As the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) gears up for this year’s conference & expo and welcomes its incoming chairman of the board, The ACHR NEWS chatted with some of ACCA’s key leaders about what’s on ACCA’s radar for the upcoming year. Following is a Q&A with Barton James, president and CEO; Melissa Broadus, director of member communications and committee liaison; and Stephen Pape, chief financial officer for Pape Services in DeSoto, Texas, and ACCA’s incoming chairman.
What HVACR trends is ACCA currently focusing on?
BJ: The skilled workforce shortage remains a top concern we are working to shine a spotlight on and find new ways to move the needle. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) I remain cautiously optimistic about. Sadly, there's a bunch of snake oil salesmen out there right now that are giving misinformation, and they're not politically trained where they even understand the mechanics and timing of when the incentives will be available. They certainly don’t have/are even attempting to have a presence with decision makers, but they are putting information out causing greater confusion for contractors, their sales team, and customers. They have set have us back with an already challenging dynamic we have with customers and trust with this industry.
LEADERSHIP: Last year at the 2022 manufacturer leadership forum at the ACCA conference & expo. (Courtesy of Air Conditioning Contractors of America [ACCA])
MB: The IRA is a big piece of legislation. Unfortunately, we couldn’t support it outright because it was paid for with deficit spending and tax increases on small business. That being said, the IRA did enact many longtime ACCA priorities, like the HOPE for HOMES Act and enhancements to the Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit (25C). All told, the bill includes $45 billion in tax credits and rebates for residential HVAC and billions more in programs relevant to commercial customers. There are a lot of questions because some of it is going to be dependent on what each individual state chooses. So, it’s been something that our members have struggled to understand… how it’s going to affect them, and how our members are going to be able to benefit from it.
So how is ACCA aiding contractor members navigate the IRA?
director of member communications and committee liaison
BJ: If you come to ACCA, you're going to hear the facts — not hype. You're going to hear from leaders that aren't some Department of Energy person that doesn't know their way to the bathroom yet, that has nothing to do with how this program will be shaped. Every time we're out there talking to the decision makers we're working with, it’s about how people need to understand that if we want to move the needle with energy efficiency, air quality, health — we have to focus on installation, service, and maintenance. And that needs to be done by people that are properly trained, keep up with the technology, and care about doing things the right way.
MB: It's a really tough situation, because there's an awful lot to the IRA, and it's not written in everyday homeowner language. ACCA is arming its members with as much information as possible so they can educate their customers about tax credits they can access today, rather than waiting a year or more for rebates they may not even qualify for. We have an entire page on our website devoted to the IRA. One of the resources there is something called a ComforTool, which is a leave-behind document that contractors can put their information on. They’re written so that the average homeowner can understand these really complex topics. And because it’s branded ACCA, it’s coming from a third-party expert, which helps validate the information. That gives it a little more clout for our contractor members.
We’re not going to stop talking about the IRA anytime soon. It's a force to be reckoned with here at the ACCA and in the industry as a whole. And we will work to continue to help our members any way we can to understand that legislation, and how they can best utilize that legislation to be more successful and to help their customers.
What should the attention of the HVAC industry be on?
SP: Workforce development efforts need to be a top priority for all of us. We need to do a better job presenting the HVACR industry as an essential and rewarding career. Toward that end, it is our responsibility to look inward at our personnel and compensation strategies to make sure we are doing all we can to keep high quality current and future employees. Today everyone has a choice where to invest their time. I think we need to spend just as must time marketing our business to our employee customers as we do to the customers who are “renting our employee’s lives” and “paying for our expertise and products.”
What priorities is the ACCA board working on right now?
MB: ACCA made a huge effort to really go back to being contractor focused. And to put all of our focus on what is helping contractors be better at their jobs, what they want and need, and solving their problems. Our Board of Directors are really looking — and they look to our committees a lot, as the people who are doing the day-to-day work — to find out what are the biggest struggles that contractors are facing. We know hands down, the No. 1 issue that contractors are facing is workforce. There's not a part of the contracting business that there isn’t a workforce struggle. And so we have spent a lot of our time looking at how we overcome these workforce issues on the ACCA side, and what can we provide as the association for contractors to help them.
And what kinds of workforce solutions is ACCA proposing?
MB: We are working with contractors individually on how they are going into high schools and trade schools in their local areas and how to get involved with those, because that's really critical to fixing the workforce issue. And we need to focus on how we show people that HVAC jobs aren’t job, they are careers … We have to break through that noise that trades are just a job. Trades are well-paying careers that our society cannot function without. We’ve also launched a new Workforce Center that provides every member a fully branded careers page and applicant tracking system they can use to attract quality talent, with listings across 17 major job boards and ACCA’s own site.
BJ: [Incoming chairman] Pape … his heart beats faster because of his love of education. He went back and got his Ph.D., and now his wife runs their family company. Dr. Pape is leading a session at our upcoming conference and expo, and it’s a can’t-miss — it will be about how you address the workforce issue beyond just the employer standpoint and how you leverage the resources in your backyard.
We know that the last time we did research from our members on this, that the people coming out of schools aren't the quality that we need, they're not able to meet the demands of the real world. But we've got to have contractors working hand in hand with schools to change that, and we deserve to hold the schools and their students to a higher standard. Complaining about it amongst ourselves isn't going to fix it. And along the workforce issue, one of the things I’m seeing … is more HVAC companies getting into the training side of stuff. And I worry that may become a distraction from what they do really good. That's a tough road to get into if it’s totally outside of your area of expertise.
MB: All of our members really want female technicians and staff members. They understand that this is a great industry for women to have careers in. But unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn't come across that way. So we've given them tips for how to do that — how to make your job posting more interesting to all people. It’s really just best practices to make the job feel open to everybody under the sun. Because wouldn't it be great if a contractor put the job posting out there and they had 800 people apply, because everybody felt like the job was right for them?
What do you hope to achieve during the next as chairman of the board of ACCA?
SP: A big priority will be to bring to completion two important ACCA projects initiated this past year under the leadership of [outgoing] chairman Keith Patton. One is a Governance review to make sure ACCA remains strong giving voice for HVACR contractors, both large and small, all across the country. Second is to finish up and implement a new ACCA Strategic Plan that will be ACCA’s roadmap the next few years. A personal priority for me will be to find synergy between ACCA and our industry, education, and other partners make advances in both quality and scale for education efforts for incumbent and new industry workers. Membership is also important! I would like to greatly increase membership for this national association as well as our state and regional association.
What’s your dream for the industry?
president and CEO
BJ: I want our members to see themselves and the importance of their work and businesses the way it should be seen: essential — and that they're building a business they want their kids and grandkids to work at. I think we've got to honor our old-school mentality, but we also have to have the pride. I’m optimistic — and maybe the transition to flammable refrigerants will open the door to that and more — but for us to change, I think an important factor will be changing consumer behavior and the understanding by decision makers of how HVACR works. Contractors and their teams have very demanding jobs, but I think we could spread the workload more as we build greater consumer education, especially around equipment lifespan and having future incentives tied to service and maintenance. Most people don't decide to trade in their car when it leaves them dead on the side of the road. But that's how 90% or more of consumers treat their heating and air conditioning needs. It’s the most significant home purchase, outside of the home itself,that you're going to make now every 10-12 years (if you're lucky). These are huge purchases that are getting bigger every day, and if we are able to change the consumer education where they're not waiting until the point of [an HVAC system’s] breakdown, they’ll realize that if they've got a 10-year-old system, they need to have a plan. And that plan needs to include the best contractor that they can find to service and maintain that system. If we’re able to do that, we can change our workload — spread it out over the course of the year. The more we're able to focus on consumer education, the more HVAC will be recognized as the professional industry it is.
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