On June 15, as part of a White House event, President Donald Trump signed the Apprenticeship & Workforce of Tomorrow executive order, which designates resources to go to vocational training programs and aims to remove restrictions that have prevented industries, including HVAC, from creating apprenticeships.
With so much currently going on in the nation’s capital, it may have been easy for many to overlook this order’s existence. However, this decision appears to be a major boost for the skilled trades overall, and specifically HVAC, which is in desperate need of as many able technicians as possible at the moment.
Via the order, President Trump has directed the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to draft new rules that allow companies, industry groups, and unions to create and certify their own programs, which would then be approved by the DOL.
The order doubles the current level of funding for apprenticeship grants to $200 million by repurposing money allotted for existing job-training programs.
The initiative would also direct members of Trump’s administration to form a task force of representatives from industry groups, unions, and corporations that would recommend other ways the government could help expand apprenticeships.
Finally, the order calls on Congress to allow student loans to apply to technical college education or on-the-job training.
A NEEDED BOOST
The HVAC industry has long been searching for answers when it comes to adding to the workforce, and for many, an order like this signals an important boost to the trades.
“The pendulum is finally swinging back toward the skilled trades,” said Brian Leech, owner, Service Legends Inc., Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s unfortunately a little late, as the trade deficit in labor is massive, but I do think it’s swinging back. I’m glad President Trump signed the executive order and hopefully it comes to fruition. With it being an executive order, it unfortunately doesn’t necessarily give us a guarantee.”
According to an often-cited September 2015 report from the HVACR Workplace Development Foundation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of HVACR mechanic and installer jobs will increase by 21 percent through 2022, which is nearly twice the anticipated overall growth of employment with more than 115,000 additional HVACR mechanics and installers needed.
“Finding and hiring skilled workers is one of the most critical challenges contractors face today,” said Don Langston, president of Aire Rite Airconditioning & Refrigeration Inc. in Huntington Beach, California, and ACCA’s current chairman of the board, per an ACCA release. “The HVACR industry is facing a 50,000-plus worker shortage within the next decade if nothing changes, and we continue down a path that ignores the fact that careers in the trades are some of the most stable and well-paying jobs in the country. The support that President Trump and [Labor] Secretary Acosta gave for apprenticeship programs shows that this administration is focused on growing America’s workforce and is committed to the promises that were made during the campaign. Contractors should be encouraged by these steps, because they are opening doors for the next generation of workers to more easily enter into our industry and help grow our businesses.”
“This executive order immediately raises the profile of what is happening with the trades,” said Barton James, senior vice president for government relations, ACCA. “There has been such a focus in this country on going to college, but that’s not working for everybody, and it’s not the only option out there. This sudden spotlight is important.”
It’s important for kids to recognize that college is not a be-all, end-all option, said Leech.
“The amount of individuals who are graduating college with massive amounts of debt that are not able to land careers to compensate for that debt may start to increase interest in the trades,” he said.
On March 17, President Trump said, “We must embrace new and effective job-training approaches, including online courses, high school curriculums, and private-sector investment that prepare people for trade, manufacturing, technology, and other really well-paying jobs and careers.”
Leech is one contractor who has taken this matter into his own hands in recent years by creating an in-house apprenticeship program. This program was created to encourage people to consider careers in HVAC and also ensure they receive the proper guidance and training.
“I was fortunate in that one of our clients is the director of state apprenticeship of Iowa, so she walked me through the creation of my program when statewide licensing came into play,” said Leech. “I was at a choice point of either sending my people to another school or building an apprenticeship program from the ground up. I wasn’t going to count on the trade schools to teach some of the important communication aspects of the work, so we chose to build our own.”
Iowa is one state that has taken a strong stance on apprenticeships, though that has not been the case in every state across the country. Leech said his training program was also fortunate to benefit through the attendance of veterans.
“The funding our military individuals get as part of government GI funding offsets a bunch of their tools and it also feeds into us,” he said. “Additionally, we were operating on a grant for the last two years that allowed displaced workers to qualify for this program and have 50 percent of their training wages paid for. Unfortunately, this grant has recently expired, which is another reason I am hopeful this executive order comes to fruition.”
James noted there are several legislative hurdles the order has yet to get over.
“We have got to get this right,” he said. “It’s not just the president. It’s also his daughter Ivanka who has been front and center on this and has been touting the importance of the skilled trades. She understands how important this executive order is for businesses.”
James highlighted the career technical education funding aspect of the order — in the form of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 — is up for reauthorization and has been referred to the U.S. Senate.
“This gives flexibility to states on how dollars are spent,” said James. “Right now they are spent on things like beautician training. That’s a space where money is being spent and there is no need. There are more people getting into it than there are jobs for it. I think giving states more discretion is important. Overall, this is a really positive step that helps the entire industry and can only benefit customers. It’s important for all of us to do a better job of putting customers first.”
Publication date: 8/14/2017