SAN DIEGO, CA — No doubt contractors in search of those hard-to-find refrigeration technicians are tempted to steal a few away from those big supermarket chains. Problem is, those folks are also struggling to find good techs.

During the 21st-annual Food Marketing Institute Energy & Technical Services Conference here, Margo Freewalt, manager of dealer management, Carrier Corp., Syracuse, NY, took supermarket engineers on a search for the Holy Grail: the skilled refrigeration tech.

The shortfall in supermarkets mirrors similar situations across the hvacr spectrum.

The aging population of existing techs is not being offset by the next generation, even as supermarkets seem to pop up soon after construction starts on nearby subdivisions.

The industry’s nonunion average wage scale for those starting out in hvacr work is not much better than pay at Taco Bell and McDonald’s for cooking and serving food — never mind keeping the air conditioning and ice machines running.

In general, the hvacr industry is not playing up the positives. “Other industries are making our industry look sad,” she said.

Pass the Polish

It is time, she said, to rethink recruitment ads. Part of one such ad could read, “Courses in math, mechanical drawing, applied physics and chemistry, electronics, blueprint reading, and computer applications provide a good background for those interested in this occupation.”

In addition, recruitment should focus on benefits such as ongoing training, health and medical coverage, 401K plans, career advancement, and the longevity of the company.

Promoting, she said, can be done at tech schools, parts houses, and among vendors. Ads can also be placed in church bulletins, newspaper sports sections, and on the Internet.

She said specific sectors of the population need to be targeted. “We are totally missing 11% of the total workforce” when the industry does not more aggressively recruit within the Hispanic population.

Understanding Incentives

Those doing the hiring also need to better understand the needs of those they are trying to hire. One study, she said, showed workers putting appreciation for work done as the most important motivation. Managers ranked that eighth out of 10 choices. Managers thought good wages was No. 1; workers put that at No. 5. To help in the search for good technicians, Freewalt suggested linking with:
  • SkillsUSA-VICA, which conducts competitions in the trades and offers other educational opportunities;
  • Career development programs offered by the Air Condi-tioning Contractors of America;
  • Efforts of the Associated Gen-eral Contractors of America; and
  • Through websites such as
  • Engineers and store managers should also check with their state legislators and local school boards, she said, to see what can be done to start or upgrade vocational-technical programs in high schools and community colleges.

    Publication date: 10/16/2000