My first-grade son came home from school recently talking about his future. In class, they had been discussing jobs they would like to have when they grow up. When I looked at his paper, he had written that he was going to be an electrician when he grew up.

Now, this is far from locked in because he’s also recently stated he wanted to work at the Olive Garden and GameStop. And I am sure when I was 7 I was not telling my parents that I wanted to be editor-in-chief of a trade journal. But, while it was not HVAC, I thought it was interesting that he chose a trade. When I inquired further, he responded, simply enough, electricity is cool.

Get Them Young

This came off the heels of talking with Nexstar Network contractor Brian Cranney in Boston who was telling me that the HVAC industry needs to reach kids before high school. Cranney was not talking about first-graders, but he was talking about seventh- and eighth-graders.

“We go out to grammar schools. We do presentations on the great opportunities out there for the young people in the trades. We explain the jobs and tell them what they can make for money, which brightens their eyes up. A lot of the kids I don’t think ever would have been exposed to HVAC and, ultimately, hopefully, they make the decision to choose the trades when they are freshman in high school,” Cranney said.

Cranney experienced the same pushback from high school guidance counselors that many people in this industry have at some point. He talked about counselors telling him not to waste his time, as every counselor seems motivated to get every child into a four-year college. Though, instead of just throwing up his hands in frustration, his solution was to get to kids when they are in middle school.

This is something all contractors should be doing. Decisions on a career path are occurring earlier and earlier. The younger the child, the better chance industry representatives have of dealing with an open mind. Once they arrive in high school, the narrow-minded counselors tend to poison the waters.

And, it is not just the student’s or counselor’s minds that you need to open up. A lot of times, the parents can be even more close-minded than the counselors. The industry needs to tell the story about pay, advancement opportunities, and a plethora of employment. If you told any parent of a high school senior that in 20 years your son or daughter could be running a successful business that is profitable and highly respected in the community, I am sure they would sign on the dotted line. I can’t even begin to count the number of HVAC contractors I have talked to that have done just that by beginning their career as a technician.

So, develop relationships with the local junior high schools in your area and see if they have career day opportunities.

Don’t Write Off High School

That does not mean contractors should give up on selling the industry to high school students. It is going to take a lot of effort to turn that ship around, but it is definitely worth doing. If you are having the same conversations with guidance counselors that Cranney is having, maybe it is time to place a call to the school superintendent. Perhaps contact your local legislators; explain to them how the industry is desperately in need of young, talented workers.

Direct them to the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, which makes a living promoting this industry to all prospective employees. The industry must reach people at every age so the message resonates.

Publication date: 4/14/2014

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