The HVACR Hiring Puzzle: How to Increase Demand
Recently, Emily Saving, vice president for professional and program development at HARDI, spoke with Kari Arfstrom, executive director for the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, to talk about the new labor analysis reports released by the foundation this fall.
Q: Kari, tell me about the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation and HARDI’s role.
A: The foundation is dedicated to leading an industry effort to develop and promote educational projects, programs and partnerships to attract committed and skilled employees to a career in HVACR. The foundation’s objectives are to raise awareness of the HVACR industry and the importance it plays in daily lives; to create interest in the HVACR industry as an attractive and profitable career choice; and to enhance the quality and quantity of the available workforce for the HVACR industry. HARDI helps to fund the association as well as holds a seat on the board of directors.
A year ago, the board tasked me to report back to them on the supply and demand for HVACR workers in the U.S. and Canada. Until this point, we only had anecdotal evidence at best.
Q: Quickly review the reports that were released in September 2015, and then we can dive into them.
A: Sure, we divided up the task into three reports: one to determine the overall demand of HVACR jobs in the U.S.; another to look at the supply of new employees coming into the profession; and then to update a similar labor analysis report that had been done in Canada in 2007.
Of course, we wrote a quick five-page executive summary to bring all three reports into one document. And to make it even easier, we created an infographic that brings it down to one page with helpful graphics. Emily, you were part of this process from the beginning, and it was a fun and insightful project.
Q: OK, let’s dive into the reports. What did you find relating to the current demand for these jobs?
A: First, let me start out by saying that before these reports were issued, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only had employment data for HVACR mechanics and installers, but we know that without your members who distribute materials and plan the logistics, they couldn’t do their jobs. In these reports, we looked at all the jobs making up the HVACR sector and went deeper into the profession than we’ve ever done before.
Working with Burning Glass Technologies, they were able to review all the individual job postings in 2014 within the HVACR occupational family. Since HARDI members cut across many of these positions, I’ll call out a few for review. There were more than 220,000 HVACR jobs posted last year with almost half in the installation, maintenance and repair category. More than 12,500 were in sales and more than 6,000 in transportation and material moving. In 2014, the national average to hire a middle-skilled worker, which these are, was 29 days; yet for HVACR jobs, the national average was seven to 10 days longer, a significant amount of time when the job site is waiting for materials and installers.
Q: We keep hearing about retirements and how this will affect the demand for HVACR jobs. What did the reports say about this?
A: You are certainly right about that. Let’s use the BLS’ statistic for this example, but keep in mind we now believe that their estimate for mechanics and installers is on the low end. Take a look at this chart:
The Social Security Administration indicates that 22 percent of the U.S. workforce will retire in the next seven years; at the same time the BLS indicated an expected growth of 21 percent in the HVACR field. At a minimum, we need more than 115,000 new employees to meet the need for just mechanics and installers. Couple that with the other job categories listed above, and we double that demand.
Q: Wow! So we are looking at well over 200,000 new employees needed to fill all those jobs in the next seven years. What are we doing to recruit new workers?
A: Well, the next report we commissioned was a survey of secondary and post-secondary HVACR instructors. We heard from one-third of educators at technical and community colleges in the U.S. and Canada, plus from high schools and union training programs. It was an outstanding response rate.
As you would expect, HVACR instructors are retiring, and at a rate higher than the national average. In the next 10 years, we’ll have almost half of these highly trained experts leaving the classroom. Many of the instructors are former installers and mechanics, so the expertise they bring from on-the-job-training will need to be replicated in the new hires, which means that school administrators will be poaching your best employees.
Q: Paint a picture for me of a typical HVACR student.
A: Sure, if you were to walk into an HVACR program at a technical or community program, 32 percent are what we call traditional students, 12 percent are veterans and 25 percent are second-career adults; the remaining students are associated with secondary school programs.
But what you would find most amazing is that many seats would be empty. More than 55 percent of instructors reported they were under-enrolled by “a few or quite a few.” If we could fill those seats, we’d almost double the number of graduates who are ready and qualified to enter the workforce.
Q: How many students are these schools graduating each year?
A: Not enough, that is for sure. Based on our calculations, we estimate that of the HVACR programs offered at the post-secondary level, 21,000 students were qualified to enter the workforce this past school year. This leaves a gaping hole in what the job market demands and what schools are supplying.
Q: What can schools do to fill this demand?
A: Recruitment. With seats to fill, a hot job market, solid middle-class salaries, plenty of potential for promotion and a job immune to offshoring, we need to be promoting these jobs to secondary students, veterans and adults looking for a new career. With the national debate focusing on the cost of a college degree, or even the worth of it, this highly skilled job sector is where we need to be steering new employees.
Parents and grandparents need to know more about careers in the technical trades and talk to their sons and daughters about the opportunities that exist. Many high schools have career and technical classes where students can explore a variety of courses. Most cities and towns are within driving distance of a technical or community college, and the majority of those schools offer HVACR training programs. Students will graduate with the right certifications and training to get a job on Day One, if not even while they are going to classes. And after a few years, if they want to go back to college to become an engineer or a small-business owner, the doors will be wide open for them.
Q: Talk a bit more about this North American recruitment plan.
A: The foundation put forth a detailed plan making recommendations for practice and policy. Some of the suggestions include: ongoing professional development for instructor preparation; adjusting policies relating to accreditation, certification and licensure for HVACR training; and suggested improvements for existing programs. A detailed plan can be found in the report.
Q: What can associations like HARDI do to assist?
A: Awareness is key. Now that we have the data that establish the high demand and shortage of supply, we need to get the word out. Since the foundation comprises eight membership associations, HARDI being one of them, we need to make your members, the press, parents, students and school administrators aware of this pressing need. Outreach such as this article is important to sharing the message.
Q: What can our members do?
A: They can familiarize themselves with the three reports and share the executive summary with other local employees, high school career counselors and HVACR instructors they know, participate in career fairs, host ride-alongs for interested students and talk to their own kids.
The foundation has developed a Recruitment Toolkit that has checklists, sample handouts, videos and other tools to help with this process. It’s free and ready to use.
Q: And finally, where can we read more about this looming workforce issue?
A: All the reports, including the Toolkit, can be found here: www.CareersinHVACR.org.
Thank you, Kari. This is great information to share with our readers.
Copies of the reports mentioned in this article can be downloaded for free on the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation. (See above) They include:
• The HVACR Workforce: Demand Heats up as Supply Melts Away, the five-page executive report.
• The Next Generation of HVACR Installers and Technicians: What instructors are saying and what needs to be done, the first-ever survey of instructors in HVACR programs in U.S. and Canada.
• Heating up: The Sweltering Demand for Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Workers, prepared by Burning Glass Technologies.
• A Labour Market Investigation of the HVACR Sector in Canada, by Prism Economics and Analysis.
• Infographic and Recruitment Toolkit.
Please visit www.CareersinHVACR.org to raise awareness.