I have not had to have a football player with me to communicate my message. The football player was a one-time marketing icebreaker for me. My message has been the same: “Are you looking for a career that will never go away?” “Do you want to have a career that involves the latest technologies?”
I use a common sense approach. I tell them every building has climate control. “You see more and more buildings every day, right?” I point out that we have a shortage today of qualified workers and tomorrow the shortage will be even greater.
Over the last two years, I have seen two more skilled trade contractors join the Career Day. The number of contractors who are involved with the event pale in comparison to the number of those who realize we have a skilled labor shortage.
I advise anyone who will be dependent on the work force of tomorrow to participate in your community Career Day when opportunity arises. It is really simple and can only encourage young people to consider joining our field. One does not guarantee instant results with participation but one plants seeds for the future. The recruitment of tomorrow’s work force today will be critical for our industry’s long-term success.
If one would like to participate in a local job fair and would like assistance with data or more information on what to expect, feel free to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.