School is in session and students of all ages are back at their desks preparing for their futures. The elementary students learning to read and write this year likely won’t check out this editorial, but for those of you who are beginning high school and college classes; have a seat, get out a writing utensil, and pay attention. I have something important to tell you.

Education without direction is worthless.

It sounds simple enough — perhaps even slightly offensive — but too often college students begin spending money on an education they aren’t sure they even want, let alone having thought about a viable career they would like to pursue. The end result of this reality can yield dozens of college degreed workers ready to enter theater arts, fashion design, sports management, nutrition, history, and other undefined career studies.

All of these are great fields in their own right, but when it comes time to get a job and pay the bills, these students could easily be left without a place in their field. At the end of two or four years of education is not the time to find out that few make it in the industry that was chosen to devote college dollars and time to; and that those who choose to stay in that obscure industry often continue to struggle for job and financial security.

The reality of post-secondary education is that prices are skyrocketing and the job market is getting crowded or outsourced. There can only be so many teachers, doctors, and astronauts; especially now that portions of our space program have been shut down. What incoming and returning college students need to understand is that choosing a career without considering the HVACR industry puts them at a disadvantage. That is a paradigm shift for many who think that entering the trades and becoming a blue-collar worker is a disadvantage. Tell that to the under 40 contractor who owns his own business and is making close to $100,000 a year.

You Have to Start Somewhere

Owning an HVACR contracting business is not the only end game for those choosing to enter the industry. There are many careers in education, management, advising, manufacturing, and different industry organizations across the nation. Many of those positions, however, have been filled by candidates who began in an HVACR apprentice program or with a two-year degree. While at the United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and HVAC Service Techs (UA) International Apprentice Contest in Ann Arbor, Mich., one industry professional explained it this way, “You have the ability to make more money quicker with training as an HVACR technician, and if you want to go back to college and further your career in the industry a few years down the road, you can afford to.”

Understanding that the HVACR industry has many jobs to offer beyond HVACR installer, service technician, or owner is something that high-school students, parents, and even some of those currently in the industry need to embrace. Filling the predicted gap in qualified technicians may depend on it.

When Do You Shower?

As the industry prepares for the predicted gap it endeavors to woo new students into HVAC, but some contractors are concerned about the type of recruits that high-school counselors and the general public think belong in the trades.

“Mostly the counselors think only the dregs of the Earth should work in the trades,” was a comment made by Martin Hoover, president of Empire Heating and Air in Decatur, Ga. He has endeavored in the past to get into area high schools to discuss HVAC but, according to him, his success rate has been minimal.

Despite the problems in recruiting, one thing potential recruits are noticing is that HVACR jobs cannot be outsourced. In an unsure workforce with high unemployment percentages, that makes HVACR even more attractive. Add the recent ringing endorsement from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and it seems there might be a groundswell of HVACR support mounting. Perhaps instead of riding the wave, contractors should begin to reach further than they have before in order to guide and direct those entering post-secondary education into the industry.

One of the instructors at the apprentice contest put it like this, “The only difference between a white-collar worker and a blue-collar worker is when he takes a shower.” I am inclined to agree.

A simple way to do your part is pass this along to a high school student or other interested candidate; post it at the office; email it to a local high school counselor; or post a link to it on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Spread the word and help students find their education direction.

Publication date: 09/12/2011