The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 86,600 HVAC technician jobs will become available through 2018. The industry is projected to grow at a rate of 34 percent over the next 10 years. The average growth rate for all occupations is 14 percent.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition, “Job opportunities for HVACR technicians are expected to be excellent, particularly for those who have completed training at an accredited technical school or through a formal apprenticeship. Candidates familiar with computers and electronics will have the best job opportunities as employers continue to have trouble finding qualified technicians to work on complex new systems.”

HVACR technicians in search of employment need to tighten up their résumés. But, the question remains, what are employers looking for and do the applicants have it?

Book Smarts

Most up-and-coming technicians turn to trade schools to learn the industry. Steve Coscia, president, Coscia Communications, conducted an industry-wide unscientific survey in February and March 2012 titled “What Contractors Are Really Saying about Trade Schools.”

The survey included 222 respondents, with approximately 75 percent of participants labeling themselves as heating and air conditioning companies.

“The inception of this report was a need for hard facts to help dispel the anecdotal remarks I hear during various contractors’ customer service seminars,” said Coscia. “My hope was that an aggregated report and list of remarks, from a few hundred contractors, would benefit the industry as a whole. Having worked with numerous trade schools nationwide, I witness the hard work, passion, and dedication that instructors invest in their students.”

The study revealed that 70 percent of respondents were satisfied at some level with trade school graduates and enrollees.

Leading reasons for satisfaction included workers who were courteous, polite, neat, clean, well dressed, and possessed good diagnostic skills. A total of 125 respondents, or approximately 56 percent of those filling out the survey, were most dissatisfied with new hires lacking in real-world technical experience. A total of 96 respondents, or 43 percent of participants, said new employees lacked in attributes including personality, attitude, and communication skills.

Richard Whitaker, owner, Whits Commercial Services LLC, San Antonio, prefers trade school graduates who have hands-on experience.

“Experience, attitude, and desire are important, but common sense and the ability to make a sound judgment call when needed is just as important,” he said. “Being able to quote a book on how to do it, but not being able to pick up the tools and perform a task correctly happens too often. Hands-on tests are the best.”

Education, Experience, or Skills?

Kimberly Collins, treasurer, Clapp Associates Inc., Philadelphia, said she prefers hard-working, experienced workers.

“You can have all the schooling in the world, but if you don’t have integrity and a good work ethic you will find it hard to hold a job,” she said. “Hands-on experience over a schooled person wins in my book every time.”

Hank Bloom, owner, Environmental Conditioning Systems, Mentor, Ohio, said he ranks necessary skills as attitude first, followed by skill, experience, and then education.

“It all starts with work ethics, attitude, desire to want to learn, and personality. I would hire anyone with these values. With these talents you will go a long way,” he said. “The people that we hire are advertisements for our company. Personalities are a priority for sure.”

Even during tough times, HVAC employment retains its attractiveness, said Bloom. “The HVAC business has been sexier to younger people as of late because of green technology, higher tech systems, BIM modeling, CAD drawings, computerized controls, and more,” he said. “You can make a great living and future with a lot of chances to grow into different levels of business in this industry. When you learn the HVAC trade, no one can ever take that away from you.”

Bobby D. Jones, owner, Bob’s HVAC, Chico, Calif., said book-smarts rarely translate into effective HVAC field performance.

“Experience is the most important factor,” he said. “We have found that high scores in the classroom have never translated to quality service skills.”

The Perks of Personality

A number of HVACR contractors recently shared that in addition to a strong work ethic, they are seeking workers that place a high emphasis on appearance, attitude, and aptitude.

“Today’s technician holds more than technical skills — he or she possesses so-called ‘soft skills,’ or a positive attitude, personality, and ability to interact with customers on a daily basis,” said John Tindale, account representative at MEC2 Mechanical Engineering & Construction Corp., Baltimore.

“I look for technicians who have the ability to understand basic engineering concepts. Not everyone can explain in plain English how a basic refrigeration cycle works. It’s a little trick — if they use a bunch of ‘big words,’ and can’t explain it to me, they don’t understand it themselves,” he said.

David Culver, service manager, KB Complete Inc. Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, Kansas City, Mo., said his company is always on the lookout for people that are honest, have integrity, and possess a good work ethic.

“Those qualities are hard to find and may require multiple interviews, background checks, and reference calls,” said Culver. “Skills, education, and experience are all things we can provide, but we won’t know anything about the individual’s personal skills until the interview.”

Start Them Early

Steve Dodd, MEP advisor and director of service and energy, Fidelity Engineering Corp., Washington, D.C., said today’s technician must learn the necessary skills of tomorrow.

“These skills include technology, intelligent devices, green, financial influence, stability, health effect, and more,” said Dodd. “We first need to educate guidance counselors of 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 back-breaking 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.”

A growing desire for computer skills is apparent in the HVAC industry, just as they are in most other employment sectors.

“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 mechanics,” said Ken Bodwell, owner, Innovative Service Solutions, Orlando. “Still, the refrigeration cycle remains the same.”

Publication date: 6/25/2012