The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the average construction worker is 47 years old, and as aging Baby Boomers retire or leave the industry, they take vital skills with them. The BLS estimates that the construction field will need to attract 240,000 workers each year to replace those leaving the workforce, while still allowing for industry growth.
But while the industry needs more workers to replenish the ranks, it also must contend with a distinct marketing challenge.
“Younger workers often see skilled labor careers as menial and low-paying,” said Art Warren, director of Miami’s Air Conditioning Technical Center, commonly known as AC Tech. “But in fact, skilled labor careers can be exciting, high-paying, and very rewarding, with considerable potential for self-employment.”
AC Tech trains workers for the mechanical contracting industry, providing graduates with expertise in HVACR, as well as piping and plumbing.
Who will be South Florida’s builders of tomorrow? This is a question that AC Tech is helping to answer through recruitment techniques, apprenticeship programs, and informational campaigns. Statistics from the National Education Association reveal that Florida is No. 4 on the list of states with the most students.
“We’re finding new ways to let young people know about the opportunities available in the HVACR branch of the construction industry,” said Warren. “We’re working harder to promote our apprenticeship program, which has launched hundreds of promising careers. The intensive training that comes with an apprenticeship means higher skill levels and greater productivity. When you’re in demand as a worker, you’re in command of your future.”
EXCELLENT JOB PROSPECTSThe U.S. Department of Labor states that job prospects for HVACR technicians are “expected to be excellent, particularly for those who have completed training from an accredited technical school or a formal apprenticeship.” The recent Yahoo.com article, “10 Great Careers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of,” listed HVACR technician as No. 5 and welder as No. 9.
According to the article, “Energy efficiency and indoor air quality are hot topics, and those who know how to work with ever-more-sophisticated HVACR systems are few and far between. And they may be richly rewarded with salaries that may range from $35,000 up to the triple digits.”
According to Warren, AC Tech apprentices earn while they learn by working for South Florida contractors. They receive a starting wage of $13.95 an hour for the first six months and $14.95 an hour for the next six months - as opposed to many college students who often owe money from the moment they begin their schooling.
A journeyman worker - one who has successfully graduated from his or her apprenticeship - can earn $28.55 an hour plus benefits, which brings the hourly total up to $37.65. Upon graduation, apprentices become craft journeyman with a starting wage and fringe benefit package ranging from $60,000 to $72,000 per year.
“The apprenticeship program offers an alternative to paying off large college loans after graduation,” said Kenny Scott, AC Tech apprenticeship committee member and business manager of United Association Local 725. “The ongoing skilled labor shortage means that journeyman workers are consistently in demand.”
AC Tech’s apprenticeship program has two parts: service and pipefitting. “We recently accepted 110 applicants into the program,” said Warren. “That is the largest number of new apprentices since 1987. But more are always needed to replace workers who either transition into the management sector or retire, making recruitment a top priority and an ongoing process.”
The apprenticeship program is partially funded by a collective group of mechanical South Florida contractors. Many of these employers went through the apprentice program themselves, so they have first-hand knowledge of the school’s training program.
“We take great pride in the fact that all our apprentices graduate from AC Tech with a journeyman’s or UA Star Certification,” said Ed Llosent, principal of Airtech AC in Miami.
“We’re hiring the best trained folks in the industry, so we, in turn, are able to offer our customers superior service.”
AC Tech has been exploring high-tech methods for getting their recruitment message into the community. They have two new recruitment Web pages created expressly for young people - www.stillcanhappen.com and www.myspace.com/stillcanhappen.
The MySpace page was created to capture the attention of young people in the online community. Both pages have a youthful, edgy quality to appeal to potential apprentices.
AC Tech also has a short promotional video online, which has been viewed hundreds of times on YouTube.com, a Website for posting and viewing videos that is popular with young people.
Predictions may state that the skilled labor shortage will only get worse, but AC Tech is working to do something about the problem before it is too late.
“We want to make sure tomorrow’s builders are learning their skills today,” Warren said.
For more information, visit www.actech.jobs or call toll-free 800-463-3129.
Sidebar: Fast FactsHere are some facts regarding Miami’s Air Conditioning Technical Center:
• On Oct. 11, 1949, the Air Conditioning Technical Center, or AC Tech, was registered with the state of Florida as an apprenticeship program.
• AC Tech also offers the UA STAR certification exam, which can be taken by apprentices completing their five-year training program or piping professionals who want to further their careers. This certification is designed to assure employers that these workers have received the best piping training in the industry.
• AC Tech is affiliated with the state of Florida, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Broward County Public Schools, the Federal Bureau of Apprenticeship, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Mechanical Contractors Association of South Florida, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, and the Mechanical Service Contractors of America.