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HVAC contractors are not unfamiliar with the labor shortage in the skilled trades. Many contractors are constantly looking for either experienced technicians or quality employees with the potential to become one. Or both. There are a variety of strategies for finding, recruiting, and hiring talent, such as reaching out to local schools or developing an in-house training program. Manufacturers in the HVAC industry also have an incentive to get more people into the skilled trades, and they have been exerting effort to develop the future workforce.


Reaching Out To High Schools

Ridgid recently hosted high school students at their headquarters and manufacturing facility in Elyria, Ohio. Students from Elyria Catholic High School visited Ridgid as part of their Engineering and Technology Career Trek, and the students participated in manufacturing, product development, and software engineering activities. They observed the assembly of Ridgid wrenches, watched the quality testing of those wrenches, and toured the company’s materials laboratory. The students visited six workplaces in total, plus two colleges, in order to learn more about different industries and look at potential career paths.

Technician training.

KEEPING PACE: Corey Dickert of Milwaukee Tool said that the rapid growth in technology makes regular training of apprentices crucial. (Courtesy of Milwaukee Tool)

“We have found that when students can experience manufacturing first-hand and see how the STEM skills they’ve been learning in the classroom translate into careers, they are more excited about the industry and exploring career opportunities than when they first walked through our doors,” said Harald Krondorfer, vice president, engineering services and technology development, Ridgid for Emerson.

Prior to COVID-19, Ridgid regularly opened its doors to local schools and students, including the launch of a “We Love STEM program” for elementary students, who were able to attend the headquarters for a day of hands-on learning. Krondorfer said he hopes that the program can return once it is safe to do so.

“Elyria Catholic High School is committed to preparing students for careers in high growth industries and connecting them with leading northeast Ohio businesses,” said Annie Heidersbach, Elyria Catholic president. “We are thrilled that Emerson’s Ridgid team shares our vision and is one of the charter corporate partners by hosting the Elyria Catholic High School’s Career Trek program.”

Corey Dickert, senior vice president of product management for Milwaukee Tool, explained that the rapid growth in technology over the past decade has caused the HVAC jobsite to change dramatically. There are so many different strategies that contractors can use to increase productivity that it is hard to take advantage of them all. In his opinion, this shift on the jobsite means that there is an even deeper need for tool manufacturers to be involved with training, especially with training apprentices to ensure they thrive and stay in the HVAC industry.

“Milwaukee Tool has made training a crucial part of our work with contractors and in developing future solutions for these users,” Dickert said. “With a large team across the United States focused on managing locally-based training centers, we can provide focused support in Power Tool Safety Training, Power Tool 101, and other educational courses on emerging technologies and new products.”


Teaching and Training The Next Generation

Johnson Controls offers a controls technical learning program, which features a three-week program of foundation technical learning focused on controls, which is then accompanied by product-specific courses. Topics are many, including covering the science behind heat transfer to upholding fire prevention code.

“If you’re the type of individual that doesn’t like the concept of four years of college and a big balloon payment upon graduation, there are other options,” said Dean Johnson, lead instructor, Johnson Controls. “There needs to be more awareness that there’s a whole other avenue you can take.”

Johnson explained that the labor shortage is a result of the combination of guidance counselors pushing college for students and the reduction of shop classes in high school curriculums. Unless a high school student already knows somebody in the HVAC industry, he or she is unlikely to recognize HVAC as a viable career choice.

An example of this is Johnson Controls’ updating building controls equipment at large school districts as a part of their contracts. They include performance consulting education that allows them to offer green HVAC vocational programs to students. There are already several locations where Johnson Controls has provided material and coursework to be taught to high school students, exposing them to the HVAC industry as a viable career choice.

Everyone in the HVAC industry has an incentive to bring more talent in, as it is estimated that by 2028, there will be about 2.4 million vacant jobs in the skilled trades sector of the American economy. One company, Sigler Wholesale Distributors, headquartered in Tolleson, Arizona, partnered with The Refrigeration School Inc. (RSI) to create a skilled trades “bootcamp.” The RSI Pro Tech Bootcamp is a series of customizable programs that was designed to provide hands-on HVAC technician training with Sigler as the supply house and provider for all training materials. The two groups have already collaborated on an HVAC technician hiring program at Sigler’s, which offers tuition reimbursement to qualified RSI students.

The program certification timelines are as short as two days and as long as two weeks, and cover topics such as the following:

  • Install Apprentice
  • Mechanical and Electrical Troubleshooting
  • Warranty Tech
  • Advanced Install
  • Zoning
  • Brazing and Soldering

“We are excited to be partnering with Sigler again to train and educate workers to become skilled trades professionals,” said Mary Kelly, president and CEO of StrataTech Education Group. “At RSI, we are passionate about bringing awareness to skilled trades education by addressing stigmas and encouraging people to take part in this growing essential industry. We are happy to bridge the skilled trades labor gap locally by collaborating with Sigler to help them increase the level of skill for HVAC technicians, resulting in profitable companies providing an incredible customer experience.”


Developing Talent

Earlier this year, Viega LLC announced its support for SkillsUSA, a national non-profit that serves students preparing for a future in the trade, technical, and skilled service occupations. SkillsUSA held its virtual SkillsUSA Championships, where state gold medalists competed in over 106 categories, including HVAC.

“SkillsUSA provides a valuable service to young people looking for opportunities to advance their life skills in pursuing a career in plumbing, plumbing service, HVAC service, or any of the pipe trades,” said Viega Trades Education Network Program Manager Daniel Rademacher. “We look forward to being an integral part of SkillsUSA’s mission to help instill confidence in students to pursue their passion in the career path of their choice.”