Most HVACR contractors have struggled to find and retain workers for years, and this problem is not likely to get better anytime soon. One of the main obstacles is that many young people know nothing about the HVACR industry, so they may not even be aware that it can be a lucrative and rewarding career choice.
In a recent webinar in honor of World Refrigeration Day, Emerson sought to bring attention to the many opportunities offered by the HVACR industry. The panelists participating in the webinar were located around the world, and each one talked about their own experience in the field, as well as the importance of attracting and recruiting the next generation of HVACR service technicians.
“As the previous generations of technicians retire and fewer candidates enter the field, our industry faces an urgent need for skilled technicians,” said webinar host, Dr. Rajan Rajendran, vice president, system innovation center and sustainability at Emerson. “This shortage has created an abundance of opportunities for young people seeking a viable long-term career path outside of a four-year college education. In this webinar, we hope to highlight the trends we are seeing, the tools and technologies that are modernizing the industry, and the perks and benefits of a career in HVACR.”
And based on the experiences of the panelists, there are numerous perks and benefits of having a job in this industry. Trevor Matthews, a particularly enthusiastic panelist from Canada, said that as a first generation refrigeration mechanic, he did not know much about refrigeration before he started in the industry. As he noted, “Refrigeration found me -- I didn't find refrigeration. It was by luck.”
Matthews said that one of the things he always wanted to do was travel around the world and that having a career in refrigeration allowed him to do just that. In addition, it has proven to be very lucrative.
“After five or six years, I was making six figures because I wanted to,” he said. “I'll tell you right now, it's not that easy. But if you want it and you have the drive, you can make six figures after a short amount of time learning and earning at the same time. I would also like to point out that I continue to learn every day and that refrigeration gives back to me every single day. I love it. This is such an amazing career -- it's the most rewarding career out there.”
Rewarding is the term that panelist Joe Healy stressed when discussing careers in HVACR. Born in Ireland, he worked his way around the world before settling in Hong Kong as the director of application engineering at Emerson. He said that air conditioning literally makes it possible to work in a climate like Hong Kong, which is extremely hot and humid.
“On top of that we have 7 million people living in an area of about 400 square miles, so it's extraordinarily densely populated,” he said. “Refrigeration enables all of those people to be to be fed every day, it enables the transportation system to operate and keep everybody cool as they're moving back and forth, to work and whatever they might be doing. So in reality, refrigeration and air conditioning keep the wheels of society running. It makes it possible to live, to work, and to have some fun in tough climates.”
However, we are facing a tremendous shortage of technicians, said Becky Hoelscher, director of aftermarket sales in the U.S. at Emerson, as a large chunk of baby boomer service technicians are starting to retire from the industry. With too few young people in place to take their jobs, she stressed that recruitment needs to start in high school.
“Everybody knows what a nurse does. Everybody knows what a PT does. But what does an HVACR technician do?” she said. “We have to get in front of them early and entice them. And that's what I love doing with these young students. If we show them the thermodynamics of refrigeration and how they can have ice cream and keep it cold and how they make a difference, that relates to them.”
The industry also needs to do more to entice women into the HVACR industry, said Hoelscher, by letting them know that it is a sustainable career. Again, in order to recruit women, it is necessary to be at the high schools.
“You have to talk to the mothers, so that they understand that their daughters can do this, and it’s going to be a great job,” she said. “They don't have to be waitresses, they don't have to be behind a desk, they can be up on a rooftop. So recruiting is very important at the early stages, going to the open houses and talking to the parents.”
Many contractors already work closely with their local high schools and vo-tech schools, educating students about the lucrative and rewarding careers they can find in the HVACR industry. But more needs to be done to help bring new blood into the industry, so make sure you’re doing what you can to tout the benefits of a career in HVACR wherever you go.