The good HVAC contractors do an admirable job of listening to what their customers want. After listening to their needs, contractors then have the opportunity to address those needs with their own products and services. The good contractors prefer to listen first and suggest second. That same philosophy should spill over into our search for young talent to replace our graying service technicians. I recently saw a statistic that listed 51 as the average age of an HVAC technician.

Knowing that, maybe we should re-examine how we can get inside the heads of young people who just aren’t sure of what they want as a career. And even if the HVAC trade is successful in recruiting young talent, there are no magic formulas for guaranteeing that this talent will remain in the profession, which is why we need to find out what our young people really want out of a career.

I thought about this topic after visiting with a group of HVAC contractors in Sioux Falls, S.D. This group has a very good relationship with the local votech school, which in turn has sent many young graduates into the local job market. In fact, it is one of the most successful “marriages” of contractors and students that I have seen in North America. But even with this winning formula, the contractor group knows they have to keep tweaking the relationship to keep it strong.


When I was a kid, an education was already mapped out for me by schoolteachers and administrators who knew exactly what each student needed, based on their years of collective experience. There was no need to find out what a student really needed or wanted, just an assigned pigeonhole for each one. Maybe that’s because my fellow Baby Boomers were learning the ways of the world from the same people who gave us stay-at-home moms, lifelong careers with one employer, and a family structure that came out of the mold of Ozzie and Harriet.

Times sure have changed. There are so many choices among career paths and lifestyles. There are no more cookie cutter approaches to what a young person should do with his or her life. The HVAC trade should recognize that what worked in the Baby Boomer generation is just not going to work any more.

The Sioux Falls contractors get it. These contractors want to know what the young students want out of an HVAC career and are doing something about it. They are putting the finishing touches on a survey which will be given to students at Southeast Technical Institute. Survey questions are designed to find out what students expect when they are out in the real world and what qualities they would like to see in their future employer and future trade. Look for survey results in a future issue ofThe NEWS.

I like the approach because the students have already made the decision to enter the HVAC trade, which may be the toughest decision of all. Now it is time to find out just what they want and expect out of the trade.


One of my bugaboos is getting feedback from employees. I still believe that each business should have a suggestion box and use it.

If you are lucky enough to have some good young workers in your business, don’t let your arms get too sore patting yourself on the back. They can leave you in a moment’s notice. A better offer can come along from a competitor, or they may decide that HVAC is not in their future and it is time to change careers. Or maybe they just aren’t happy with you.

You can’t insulate your young workers from the temptations of a job switch, but you can make them feel important. This may be enough to keep them around, at least for a few years. Here’s one suggestion: Schedule a social outing for your young workers, i.e., bowling, picnic. Give them a choice of what they want to do. Take the “good behavior” pressure off them by excusing yourself and your managers from this event. Make it a fun time for them.

But put two conditions on the event. First, they must attend it. And second, they must tell you what they want to do the next time they get together. By doing this you are making the job fun for them and getting to know what they really like to do. This gives your young people the sense of being on the same team, while giving them the independence from the incredible amount of pressures they face in their professional and personal careers. Let me know how it works out.

Publication date:05/14/2007