If you’re like me, you have not only heard many people ask “Where are all the HVAC industry workers?” numerous times, you’ve asked that question yourself.

Do you have an answer? We have to face a few facts before we can answer that question.

We have been hindered by the U.S. education system that has, in many areas of the country, cut vocational training from high schools. Not only have they cut these programs that helped feed our industry with young talent, they have put a greater focus on pushing students to four-year colleges. As so many of us know, a bachelor’s degree is not necessary to be successful in our industry.

Second, the HVAC construction industry does not have a glamourous image that makes people want to flock to it. The image issue hurts us because many 20-something millennials put a high value on the perception that society has about their jobs.

There are other issues, but these are major obstacles that we need to overcome — and overcome now. How do we do that? These two issues are intertwined on some levels.

Let’s start with the image issue. We all know that our industry doesn’t just offer great jobs; it offers long-term career opportunities. The earning potential for our employees is fantastic. Add to that, there is no need for the four-year college degree that is being pushed by the American education system, so our employees don’t have massive student loan debt that is plaguing so many young people in America.

Bad messaging 

This message isn’t getting out there, and it is our job to be pushing it out. We have to get into the schools and let them know that we are a viable option for those for whom college isn’t the right choice.

Students are not the only group to which we need to be pushing this image message. Our recently discharged military veterans are another group of potential employees that we need to be tapping. We need to be recruiting these people who have been trained by our armed services and have skills and knowledge that — while may not be industry specific —  can be used to turn them into top-performing employees.

The existing education system is a little trickier to overcome. However, it can be done because the HVAC industry has the advantage of on-the-job training and, from many employers, employer-funded training. You don’t have to be super technical to get into the industry, you just have to have the right attitude and the desire to want to learn and succeed. We can teach people the technical skills.

So how do we overcome these challenges? We take every opportunity to attend career days, fairs and recruiting events. We need to approach schools and ask to get involved. We have to be the champions of our industry.

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America has several resources we can download and customize with our information to help us promote our industry.  We need to use these to show that we are an industry for everyone and that the opportunities are endless.

Another opportunity we need to be promoting is the Rees scholarship. There are students who want to get a formal education through a vocational school, and scholarships can help them pay for their education. This scholarship, which ACCA supports, gives up to $2,000 to qualified students enrolled in accredited programs. Multiple scholarships are awarded each year. Donate to it.

So where are all the workers? They are right in front of us, but we have to do the work to get them into our industry. We each have a choice to either be part of the solution or sit on the sidelines.

For more information about the Rees Scholarship, visit www.reesscholarship.org