At the recent ACCA IE3 Convention, one of the most discussed topics, as seems to be the case at any contractor meeting, was the availability of qualified manpower. This shortage seems to be equally affecting installers and service technicians and was discussed in educational sessions, contractor roundtables, and in the halls of the convention center. Several of the solutions that have been frequently discussed were resurrected. One of those, the need to pursue and recruit junior college recruits, brought an interesting response from a contractor whose business is in a small town in California. He indicated there isn’t a junior college within 80-100 miles from his shop in any direction. Certainly, this is a concern that is shared by many other contractors.

That led to further discussion regarding the big picture and why young persons are not interested in going into the trades. What can we do to help correct the problem? That problem is that parents and educators today are only satisfied and happy when their youngsters go to college. If their children do anything else, they feel as if they have failed. Our industry, the sheet metal industry, has traditionally been family-oriented with a father being a sheet metal worker followed by his son into the trade. Now, however, with social pressure and the fact that sheet metal workers have wages large enough to send their children to college, a large number want their offspring to take that path. While these are worthwhile intentions, the fact is that many youngsters would be better off working with their hands. We have several friends whose children have attended and graduated from college and are back living at home because they were either unable to get  jobs in their chosen fields or, after a year or two, decided they didn’t like being behind desks every day. Their current job, waiting on tables, was not what they nor their parents had in mind. 

We, as an industry, have a job ahead of us to recruit these young people into the trades. This needs to be a major concerted effort in a number of different ways:

  • Start talking to fifth- through eighth-graders  about the excitement that can be had by creating something with their hands;
  • Spread the word among friends and acquaintances about the availability of work in the trades, especially to those whose children back at home are still uncertain about their futures;
  • Industry organizations need to prepare some charts showing the earning potential that is available to workers in the trades and compare that to wages and benefits being paid in other occupations;
  • Prepare similar charts that show the cost and benefits of careers in the trades versus college careers. Show a comparison to basic college and trade school training. Apprentice programs are typically paid for by employers and, in many cases, students are paid while they are attending the apprentice schooling;
  • Provide statistics regarding the amount of student debt college students are accumulating, which will take years to pay back;
  • If possible, work out an arrangement with a local community college under which an apprentice program’s hours will apply toward a degree at the community college; and
  • Seek out candidates from unrelated industries. An individual with training in the hospitality industry might make a perfect person to provide excellent customer service. Most good employers in the industry feel we should hire for attitude and personality and train the heating and air conditioning portion.

These are just some of the ideas that were tossed around during the three-day meeting. With a little thought, hopefully you will have some to add.

In summary, this problem is not going away. It is important that the leaders of our industry work together and take the steps they determine necessary to find solutions to the problem. We have an interesting, well-paying industry, we just need to make sure we’re educating people about the opportunities it offers.

Publication date: 4/17/2017

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