Over the last few years, the HVAC world has been rife with change as standards, regulations, and the push toward more energy-efficient products has inundated the industry.

In 2017, the winds of change are blowing stronger than ever with a new commander in chief calling the shots. Most industry experts are hopeful and optimistic about the next four years under a Trump-led government.

The NEWS recently talked with Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of ACCA, about some of the challenges the organization faced last year, its goals for 2017, and the current climate in the HVAC industry. Here’s what he had to say.

The NEWS: What were the biggest challenges for ACCA in 2016 and how did the organization overcome them?

Stalknecht: Last year was a challenge for everyone because we were bombarded with the most atypical election that many of us have ever witnessed. Regardless of who was elected president, we were certain there would be many government-related issues that would affect contractors. If Mr. Trump was victorious, we thought we would see some of the regulations that affect our members relaxed, and if Mrs. Clinton was elected, we were concerned there would be continuity of President Obama’s aggressive regulatory agenda. With all of this in mind, we knew that ACCA needed to adjust our government relations. Therefore, we hired two new advocacy professionals who have decades of experience on both Capitol Hill and served in prior administrations. We were ready to handle whomever was elected.

The NEWS: What are some challenges contractors and ACCA face in 2017?

Stalknecht: ACCA’s contractors continue to fight for a level playing field. Besides the typical small business issues, including health care, taxes, and labor issues, our members have tasked ACCA to advocate for programs that would focus on how HVAC products are installed. ACCA’s members have witnessed years of increased equipment efficiencies that increase the cost of products and do little to help consumers because these highly efficient products are not installed according to the manufacturers’ recommendations. Our challenge in 2017, and beyond, is to educate consumers and policymakers. The consumer education aspect is difficult because, for too long, homeowners have been taught that highly efficient systems will answer all of their needs. Many unqualified installers have delivered that message without being questioned by homeowners about load calculations, equipment sizing, ducts, air quality, and equipment lifespan. ACCA is working with a number of organizations on the consumer education aspect and always talking to Congress and the administration about these issues. In fact, you’ll be seeing ACCA’s IE3 Magazine landing on the desks of every Congressman in the coming months.

The NEWS: What can we expect to see from ACCA in 2017?

Stalknecht: In addition to our expanded government relations, ACCA has begun to develop more commercial offerings. After contractors formed a commercial advisory board, they began to work with staff to develop the programming that commercial contractors need. We launched a commercial newsletter that OEMs, other associations, and even contractors contribute to. Additionally, we have added a commercial training clearinghouse to our website. Several OEMs have catalogued their commercial training courses for ACCA, and we made them available for ACCA members in a one-stop shop. We also launched an extensive four-part commercial survey to help us to identify additional opportunities to assist our commercial members. ACCA is also developing products for restaurants and small offices similar to Bob’s House.

The NEWS: Is the HVAC industry in a good place for growth in 2017? Why or why not?

Stalknecht: The HVAC industry will always be in a good place for growth. Almost every home in the U.S. has some sort of a comfort system. Additionally, growth in places like India offers a lot of potential for manufacturers. It would be great if experts in the U.S. could offer developing countries some assistance as comfort systems become more accessible. For instance, we would welcome the opportunity to develop programs with the federal government to send quality contractors to India and other countries to teach load calculations and equipment sizing specifications as part of an effort to reduce energy consumption.

There is also going to be growth in the contracting industry. Quality HVAC contractors work closely with homeowners and have earned their trust. Many of these consumers are starting to ask contractors for additional services, like lawn care, security services, and standby power. I have spoken to many contractors who see the potential.

Additionally, I’m reminded of an article from Bloomberg.com about the HVAC industry titled, “Air Conditioner Repair is Where the Jobs Are.” The author found that average hourly earnings for installers and techs have always been more, and are growing faster, than other manufacturing jobs. These are highly technical jobs that do not require people to accumulate $60,000 in student loans. And, contractors will often pay prospects to learn.

The NEWS: What do you think needs to be done to attract new talent to the HVACR industry?

Stalknecht: Contractors have to do a better job of telling their stories and become more involved with their local education systems and career fairs. And, schools have to start telling students about the technical jobs that are available the day they graduate from high school. They have to help address the stigma that non-college-educated people aren’t as valuable as those with four-year degrees. And, we have to get to students earlier. We also should be targeting our soldiers who are transitioning from military to civilian life. ACCA is working closely with several veteran organizations on this topic.

The NEWS: What do you think should be done to attract more women to the industry? Do the strategies differ?

Stalknecht: I read two articles recently about organizations working to encourage women into the HVAC industry – one in Wyoming and one in Baltimore. There’s an organization called Climb Wyoming that offers job training for low-income single mothers. The story went on to talk about the company that hired one of the women and how happy they are to have her knowledge and attention to detail.

The program in Baltimore, offered by Dulaney High School, highlights the success of a young lady, a junior in school, who is already a certified air conditioning technician. Dulaney is one of many schools that SkillsUSA works with. ACCA has recently agreed to work more closely with SkillsUSA on programs like this.

If we can continue to highlight the success of some of these women, perhaps we can help move away from the idea that HVAC is for men. I am pleased to have the assistance of our past chair of the board Laura DiFilippo and current board member Linda Couch. Both Linda and Laura are successful HVAC contractors who offer a wealth of knowledge and inspiration.

The NEWS: What advice would you give to ACCA contractors about the coming year?

Stalknecht: Stay in touch with ACCA and read your weekly insider. We are doing a lot of work on Capitol Hill for contractors and our members need to know what their elected officials are doing for them.

Contractors should be more aware of government advocacy issues and be as involved as possible when it comes to these issues. They need to recognize their inherent obligations to support trade associations, like ACCA, that are working on their behalf every day.

If contractors and ACCA aren’t telling Congress about the issues that affect their businesses, then who will? Members of Congress aren’t experts on HVAC systems, so it’s our collective job to educate them.   

Publication date: 3/20/2017

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