The HVAC industry has known for some time about the threats of the growing labor shortage and the increasing pressure to find qualified labor as the current workforce retires and demand rises. According to the 2018 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook Survey, conducted by Sage and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), many firms are optimistic about the growing demand for all types of services. However, they are increasingly concerned with the continued workforce shortages. At the same time, 75 percent of surveyed firms confirmed they are planning to hire more workers in 2018. Job openings are growing while the industry encounters a dwindling pool of qualified job-seekers.

In the HVAC industry specifically, mechanic and installer jobs nationwide are expected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In perspective, this industry growth is much faster than the average for all occupations and is driven by commercial and residential building construction. Not only is the demand increasing, but the current workforce is preparing to retire within the next 10 years, leaving positions open.

This doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of the HVAC contractors and companies providing these services. These challenges and concerns are also present for manufacturers within the industry.  A study conducted by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute predicts that up to two million jobs could go unfilled from lack of workers with the appropriate skills.

Whether you are a manufacturer or a contractor, it’s clear that we need to shine light on the labor shortage and identify solutions to help meet future demand. Creating and attracting a pool of talented workers within the industry benefits all of us.

So what is the true cause of the labor shortage and how do we resolve it? One stigma that could be contributing is the idea that HVAC and other skilled-trades careers require hard work for low pay. The reality is, however, that the median income wage for HVAC mechanics and installers, last measured in 2017 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $47,080. In many cases, this wage can be earned without completing a four-year degree. When compared to the $1.4 trillion in student loans younger generations and their families are facing after completing 4-year degrees, HVAC and other skilled-trades career students have incredible opportunities to learn through apprenticeship, which allows them to incur less debt and gain quicker entry into the workforce.

Apprenticeship programs have been prominent and growing for some time. The Trump Administration passed a Presidential Executive Order expanding apprenticeships in America in the summer of 2017, stating the Federal Government would be responsible to provide more affordable pathways to secure, high-paying jobs by promoting apprenticeships and workforce development programs. Now more than ever, contractors should take part in the continuing conversations about apprenticeships and the opportunities available to job-seekers to receive educational and workplace-relevant instruction, while obtaining paid employment.

Another potential issue which could contribute to a worker shortage is the lack of workers with the new skills necessary to work in the changing environment. When we analyze the current dynamic of the typical HVAC technician, job responsibilities include, repair and replacement of systems, advanced troubleshooting skills, but also the increasing need for ability to understand and operate electronics and new technology. However, the boost in apprenticeship programs we are seeing is helping to alleviate some of the concerns with the potential lack of skilled workers.

Within the trades themselves, employers need to be asking themselves tough questions to help avoid a potential labor shortage. Are your current wages competitive in the industry? Is your shop adapting to the technology landscape and introducing new opportunities for workers to learn innovative practices within the industry? Maybe the two go hand-in-hand. The Complete HVAC-R Salary Survey for 2018 identify the future of salary increases as bright for HVAC technicians who are proficient in computer literacy, interdisciplinary management (empathy, people-skills, collaboration, etc.) and continuing education.

Overall, HVAC contractors, manufacturers and the industry as a whole have a tremendous opportunity to steer the job-seeker market toward the great career vacancies in our industry. Whether your shop begins grassroots efforts to participate in career days, internships and apprenticeships or restructures job offerings, shop capabilities or incorporates new, innovative tech, now is the time to begin to strengthen the next workforce.

Publication date: 5/21/2018

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