The World According to Weil: Conquering this Thing Called Life
What are you doing to attract new talent into the HVAC industry ranks?
The music world felt the loss of one of its own with the death of Prince at the age of 57 last month. Let’s just put it out there — I was a fan. I admired his music, artistry, and wild energy. With his death, the world learned a little more about the very private man behind the music — his dedication to philanthropy with no need or desire to be recognized for that philanthropy. The guy was a giver in ways that very few outside his inner circle ever knew.
If you want to learn more about Prince’s giving nature, I suggest you watch this YouTube video: http://bit.ly/PrinceGiver
This tragedy actually got me thinking about what I’m calling the “giving philosophy” and, believe it or not, about what the HVACR industry gives to the world we live in.
Let’s face it — the HVACR industry simply isn’t portrayed as the vital and necessary component of modern living it should be. It’s not portrayed as being sexy or fun. It’s not even portrayed as an industry that young people can embrace and have successful, profitable careers in. Nope. It’s more often portrayed as a dirty little industry with lots of people focused on trying to rip consumers off in one way or another. Just watch the video clips on YouTube when you search for HVACR — many are from news stations covering police stings aimed at catching contractors doing something bad.
The truth is the HVACR industry truly is vital to our way of life. It not only provides for the comfort conditioning we require in our homes and businesses, but it also provides for the safety and well-being of our families, the greening of America through its energy efficiencies, and benefits the overall health of our nation.
The HVACR industry is really important, sexy, fun, and essential. Here are just a few reasons:
• HVACR has very cool technology — from the wireless communicating thermostats technicians install to the types of electronic diagnostic tools they use;
• HVACR also makes use of the internet in ways most consumers, especially young people looking for cool careers, are completely unaware of;
• HVACR is vitally important. It is the reason we can develop and store the medicines we use;
• HVACR keeps the air in hospitals clean to help stem the spread of disease and infection;
• HVACR keeps our food refrigerated so it can be stored and transported across the country from farm to store to our homes with nearly no spoilage;
• HVACR enables people to live in climates that are very inhospitable during hot summer months and cold winter ones;
• HVACR contributes heavily to productivity by keeping factories comfortable for workers and the air free of pollutants; and
• HVACR helps keep our homes safe by providing the means to monitor for potentially hazardous situations involving things like carbon monoxide poisoning and the tools for correcting those problems.
The above list of reasons, and many more, are ample evidence the HVACR industry gives back to society. Our industry and the contractors operating in it are really key to America’s economic strength and future.
In fact, some will say the HVACR industry even contributes to intelligence and happiness. In an interesting article posted on the Pepper Construction of Ohio website, author Susan Heinking examines how high-performing indoor environments can make [people] smarter, healthier, and happier. “A recently published study by Environmental Health Perspectives about green buildings and cognitive function found a strong direct connection between cognitive function and the indoor environment, leading to optimal performance and improved productivity. People working in an environment with low VOC [volatile organic compounds]-emitting materials and increased ventilation had significantly higher cognitive functions than those in a traditional, conventional space. In fact, in some cases, the people in these green environments outperformed those in conventional environments by 200 percent. Past studies published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environmental Health Perspectives support this finding, confirming that the brain functions at a higher level when there are fewer pollutants in the air.”
Oh my, a direct correlation between HVACR and brain function. How cool is that?
Think about this: Behind every refrigerator, furnace, air conditioning system, vent, freezer, and water heater is a well-trained technician installing them and providing service and maintenance. These things are what really maintain human life and provide simple comfort. Until something goes wrong, most people have no idea that such maintenance requires expertise and skill. This is seriously important work.
ON THE LOOKOUT FOR TECHNICIANS
So here’s the rub: We are really a necessary and cool industry. But, ever since World War II, we’ve struggled mightily with recruiting new people. I’ve spoken with contractors all over the country who ask the same question: “Where can we find service and installation technicians?”
The answer is complicated. Part of it is that, as an industry, we do a fairly poor job promoting the “cool factor” to young people. We’ve begun the process of reaching out to specific groups, like women and minorities, but there is certainly much more work to be done in that arena.
In 2015, The Workforce Development Group commissioned a study titled, “The Next Generation of HVACR Installers and Technicians: What Instructors are Saying and What Needs to be Done About It.”
The study states that the HVACR industry is “on the cusp of being severely affected by a crisis in the supply of technicians and mechanics to install and maintain the life-saving and comfort-creating equipment that people everywhere depend on every day. Employers in the HVACR industry have serious concerns; they cannot fill the jobs that exist today in the HVACR industry. And, when they project their need for workers into the next decade, by any measure, they are confronting an escalating employment crisis.”
The study also states that there is no lack of educational opportunities for people interested in the mechanical systems trades, but there is a lack of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) basics. Furthermore, the study found there seems to be a lack in soft skill basics, as well. To me, this is an American educational system issue compounded by the fact that our teachers and school counselors aren’t in touch with the mechanical trades and don’t understand the needs and requirements for a successful career in those trades.
They also have no idea about the importance of things like verification, licensing, and apprenticeships in the HVACR market. One solution, in my opinion, involves changing the way our industry communicates with the educational system and professional development industries. We need to provide the information and proof that this industry has great career paths for technically oriented students.
Interestingly enough, the study — via the opinions of educators themselves — put forth some ideas on how to better educate the next generation workforce for the HVACR universe. The HVACR Workforce Foundation study calls this their North American Plan and recommends the following improvements:
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
• Regarding HVACR instructor preparation and ongoing professional development, the industry needs to enact a plan that screens professional development providers and builds a database of those who are suitable in both the high school and college educational levels;
• To finance better training programs, local and regional fundraising needs to be enacted with funds coming from HVACR employers (contractors, distributors, and manufacturers alike);
• To “sell” careers in our industry, there needs to be a bigger and better presence of HVACR contractors, distributors, and manufacturers with professional development sites (vocational/technical schools and other locales where training and HVAC career development takes place) where they can assess program needs and match delivery of training content to the specific areas where they are needed most; and
• Work with local workforce advisory committees and boards to help keep the focus on education and a connection to the workplace.
LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION
• The study states that local and perhaps national consortiums of leaders from HVACR professional associations, industry employers, and other institutions that currently provide HVACR training need to work together to develop a plan for interstate standards. This is a biggie. It will really take a lot of compromise to make this happen, but I believe if we adopt a stance of giving back to attract more people, it can be made real; and
• Conduct substantive research on alternative routes to the HVACR workforce and investigate the experience and prior education of students choosing alternatives to traditional pathways to HVACR training.
EXISTING PROGRAM IMPROVEMENT
• For the programs that already exist, the study suggests that, as an industry, we conduct surveys and convene focus groups of current and potential students (traditional, veterans and second-career adults, women, and minorities) to determine their core beliefs and attitudes about training at both pre-test (program entry) and post-test (when leaving the program);
• From this information, mentoring programs can be established between schools and HVACR employers as well as job shadowing or ride-alongs — all beginning at the secondary level. According to the study, these programs are usually “less formal than internships and apprenticeships yet still increase support for struggling students, bonding them to knowledgeable adults, and lessening the likelihood of dropout;
• Through extensive outreach from HVACR education and training programs to HVACR employers — and the reverse — discover how to create opportunities for internships and apprenticeships with HVACR employers; and
• Ensure standards and benchmarks for student progress are carefully designed to align with curriculum and certification requirements as well as workplace requirements. HVACR employers can play a key role in shaping benchmarks that monitor student readiness for the workforce. Through these and other strategies, relationships between training programs and prospective employers could be built and sustained.
I know some of this may seem very difficult and maybe even impossible to implement as the tech shortage has been a huge issue in the HVACR industry for more than 70 years. The good news is the study found that our industry has a core force of educators dedicated to providing high-caliber training for current and future HVACR employment.
But it cannot be only the educators working to train our next-generation workforce. Every member of the HVACR community needs to work together — educators need relationships with HVACR employers; employers need to share their needs with educators; and our trade associations, magazines, and vendor partners in the value chain need to help keep industry needs and standards front and center to the benefit of everyone.
A great example of this is being done through an organization known as Women in HVACR. This group was founded in 2003 with the vision to mentor and educate women on trends, technologies, and opportunities in the HVACR industry. Because the HVACR industry is not often considered by women entering college, this group created two annual scholarships to women entering a STEM-based curriculum or degree program. They are one of a few HVACR-centric groups reaching outside the realm of HVACR to make more college attendees aware of this trade.
Why is this important? Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported only 1.2 percent of women work as mechanics and installers in the HVACR field. In another BLS report, the same occupations have a projected growth of 34 percent, making it, at least as of 2015, one of the top 29 anticipated in-demand, higher paying jobs between 2010 and 2020.
So by giving of their time (and money) to university-based STEM education, Women of HVACR is trying to turn the tide of the general student population more towards HVACR. But they cannot do it alone. Manufacturers, distributors, and contractors themselves can offer similar programs. I know of one Cleveland-area commercial design-build contractor that works with local area high schools to offer students part-time jobs where they can learn the trade firsthand. Having young men and women learn about the industry, doing ride-alongs with their service and installation crews, and even working in the office helps break down the walls that seem to surround this industry.
Simply put, we all must be champions for the industry. We need to give of our time and energy, and, yes, even of our dollars, to put forth an HVACR industry public face that offers young people a career path they may have never considered. It’s not enough to just get through this thing called life. We have to take action. We have to go a little crazy. We have to reach out and draw talent in.
So, what have you done to attract young people to your company and into our industry? I’d love to hear your stories. Share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 5/30/2016