Mark Skaer

More than one time in this designated space has yours truly questioned manufacturer, distributor, and contractor associations and organizations for their collective lack of - for lack of a better word - foresight in helping today’s youth get into the HVACR trade. While, yes, we all know there is a dire need for workers, as an industry we are not necessarily setting the world on fire in recruiting and pulling in much-needed teenagers and college-age kids into this career. If the heating and cooling industry were successful in this recruitment process, would we still be hungry for qualified employees?

Sure, many organizations have talked the talk, meaning they have mentioned - or is the correct word “moaned”? - more than once that there is a definite need for techs and other professionals to join this ever-growing field. Yet, many - if not most - of these same associations and organizations have not walked the walk, meaning they have not necessarily instituted programs, standards, the means, or the ways to address the alarming issue, much less have attempted to tackle the always-looming task at hand, that being to get the young guns in the HVACR ranks.

This is why it was refreshing to witness, experience, and see first-hand the 2007 Student Chapter Summit, held earlier this month in Cleveland. The two-day event gave me some hope in that at least one industry group, namely the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), is putting its money where its mouth is.


Over a two-day span, MCAA entertained, educated, fed, tested, and grilled over 130 students from universities and colleges around the country. (Look for the full report in a future issue of The NEWS.) These were - and still are - potential future engineers, techs, and workers, who also happen to be members of MCAA student chapters. They came from nearby Kent, Toledo, and Cincinnati in Ohio, to as far away as Pomona, San Luis Obispo, and Chico in California.

This story actually begins in 1993 when Purdue University organized the first-ever student chapter for MCAA. Five years later, the brain trust at MCAA committed to forming and initiating an overall student chapter program. To this day, the association’s commitment continues, as there are now nearly 40-chartered chapters.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Fourteen years ago MCAA saw the need to get in touch with today’s young crowd and, instead of sitting on their collective hands, pushed forward to create guiding forces on college campuses today.

The association showed its leadership and raised the bar in 2001 with its initial student chapter summit. According to Director of Career Development Ann Mattheis, MCAA thought it was best to invite all students from all associated chapters to meet, greet, network, and learn from each other, as well as from industry experts. That year there were 50 in attendance. Six years later, there was nearly four times that roaming the halls of the Marriott at Key Center.

Who knows how many students will be present for the 2008 gathering? As today’s youth would say, it’s all good.


How good? Just ask Kevin Current of Illinois State, Mike Clark of Kent State, Katie Watt of Georgia Tech, and all Team 4 representatives and each will provide glowing remarks about the last MCAA-sponsored event. The fact this seven-member squad captured first-place (as well as $100 for each participant) in the mini-competition did not hurt matters.

This brings me to more kudos. Not only did the association give attendees the opportunity to explore the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame one evening (i.e., have some fun), it made all put on their thinking caps (i.e., put them to work) for the duration. Not long into the summit, participants were divided up into teams, and the task for each was to prepare a short, 10-minute presentation on why their make-believe firm would be the ideal company to have as a part of the design-build team that would create a new regional headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

It was encouraging seeing these young men and women working side-by-side at tables, each having less than 24 hours to produce a polished report. It was not an easy task, either, as one of the requirements of the make-believe project was to develop a strategy to give the developer a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction (LEED-NC) gold project (39 points) for roughly the same cost as a LEED-NC silver project (33 points).

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say MCAA impressed me with what it is doing in its attempt to get more youth to join this industry. And, I believe most student attendees left impressed with MCAA and this industry.

In the end, I’d like to see more industry associations and organizations duplicate such dedication and commitment to student recruitment.

Publication date:10/15/2007