The August jobs report was full of positive information. The U.S. added 201,000 jobs, wages increased 2.9 percent compared to a year ago, and the overall unemployment rate held steady at 3.9 percent. However, an interesting statistic in the report showed that the unemployment rate was only 2.5 percent for non-management occupations, such as installation, maintenance, and repair workers.

While the stronger economy is definitely good news for contractors, they are probably not too thrilled to see these record low unemployment numbers. As everyone knows, the HVACR industry is struggling with a severe shortage of skilled labor, and the problem is only getting worse. Technicians are getting older — with some studies showing an average age of mid-50s — while young people are not entering the trades as they once did.

As one veteran refrigeration contractor recently told me, “There’s just not enough of us out there anymore. We’re a dying breed. And the young kids, for whatever reason, haven’t been taught or mentored about the refrigeration or HVAC industry. We have to get the young involved because it’s the only way we’re going to survive.”

Unfortunately, many students in middle and high school probably don’t even know what HVACR stands for, let alone the many different kinds of good-paying jobs available in the industry. That’s why it’s imperative to reach out to teenagers to let them know about these opportunities. And many contractors do just that, participating in career fairs and talking about the various career paths available in HVACR. But that’s where the engagement often ends. Going one step further and offering internships is a great way to get young people more engaged with the industry.

Many high school students want to get a job in the summer, but most companies will not hire them without experience. That’s why a majority of them end up in high-turnover industries, such as retail or restaurants, or else they don’t bother looking for a job at all.

This is illustrated in a report from the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which expected teen hiring to be stagnant in 2018 compared with 2017, when it fell nearly 4 percent to 1.29 million jobs gained. The report notes that while this lower number may be due to fewer jobs available in the retail and fast-food sectors, teen employment has been falling steadily since the ’90s and especially since the recession, said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“The teen participation rate in the summer months has hovered near 40 percent since 2009, well below the highs of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s at near or over 60 percent,” he said.

This presents a prime opportunity for HVACR contractors to step in and scoop up these teenagers for summer internships. Finding them shouldn’t be hard, as the word can be spread through career fairs, existing employees, high school and community college counselors/instructors, job websites (e.g., Indeed, Glassdoor), and social media. And if the hourly rate being offered is slightly above minimum wage, the job will look even more attractive to young people.

Once interns are hired, contractors should make sure they are trained just like any other employee. Give them real work to do and help them feel like they are a part of the company. Let them know about the various job opportunities available and what a typical career path looks like. If possible, partner interns with experienced technicians who love what they do, so they can see themselves being happy doing this kind of work. And if an intern turns out to be exceptional, why not extend a job offer for the following summer, suggest a part-time job during the school year, or possibly offer to help with school expenses, should they decide to pursue an education in HVACR?

Going one step further and offering young people the chance to work at meaningful internships in HVACR is a great way to get them interested in the industry. Not only does it offer teenagers a career path they might not have otherwise considered, it gives contractors the opportunity to essentially grow their own workforce. Because based on the recent unemployment statistics, finding — and keeping — technicians is going to get a whole lot harder.

Publication date: 10/3/2018

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