How can HVAC contractors find quality, vetted talent? How can skilled technicians (or those with the potential to become one) find a position they can thrive in? Ruchir Shah, founder and CEO of SkillCat, has worked to develop a technology that can address both questions with the same answer. SkillCat is an AI-based hiring platform to help blue-collar workers get skilled trade jobs.
“We help companies source really great talent, and we assess that talent more effectively than a resume or interview,” said Shah. “We built out a completely free online trade school, which includes EPA certifications.”
The platform has a virtual simulator that can train and test hard and soft skills, and the entire technology is available through a computer or a mobile phone app to increase accessibility to the program. Since many technicians already have full-time jobs, the mobile and computer capabilities allow them to train and certify their skills on their own timeline.
According to Shah, the platform has been bringing in people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including manufacturing and automotive markets and people who are entirely new to the HVAC industry. And it’s helping recruit women too. About 30% of the visitors to the platform are women, which is a substantially higher percentage than those currently working in the HVAC industry.
Hiring Using SkillCat
Companies that partner with SkillCat pay a subscription fee for access to the platform and the talent that is using it.
“Instead of requiring a certain amount of experience, we make companies require skills,” said Shah. “So instead of saying, ‘This guy needs to have five years of commercial HVAC experience,’ we’ll say, ‘This guy needs to be able to read a wiring diagram, needs to be able to do advanced electrical troubleshooting, and needs to be able to braze and solder.”
The companies can then filter and sort through candidates based on which skills the candidates have had credentialed by the SkillCat platform.
SkillCat as a Technician
SkillCat is focused on fast, efficient, in-depth training for its users. It offers training that applies directly to hands-on skills.
“We’ve compressed our trade school into the top two weeks of skills that companies really want and need,” said Shah. “Workers can go through it anytime, anywhere, with a virtual simulation that lets them experience many, many different scenarios and problems. So we're broadening the pool of talent, and making it a lot easier for workers to break into the industry.”
Technicians who enter the platform begin by taking a skills assessment test so SkillCat has an idea of the experience they already have. They can begin applying to jobs that they already have the skills for and can also take new courses to develop the skills they don’t yet have.
He explained that those completely new to HVAC can go through the entire curriculum, where SkillCat will teach them everything from basic math to installation and troubleshooting. Following their training, they can be certified by the EPA and get certified as a SkillCat graduate, then apply for jobs with their newly-verified skills.
Looking Past and Moving Forward
Before starting SkillCat, Ruchir Shah worked on building virtual simulations to train oil and gas workers. He took a break from the business to get his MBA and began to see (largely due to COVID) a number of highly skilled oil and gas workers getting laid off. He wanted to take people with exceptional blue-collar skills and place them in industries where they could thrive, even if it wasn’t the industry the person began in. SkillCat was meant partially to help workers take the marketable trade skills they have in one industry and transition to a new industry (like HVAC) at the most opportune time.
The mission hasn’t changed. SkillCat is working to partner with major companies in the HVAC industry, including but not limited to contracting companies, and to grow their platform even more. This will help quality workers find quality jobs while also helping contractors find talent in the midst of a labor shortage.
“We think we can really help move the industry forward,” said Shah.