WASHINGTON - Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), testified on behalf of the association before the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee.

Stalknecht told the committee that more than half of ACCA’s members have fewer than 10 employees and generate less than $1 million in annual revenue. According to the 2007 Economic Census, the industry employs nearly 200,000 mechanics, installers, helpers, and related personal. The average annual salary for HVACR technicians is $46,500.

The HVACR industry, he reported, is facing a workforce crisis due to attrition, a shortage of skilled technicians, and difficulties in recruiting new workers. Despite the current economic downturn in the construction industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for HVACR mechanics and installers will grow 28 percent between 2008 and 2018.

This growth is fueled by government mandates and incentives to improve residential home and commercial building efficiencies. Current federal and industry programs that support job training are not able to keep up with the demand for skilled HVACR technicians, he noted.

On behalf of ACCA and based on input from members across the country, Stalknecht issued the following recommendations and observations:

Congress needs to develop federal policies that can foster a change in the culture of job training and career counseling. Many young people “look down” on the skilled trades even though the trades offer opportunity, job security, a comfortable lifestyle, and a career path to entrepreneurialism and business ownership.

Second, on-the-job training must be part of any apprenticeship program in order to be a success. Many graduates still lack specific skills because they didn’t receive on-the-job training.

Third, federal policies should be expanded to encourage and support accredited state and local apprenticeship programs that already exist. Some of ACCA’s chapters partner with community colleges and local contractors to teach and mentor students with tremendous success.

Fourth, Congress should continue to support and expand the roles of the Workforce Investment Boards where they involve local business leaders along with representatives from schools and trades.

Finally, Congress should assist small businesses that develop their own in-house training programs to meet unfulfilled needs, especially in rural areas. These smaller apprenticeship programs face bureaucratic hurdles that could be streamlined for greater effectiveness.

A copy of Stalknecht’s complete testimony is available online at www.acca.org/testimony.

Publication date:03/01/2010