We hear about it everywhere we go: There’s a shortage of HVACR workers, and the industry needs new blood.
I heard all about it at last month’s Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) CONNECT 2015 event, where the topic was top-of-mind for the many contractors who couldn’t seem to find enough skilled technicians to fill their payrolls. It’s something we editors have written about extensively in The NEWS, and many of our guest columnists have also been vocal about the need for new talent in this industry.
But, talk is cheap when it comes to actually solving the problem. And, while schools are obviously integral to training the next generation of HVACR technicians, new studies show contractors must step up their games and take on much larger roles in workforce development if the industry ever hopes to close the growing skills gap.
A trio of studies released by the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation in September showed the North American HVACR industry will need an astounding 100,000-plus new technicians and installers in the next seven years just to keep up with demand. The executive summary of the studies indicated “the number of HVACR mechanic and installer jobs will increase by 21 percent through 2022, which is nearly twice the growth of employment overall.”
The HVACR Workforce Development Foundation also found there are “too many empty seats in HVACR classrooms” with nearly 60 percent of instructors reporting their programs are under-enrolled. A lack of consistency in technician credentialing and programmatic accreditation has also led to a “mish mash of national credentials for students and instructors,” according to the reports.
Add to that the shortage created just by the rapidly retiring workforce, which includes instructors (50 percent in the U.S. and Canada have indicated they will retire in the next 10 years), and it’s a recipe for disaster.
THE CONTRACTOR’S ROLE
This is where the HVACR contractor comes in. The HVACR Workforce Development Foundation listed dismal recruiting and training practices as one of the major causes of the skills gap, saying that companies “have to do more to help fill the training gap.”
Some contractors have already figured this out and have taken innovative steps to recruit and cultivate talent. A growing number are making an effort to train and employ military veterans. Comfort Systems USA, a Houston-based HVAC commercial contracting company with a nationwide presence, actively recruits veterans, and programs like Troops to Trades and the Kenneth Goodrich CSN Post-9/11 Veteran HVAC Employment Program exist to help veterans transition to stable civilian careers in the trades.
Additionally, many contractors I’ve talked with recently have made it a point to be involved in their local school districts, and some have gone so far as to establish partnerships with area technical schools. This year’s Best Instructor runner-up, Johnny McDonald, said part of the reason his HVACR program at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Murfreesboro (TCAT-Murfreesboro) is able to place so many students after graduation is because of the strong relationships he has with area contractors, who are taking his students under their wings for on-the-job training and then snatching them up once they complete the program.
According to the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, contractors can help close the skills gap by creating opportunities for mentoring programs, job shadowing, ride-alongs, internships, and apprenticeships. Does your company already offer these training opportunities, and, if not, could it? Building and maintaining strong relationships with area schools and training programs could be the key to establishing a steady pipeline of qualified workers through 2020 and beyond.
For more information on workforce development opportunities, visit www.careersinhvacr.org.
Publication date: 11/9/2015