So how are you spending National Tradesmen Day? For those who do not know it is Friday, Sept. 21.

If you are celebrating it by getting the Early Bird Special at the local diner, you are emblematic of the problem. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more than one third of all skilled tradesmen are over the age of 50. As these quality tradesmen begin to retire, the task for contractors to find quality employees will continue to get harder.

The country has spent the last few weeks watching the Republican and Democratic conventions. Nearly every politician who gave a speech talked about bringing jobs back to our country. With unemployment more than 8 percent, that type of rhetoric makes sense. But the dirty little secret that nobody is talking about is that a lot of those jobs are already here, we just do not have enough skilled tradesmen to fill them.

In the last 10 years the United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs. According to the latest jobs report more than 12 million Americans are unemployed while more than 5 million of those people have been unemployed for six months or longer. In August, the country added just 96,000 jobs.

Quantity or Quality

With those stats a contractor would think finding an employee to hire would not be tough, right? You should be able to pick the cream of the crop. Let me know if I am wrong but in talking with more than a few contractors that does not seem to be the case. I hear about an inability to find qualified individuals who have both the technical knowledge and “soft skills” to perform the HVAC technician job. If the industry can’t find these people when unemployment is so high, what hopes do they have when the economy really starts to turn around? The economy is really going to start to turn around at some point, right?

So National Tradesmen Day should be a time to think of all those professionals — including HVAC technicians — and rightfully salute all that they do for our country and our economy. Especially after this scorching summer, people should admire those folks that kept us cool over the last few months. However, it should also be a time to give some thought on how we can properly train the next generation of tradesmen to make sure they both realize the opportunity in this industry and have the capabilities to thrive.

Part of the issue is this industry — like all others — is becoming more and more complex. As technology continues to advance, HVAC equipment is getting much more technical in nature. You just need to look at the products in this issue’s Thermostats and Controls focus to realize the technology in this industry has come a long way, even in just the last 10 years. The consumer – who wants to program his thermostat from his telephone while traveling – demands it.

There is plenty of blame to go around when talking about why these skilled workers do not exist. It would be nice if contractors promoted the trade more as kids are often discouraged by family members from entering a trade rather than going to a four-year college, but I realize contractors are being pulled in many different directions. It would also be nice if high schools would put more of an emphasis on trade work and not try to send everyone to college. But let’s be honest, that is an uphill battle that is probably not going to be won.

Contractors’ Responsibility

At the end of the day it will be up to contractors to try and find the diamonds in the rough and implement an excellent training program. Is it a tough way to run a business? Sure it is, but I don’t see any other choices. Find people with a great work ethic, solid communication skills, and a mechanical aptitude and get them into the fold. If contractors have superior training they should be able to turn these new hires into superstar employees. It will be a big investment of money and time. Odds are you will spend some time training people who will quickly jump ship for some extra cash. But if you invest in the employees properly and create a great place to work, you will be amazed at the loyalty you will buy among your employees.

Publication date: 9/17/2012