The shortage of well-trained HVAC technicians has plagued the industry for years, and projections insist the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Even the most conservative estimates put the current shortage of HVAC technicians at 20,000, and this number says nothing of the shortage of qualified HVAC technicians.
However, many are finding qualified, disciplined help from those who once donned uniforms decorated with different badges and stripes.
VETERANS IN THE WORKFORCE
Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.2 million men and women, or 9 percent of the civilian non-institutional population aged 18 and older in 2014, were veterans. This is a large collection of individuals with skills and character traits well-suited to HVAC industry careers.
The unemployment rate for all veterans registered at 5.3 percent in 2014, a solid decrease from 6.6 percent in 2013, but a percentage that still equates to 573,000 unemployed service members.
“When I came out of the Navy, I wanted a career that couldn’t be taken over by automation, and I’m not built to sit at a desk for eight hours,” said Jim Crist, HVAC professional, Baltimore. “This career is full of different challenges; it keeps the mind sharp.”
“A family member was a pipe-fitter and when I was in the military we did a lot of projects that helped to serve people,” said Steven Kroedel, owner at Eco-Cool Heating, Air Conditioning, Refrigeration & Consulting Services, Bel Air, Maryland. “I always did a lot of charity work, and that was the one thing that brought me joy. Like a lot of veterans, I wanted a career that would be rewarding and allowed me to use my hands, which is why service work is a great path. I consider it a gift to be able to help people, and service is about helping people.”
ALREADY PAID THEIR DUES
Programs such as Nexstar Legacy Foundation’s Troops to Trades and the Kenneth Goodrich CSN Post-9/11 Veteran HVAC Employment Program are designed to provide scholarships and career contacts for veterans interested in trades careers.
Late last year, Kenneth D. Goodrich, owner and CEO of Goettl Air Conditioning, Tempe, Arizona; Sonoran Air Conditioning, Phoenix; and Honeybee Air Conditioning Experts, Las Vegas, awarded two $1,000 scholarships to two graduates of the College of Southern Nevada’s HVAC program for them to purchase tools. The two Army veterans, Spc. Jamie Olson and Spc. Larry Lemieux, received toolkits containing essential hand and diagnostic tools necessary to start a career in the HVAC field. They were the first recipients of the Kenneth Goodrich CSN Post-9/11 Veteran HVAC Employment Program, which is named after Goodrich’s father.
“With the constant need for new technicians, I’m trying to find every which way I can to bring quality people into our trade,” Goodrich said. “Returning veterans are always good candidates because they have a different level of training and discipline. They have that ‘get it done’ spirit that some Generation-Yers fail to come equipped with these days.”
Goodrich created the endowment in June 2013 with the goal of helping veterans easily transition into careers following graduation. Any post-9/11 veteran who graduates from the program receives the first $1,000 worth of tools paid for.
“It’s mostly the higher-end diagnostic tools and gauges,” Goodrich said. “We supply the $1,000 and they get to pick out what they need inside of that budget. We get them started, so, when they start their first jobs, they come equipped to be effective.”
Keith Mercurio, director of training, Nexstar® Network Inc., who is a former plumber, started Troops to Trades as a way to help veterans find work in the trades.
“Keith has military friends who’ve had trouble transitioning into the workforce when they returned home. He came to us and said, ‘Let’s put together a program to give veterans some training and get them into the industry,’” said Renée Cardarelle, executive director of Troops to Trades.
“The men and women who’ve seen combat in Afghanistan and Iraq are among the most disciplined, hard-working, respectful, and physically fit people in this country,” said Keith Mercurio, director of training, Nexstar Network Inc., on the group’s website. “Yet, their service has excluded them from getting the education and training they need in order to get the very jobs in which they can be extremely successful. I am partnering with the Nexstar Legacy Foundation to help this nation’s veterans achieve their dreams.”
“Some of the most dedicated, resilient, and capable people I’ve met deployed with me to Afghanistan,” said Cpt. Brendan Finn, U.S. Marine Corps, former recon platoon commander, and Afghanistan veteran, on the website’s testimonial page. “Those who’ve left the service had to start from square one, because infantry background doesn’t yield the skills that domestic employment requires. I’m enthusiastic about the opportunities Troops to Trades provides veterans.”
Troops to Trades works with businesses and teaches them to go out into the field and hire veterans because of how well their skills translate to HVAC work.
“Employers need to broaden their ideas of basic skills [Troops to Trades’ website lists skills such as an accelerated learning curve, leadership, teamwork, performance under pressure, respect for procedures, and integrity] and see the potential of veterans instead of just relying on previous experience,” said Cardarelle.
A PERFECT FIT
“The HVAC industry is a great landing spot for veterans because it will always be available. Much like law enforcement, there is always a need,” said Crist. “This trade is undermanned by far and many will be retiring soon. There simply isn’t enough man power to cover the slots.”
Jerry Hall of Assured Comfort Heating & Air Services in Atlanta is a veteran himself, having served in the 82nd Airborne Division from 1977-80. Four of the 30 employees at his company are military veterans, and he realizes the difficulties some veterans have when transitioning into the workforce.
“It’s not easy," said Hall. “It’s not as easy as putting a service uniform on a war veteran and thinking that everything is going to be okay. These guys need to have time to talk to people and need to have a little bit of a hall pass when they are going through PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] issues.”
A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT
“We want businesses to commit to hiring veterans,” said Cardarelle. “We want them to say if and when a veteran calls them looking for work that they don’t just say ‘we aren’t hiring,’ but, instead, mentor them, and tell them how to prepare for work in this industry. We want businesses in our network to do more than just serve lip service. We want them to truly get involved.”
It’s also important for veterans to stay committed to the HVAC industry as a long-term career option rather than as a transitional work opportunity.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s 50-50 of guys who want this as a career and those who are just using it as a job,” said Kroedel. “Military hires are loyal and have a commitment to do something. The commitment to get into something and stick with it is huge, and they can thrive when given an opportunity.”
Cardarelle said Troops to Trades aims to nurture veterans into long-term employees. “A veteran returns home from service with mechanical training and tons of industries competing for his or her services. In order to attract and retain veterans to stay in this industry, we have to show them all the benefits it offers.”
Publication date: 6/22/2015