I have developed the following advice and direction to entry-level HVACR students over the past 20-plus years as an HVACR educator advising students. The job search success for any student who actually followed through with the advice given has been very impressive. So here are lessons learned and shared on how to pursue a job in HVACR.

As an advisor, the main issues I have observed are that (a) a majority of students will not follow through and (b) those that do follow through end up with more opportunities than one and have a difficult time deciding where they want to go to work (a tough problem to have).

Often those that do follow through are able to begin working with the employer before they are finished with their program of study. This is an ideal arrangement due to the workplace experience that enhances and reinforces the lessons learned in the program of study, thereby accelerating the success of an entry-level tech.

One real danger in this arrangement is that the employer will ask you to quit school and go full-time. If that is the case, the employer is not displaying professional business sense and is inadvertently asking you to compromise your professional growth and opportunity.

My plug to the students (those that pay attention) is coming from experience. My rose-colored glasses have always seen opportunity. HVACR does not have a glass ceiling — you can go wherever you want to. The field is open for anyone that performs.

The steps I teach students focus on how to gain employment with a professional HVACR employer. The key term is “professional.”

The HVACR industry in the United States consists of a number of occupational paths for entry-level technicians with contractors or facilities. These directions could apply to either of the paths. There are approximately 220,000 HVACR contractors in the United States and an unknown number of facility maintenance shops. I suspect that the facilities maintenance positions are as significant in number as the contractor base.

Facilities Engineering Technicians (FETs) are typically employed by companies or organizations that have a significant amount of HVACR equipment in their owned buildings or under contract. Think of hospitals, school districts, hotels, large commercial complexes, etc. The position is NOT a janitor gig, but rather a continuous monitoring, service, and maintenance process on the HVACR equipment that serves the facility, often called the physical plant. The work is very much the same, but it does not fall under the category of contracting. The primary difference is that you deal with the same equipment on a continuous cycle and the hours are more of an 8-hour shift arrangement.

Because I don't have any specific knowledge of the facilities maintenance numbers, I am only able to address the contractor market. Statistically, the national contractor base consists of companies that are small in size, averaging five trucks. This means that they employ five to 9 persons total.

The HVACR contracting business follows the same rule that many other occupations follow — the 80/20 rule. This means 20 percent of the HVACR contractors generate 80 percent of the sales revenue, and the other 80 percent of the contractors generate the remaining 20 percent of the sales volume that is attributed to the industry. These numbers have not changed much if at all in the 33 years that I have been paying attention.

Obviously, there is a huge difference between the 20-percent and 80-percent contractors. The difference is professionalism in the business operation and workplace. My consistent recommendation to any person working in the HVACR industry is to work for a professional company. How do you know they are professional? Well, I’ll discuss that in more detail in my next blog.