According to HVAC Excellence, 65.6 percent of service technicians in the HVACR industry will not be in the industry in eight years. The next generation of the industry is now in the classroom learning skills and approaches to match the demands of the ever-evolving market, and there is a growing sense of the need to recruit those who will serve as the technicians of the future.

Skills in Demand

Future HVACR technicians are busy learning tomorrow’s technology today. A growing desire for computer skills is apparent in the HVAC industry, just as they are in most other employment sectors.

David White, director, Advanced Robotic Technology, Brisbane, Australia, said every student with a technical aptitude has a desire to work with computers.

“The HVAC industry has a lot of computer-related areas including drafting, design, controls, and more. We just need to get these kids involved at a school level in something exciting and hands-on so that they get the bug,” he said.

“There are now a lot of cool machines that take drawings and turn them into ducting and other components. We are finding that it is a real buzz for kids to actually produce something they can feel and touch from a computer drawing.”

Gene Mattiaccio, an HVAC and green technology instructor in New York, has introduced numerous interactive computer simulations inside his classroom. “Modeling theory or skills on a computer gives students an idea on how things should work. They can attempt the project in the lab to see how it actually works,” he said. “I also use videos of instruction from other teachers on particular subjects. It’s a good attack to offer training from as many angles as possible. I call it diversified training.”

Whole-home performance and energy-efficiency skills are also on the rise. Lincoln Technical Institute, Union, N.J., officials said their energy auditing certification course is currently attracting more attention than any other offering.

“We have people from all over the nation asking about classes for our green technology courses,” said Lou Vendrell, HVACR curriculum council chair and education supervisor, Lincoln Technical Institute. “The future of the HVACR industry is based on the newer technicians’ ability to adapt and learn the industry’s latest innovations. As our industry evolves to a higher technological era, newer technicians will need to meet those advanced technologies with an open mind and sound HVACR knowledge.”

In addition to these new-world skills, Kevin Couch, HVACR instructor, R.G. Drage Career Technical Center, said young learners should not forget that the HVACR trade will continue to be based on old-fashioned, hands-on labor.

“Even though the equipment has gotten better, not all homes have it in them. The old standing pilot, spark ignition, gravity, and other basic systems are still out there,” he said. “It is very important to keep it simple and focus on the essential skills that you need in the field to be successful.”

D. Brian Baker, an instructor and contractor who owns Custom Vac Limited, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, agreed that basic skills still need to be taught. According to Baker, all of the skilled trades are facing a severe worker shortage.

“From bakers, roofers, stucco and plasterers, HVACR, and plumbers, we all need skilled people,” he said. “Shortages specific to the HVACR sector reached that critical shortage a few years back. Why? It’s because all the vocational-tech schools shut their doors because the world was going to be run by computers. Now, who can fix the furnace or air conditioners? No one, because no one knows how to do the manual work.”

Contractor Ken Bodwell, owner of Innovative Service Solutions, Orlando, noted that both computer and technical skills will be needed by the next generation of technicians.

“I believe most young people are computer literate and whereas this industry is no different than others where everything is microprocessor-based, the opportunities will evolve around electronics more than mechanical,” he said. “Still, the refrigeration cycle remains the same.”

Recruiting the Next Generation

Industry members also stress that the combination of new and old skills needed — and the excellent career opportunities in HVACR — must be promoted in order to recruit more young people to the trade.

Steve Dodd, MEP advisor and director of service and energy, Fidelity Engineering Corp., Washington, D.C., referenced several new skills becoming relevant in the HVAC sector.

“These skills include technology, intelligent devices, green, financial influence, stability, health effect, and more,” said Dodd. “First we need to educate guidance counselors as to these things since they start the influence process as early as middle school.”

Jeff Plant, general manager, Springfield Mechanical Services Inc., Springfield, Mo., believes HVAC work is more than just physical labor, and agreed that young students need to be aware of the many opportunities available in the industry at an earlier age.

“The first thing people think of when they think of HVAC workers is the old labeling of the construction worker. Although that spot for installation and backbreaking work is never going to be replaced, there are many other avenues and opportunities that present themselves in this trade,” he said.

“If we want to attract younger people to this trade, we need to relate. Show them the wide array of opportunities that this trade offers. We as successful tradesmen need to visit the local high schools with our local apprenticeship programs and share our stories. Encourage the young people that they can be successful in this trade and make it clear that only through hard work will they gain success.”

Mark Herfield, service mechanic, Southland Industries, Gilroy, Calif., referred to HVAC work as a science.

“Today, students learn thermodynamics, mechanical, electrical, hydronic principles, customer service, and sales skills,” he said.

“The skills and knowledge you gain can help you with everyday projects and repairs in your home all the while earning a good wage without the crippling burden of high education costs.”

Natalie DeRousse, a senior sales training manager with Johnson Controls Unitary Products, further stressed the need for business skills. “HVAC takes a lot of understanding of how systems work on the technical side, and how a contractor’s business runs on the sales side,” she said.

Baker added that the burden to recruit falls on contractors.

“How many of you speak to young high school students? Why are you not taking a young person on for job shadowing for a day from a local high school or junior high? Why are you not speaking to politicians and asking them to do more to help bridge this skills gap? There is so much more we can each do,” he said.

Couch elaborated that the industry’s future will be led by smart individuals who are able to think and react quickly.

“We need to have technicians who can adapt to all the changes that have happened, and will happen. They need to have a positive attitude in everything that they do,” he said.

“As I recruit students each year, I explain that there are excellent opportunities in our field, but you need to lead the correct lifestyle. One has to remain drug free, keep a great driving record, be dependable, and have common sense.”

Publication date: 05/28/2012