When the industry targets the issue of recruitment, a great deal of attention is focused on the need for service technicians. But the hvacr field has many facets that need qualified employees. For example, wholesalers are in the same predicament as contractors.

In fact, many wholesalers have taken steps to bring young people into the industry and to get the word out on this specific aspect of the trade. At the same time, the work of wholesalers is also helping its contractor customers by bringing new people into the industry.

Where to Start?

The Gustave A. Larson Co. is headquartered in Pewaukee, WI, and has over 20 locations throughout the Midwest. The wholesaler has recently made recruitment a top priority.

Susie Klein, director of human resources for Gustave A. Larson, was chosen by the company to develop and find new ways to promote the industry and find needed employees.

According to Klein, the company has been working with short-term solutions to find qualified workers, including signing and referral bonuses. But Klein says that the company, and wholesalers in general, need to start turning their attention towards long-term solutions.

To begin her task, Klein talked with Bud Healy, director of education for the Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration & Aircon-ditioning Wholesalers Association (NHRAW).

Healy was able to point Klein into a few directions, including contacting the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI). Over the years, ARI has played an active role in recruitment and education. In fact, the organization has helped many hvacr programs with equipment donations when they agree to adopt industry standards.

But NHRAW has also taken an active role in recruitment and has suggested ways wholesalers can do the same.

“Our focus is to help teachers as much as we can, first and foremost,” said Healy.

One way NHRAW has done this is through its annual convention. For the past 14 years, NHRAW has selected five hvacr instructors each year to come to the conference where they can participate in educational sessions and speak with manufacturers. According to Healy, approximately 200 manufacturers are present at the conference’s trade show. This allows instructors to speak with many different companies, discuss their needs, and possibly find lab donations.

Healy also gives advice to wholesalers of what they can do on their own. He suggests that contractors and wholesalers go to the high schools and middle schools to encourage and educate young people on hvacr careers.

At the vocational school level, Healy says wholesalers and contractors should offer summer internships and offer lab donations. But more importantly, Healy says wholesalers should join advisory boards. By being on an advisory board, instructors can make a connection to local industry. Instructors, wholesalers, and contractors can work together to solve problems.

Healy recommends that wholesalers encourage vocational schools to take part in the Industry Competency Exams (ICE) and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), which is offered through ARI and supported and validated by several industry associations, including NHRAW.

More Advice From ARI

Klein followed Healy’s advice and called ARI’s director of education, Leslie Sandler.

Sandler has helped thousands of individuals, schools, and companies with recruitment and training issues. Most recently, Sandler helped with the lab donations for a high school pilot program in Milwaukee, WI. She gave Klein the same advice she would give anyone in the industry looking to make a positive impact in finding skilled employees.

The first thing Sandler recommended for Gustave A. Larson was local involvement. She told Klein to appoint an individual at each of the company’s locations. This person would then be in charge of sparking awareness in the community by going to the schools and joining an instructor’s advisory board.

By being part of an advisory board, wholesalers have the opportunity to strengthen hvacr programs. One way of doing this is to help with curriculum. Sandler, like Healy, recommends introducing the vocational schools to ICE and PAHRA.

Sandler also says that wholesalers should use their position in the industry to put instructors in contact with other individuals, especially manufacturers. This strengthens programs and leads to more students.

Sandler says that the local wholesalers must get involved with high schools and middle schools, asserting that ARI has the tools necessary for individuals to make presentations to young people.

ARI offers a free kit complete with a video, projects, and information about hvacr careers. The kit is sponsored by the Careers Education Coalition (CEC), which is sponsored by 15 industry associations. The kit also has lessons on basic science concepts and how they work in hvacr. Sandler suggests using the kit and volunteering to teach a science lesson at a local school.

There is also www.coolcareers.org, a website created by ARI to supply information to young people about the trade. The website is also sponsored by CEC and Sandler says that the site can be accessed in 13 different countries and has about 25,000 hits a month.

The Wholesaler Choice

These recruitment methods can be used by anyone in the hvacr industry, but wholesalers have a special stake in doing so. The majority of the young people choosing a career in hvacr will not go into wholesaling and distribution.

“From a wholesaler perspective, students are lured into the service work,” said Klein. “All training is geared towards hands-on and lab.”

Klein believes that by becoming more involved with schools, instructors and students can be exposed to the option of wholesaling. According to Healy, this is another reason why NHRAW brings instructors to its annual convention.

“By bringing them to the conference, we broaden the opportunity for their students,” said Healy. “Teachers are aware of wholesaling, but some are not.”

Healy also says that wholesaling is perfect for some students, but they may not be aware of that aspect of the trade. He says that some individuals are very good students when it comes to hvacr, but they may not be equipped to handle some of the hard labor involved in service work. For these individuals, wholesaling is perfect because it still requires a great deal of technical knowledge.

Even if an individual can do the service work, it may just not be for them, at least according to Klein. “Some of them don’t like going out in 100 degree heat,” she said.

“We want to help our customers,” said Klein about Gustave A. Larson’s recruiting efforts. “They are very busy and they don’t have the resources that we have.”

Klein also explains that any recruiting work that is done, whether by a wholesaler or a contractor, will benefit the industry.

“If we’re all competing for the same people in the industry, we’re all going to lose,” said Klein. “We need to be much more proactive.”

If you would like more information on Gustave A. Larson and its recruiting plans, e-mail Klein at susie.klein@egalco.com. For more information on ARI and how it can help with recruiting efforts, e-mail Sandler at lsandler@ari.org.

Publication date: 08/20/2001