If residential contractor Arthur Pickett had his way, all hvac students would have modern equipment to train on.

Pickett, a past president of his Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) chapter and board member of a local trade school, noticed that students were training on equipment from the 1950s and 60s.

“I just called up Lennox and told them these kids need good equipment to train on and the next morning I sent a truck over to Lennox and picked up a few pieces of equipment for the school,” he said. “Sometimes these public schools don’t have the wherewithal [to purchase the equipment].

“I’m sure every manufacturer would do the same thing if someone would just open up the pipeline.”

Pickett believes that by working with more modern equipment, the hvac trade can keep the flow of students coming through the school system.

“We hire these kids and it would be nice if they saw a 90% efficient gas furnace or a modern heat pump with a solid-state circuit board, but they’re not seeing them.”

Grooming to attract employees

Once a new recruit shows an interest in the business, Pickett said it’s time to make his business more appealing.

“I keep in mind the cost of living and what the wages are in the area,” he said. “You can’t expect a person to act like a professional and pay him the same wages as a laborer.

“We’ve never had a layoff, even in the lean times,” he added. “I’ve worked too hard to get my people. I wouldn’t dare lay them off.”

Refrigeration contractor Peter Comeau has a prerequisite before hiring a new employee: He or she must be highly motivated, because “They have to have the ability and the desire to be trained.”

The whole scenario of worker shortages makes business expansion difficult, if not impossible.

“It has hurt us in expanding our territories,” he said. “We would like to be more aggressive.”

These problems have lead to a classic gridlock problem. Good workers need to keep busy, which means continually expanding markets and adding projects.