I recently had the opportunity to talk to three different generations of a family-owned HVAC business. During my interviews, I got to talk to the second-, third-, and fourth-generation family members who are running the business.

The Up-and-Coming Generation

Well, to be a little more specific, the fourth-generation family member isn’t running the business yet. He’s a recent college grad in his early 20s who officially started with the company two years ago. During my conversation with this young member of the family, I was particularly struck by the comments he made.

He said he had known by age 5 that he would eventually work in the family business. He laughingly referred to it as knowing his “fate” at that young age, and he was extremely upbeat about his opportunity to work in the HVAC industry. He was excited that he had been welcomed in by the more experienced employees at the company, and he was eager to tackle the challenges he was facing after being newly promoted.

Now contrast his experience with that of many other recent college grads today.

According to an analysis of government data released by the Associated Press in April, more than one-half of college graduates under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed last year. And of course, we know that many of them are overwhelmed with the debt they are carrying from their student loans.

It’s a scary thing to be in debt without a decent job prospect, and these young folks probably aren’t feeling very excited or hopeful about their futures.

I think it’s probably safe to assume that a lot of them have never heard of HVACR, or at least would struggle to explain what the acronym stands for. And they’re certainly not lucky enough to be the fourth-generation member of a successful family that has guided them toward a great, fulfilling career in this industry.

The Variety of Opportunity

I wish they knew about all of the opportunities in HVAC. If you think about it, there are a lot more careers available than the always-mentioned technician. (Because let’s face it, some of us are not intended to be technicians, and things work better when we don’t try to fix them. Yes, I could possibly be speaking from personal experience, as I just might fall into this category.)

When you consider the industry as a whole, the three main business sectors are contractors, distributors, and manufacturers. And each of these segments of the industry has a need for different types of employees.

For instance, our HVAC manufacturers need brainy engineers and supply chain specialists who will be able to solve all of the curveballs that the EPA and DOE will throw at them in the future. Our distributors need quick-thinking branch managers and courteous counter staff who work well with people. And our contractors need savvy salespeople, organized administrators, forward-thinking marketers, and more — in addition to smart, capable technicians.

It seems that everyone in the industry is aware of these employment needs, but not many people outside the industry have a clue.

We run a fair amount of articles that discuss the need for recruitment and retention of young and skilled people to this industry, so I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say we need to do more about informing and educating the up-and-coming generations about the possibilities in this field. I’ve heard from some of our readers who do take the time to visit local schools and talk about the trade to students. And I’ve also heard from some teachers about contractors and other employers who have become very involved in advisory boards for technical schools that offer HVAC programs — and have done more than their share to convince some bright young individuals to join this industry.

Not only do we need these micro-level efforts, I also think it’s important for the industry to do something about its image and recruitment on a macro level. So I was pleased to hear from our editor-in-chief Kyle Gargaro after he returned from a recent trip to Washington, D.C., that some of the movers and shakers in the industry are working on this.

A new foundation was recently created to market the industry at the federal and state levels. Called the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, it currently includes members from ACCA, AHRI, AMCA, ASHRAE, HARDI, HRAI, PHCC, and RSES. My hope is that this new foundation will be able to get us all to work together a bit more to increase the awareness of the HVAC industry.

It seems there are more than a few young people who might be interested in the message of opportunity we can share with them.

Publication date: 6/18/2012