The HVAC workforce is greying. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that by 2012 there will be a shortfall of nearly 3 million skilled workers in America. By 2020, that number — for manufacturing-related industries — is expected to reach 10 million. According to Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. (EMSI), the average age of American skilled workers is 55 years old, and a recent Gallup poll revealed most Americans are retiring by the age of 62.

For HVAC, which boasts an aging workforce and has struggled for years to recruit new talent, these trends are problematic.

As these aging workers retire, taking a wealth of knowledge and experience with them, identifying and grooming future leaders to fill vacant roles within the industry has never been more important.

Emerging Leaders in Distribution

The issue has been the topic of numerous ACCA Town Hall webcasts, and the organization has hosted keynote speakers addressing the problem at its annual conference.

Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) is cognizant of the issue and has responded by adding an Emerging Leaders Program to its education services branch.

“As with many of HARDI’s programs and offerings, this program was developed as a direct response to member feedback,” said Emily Saving, director of education and research, HARDI. “Many of our members are at a point where they are thinking about leadership succession and realize they need to help prepare the next generation in hopes they are as successful, if not more successful, than they were.”

The Emerging Leaders group held its first conference featuring mentor-led roundtables early this year. Sean Ince, director of marketing, Johnstone Supply, is a member of HARDI’s Emerging Leaders Task Force. The task force works together to put on the conference and is currently working to create a curriculum that will include a HARDI leadership certification for those who desire to complete the leadership program.

“The program provides me with a healthy balance of drawing from the experience of industry leaders willing to share the lessons they’ve learned over time while spending time networking and sharing new ideas with my industry peers — the future leaders of our industry,” Ince said. “The blend of the two creates a best-practice-sharing forum that, in my mind, is second to none. It offers a fresh perspective and new, innovative ways to achieve and enhance success.”

“The Emerging Leaders group is absolutely vital to the HVACR distribution business,” said Lauren Roberts, vice president of marketing, cfm Distributors Inc., and a HARDI Emerging Leaders Task Force member. “As we transition from leaders who have worked in this business for 30-40 years, the next generation needs a platform where they can learn from industry veterans and peers. The Emerging Leaders Program provides such guidance through HVACR industry-specific mentoring, best-practices sharing, quarterly educational webinars, networking, and more. The Emerging Leaders Task Force and the HARDI staff plan to continue to develop the program and solidify it to become a long-lasting leadership development program for HARDI’s member companies.”

A Family Foundation

Distributors are not the only segment of the HVAC industry looking to the future. Jason Brasel, operations manager, Control Services, Omaha, Nebraska, will soon represent the third generation of his family to own and manage the building automation and security company. Brasel’s grandfather opened the business in 1974, and his father, Ron Brasel, 63, is set to retire in the next several years.

The upcoming change in leadership will be one of the company’s biggest hurdles ever, said Jason Brasel. “We have a wealth of experience and knowledge getting ready to retire in the next five to 10 years,” he said. “A generational change is coming. There are things being put in place — much like my grandfather did when my father’s generation came up — to recognize future management talent and groom them to be in leadership positions well ahead of having to encounter that issue. We started a management development program — the kind of thing to keep key people in the right positions, so, when employee rollover happens, we’re not caught off guard.”

The employees currently enrolled in the program are being mentored by the managers they are prepared to replace, granting them the benefit of learning directly from the source. The program will allow trained management to be promoted without any difficulties.

Steve Schmidt, owner, Frederick Air Inc., Frederick, Maryland, founded his residential and light commercial HVAC company in 1992. The company now provides Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI)-certified home-performance audits, duct cleaning, and air-sealing services.

Schmidt, 53, said he has placed a high priority on hiring younger people, with the idea that these individuals will lead the company into the future.

“We send these young workers to industry-related training courses and teach them in-house to perform the best possible services,” he said. “By carefully controlling growth, we rarely need to ask a seasoned technician to join us. Additionally, I am purposely grooming my daughter to be our office manager, my son-in-law to be our installation manager, my son to be our sales manager, and another son to be an installer. My children work in the business because they are people of high integrity. They’re dedicated, hard workers and are examples to everyone who works at Frederick Air — not just because they are related to me. So, the next generation is already in place and is being mentored by me accordingly.”

Additionally, Schmidt remarked that identifying leadership is important for business growth. “One person is unable to lead a company by himself or herself,” he said. “Leadership needs to be identified and groomed for future success and responsibility.”

Schmidt said he only hires leaders boasting high integrity and exceptional moral character.

“We are not looking to key performance goals alone; we are seeking the motivation behind success,” he explained. “Leaders succeed because they have a higher purpose besides sales numbers and salary increases. They do what they do because it’s the right thing to do. During an interview, I try to stay away from HVAC questions. I want to know what type of person the individual is outside of the job.”

The process of identifying future leaders needs to be tailored to fit each company “because the recipe for success will differ from one company to the next,” said Saving.

“The most important piece of advice I can give is to take the time and identify your succession plan. Give your successors access to the proper tools to grow their knowledge, skills, and abilities,” said Saving. “Mentoring the next generation takes time, and if the person whom you’ve selected doesn’t have the time or energy, then you’ve picked the wrong person.”

Publication date: 12/15/2014

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