For starters, I do not understand, for the life of me, why we became a society that told young Americans that trade schools and vocational training are for kids who aren’t smart enough to go to college. A welder makes a lot more than a philosopher.”

Who do you think said that? Someone in the HVAC industry? Perhaps Howard Weiss of HVAC Excellence or North American Technician Excellence (NATE’s) John Lanier?

Actually, the quote is from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and current presidential hopeful. I was pleasantly surprised when Rubio raised this issue during a recent Republican Primary Debate. I did not think the mechanical industries were on the radar of our friends in Washington.

Rubio went on to say: “I want to be the vocational education president, not someone who celebrates these jobs in hopes the private sector creates them, but someone who actually makes it easier for people to go into those fields. The American private sector is going to create not just millions of jobs, but millions of better-paying jobs. And, better-paying jobs are going to require more skills, which is why the second thing we have to do is modernize what we mean when we say higher education.”

This is not meant to be a political endorsement of any kind, so our publisher can rest easy that I’m not attempting to alienate half of our readers. This column is meant to drive home the point that this election will be about important issues, and there is nothing wrong with voting in your own self-interest.

ACCA certainly picked up on this, as well. President and CEO Paul Stalknecht sent a letter to all candidates running for president — regardless of political party — outlining the difficulty the HVAC industry has had in recruiting skilled labor. “By sending all the candidates these letters, we want them to realize our industry is a critical part of America’s economic infrastructure and growth,” Stalknecht said.

Kudos to ACCA for trying to move the ball down the field. I hope other industry associations follow ACCA’s lead. The industry has done a great job banding together to raise concerns about unfair legislation and regulation in Washington. Here is hoping we build on that momentum and make everyone who’s running in 2016 aware of the workforce issue. Rubio opened the door on the issue and leaders in the industry should walk through and make some noise.

Let’s be honest, a good portion of Americans are only engaged in politics once every four years. It is kind of like how the wife is a sports fan only when the Olympics return. And, I’d be willing to bet the vast majority of the American public is largely unaware of the shortage of skilled labor that multiple industries face. For years, the unemployment rate has been announced, and Americans collectively shake their heads at those poor folks who can’t find work due to the “lack of jobs.” The reality is, in our industry, the jobs are out there, but the country is not producing enough qualified candidates.

One stat really sticks out: The trades need 115,000 new workers by 2020. We here at The NEWS have written a lot about this issue. I know it has appeared on this very page a few times in the last couple of months — so much so that our loyal readers could probably recite the information back to us. We realize articles in this publication are preaching to the choir, though the time has come to take the message to the streets.

Hopefully, this will become an issue in the 2016 election. I realize there are more important items, like fighting ISIS, but I also know that presidential candidates have been willing to comment on Starbucks Christmas cups and fantasy football, so, perhaps, we could acknowledge the critical need for training that’s necessary for the next generation to take on these well-paying, in-demand jobs.

Publication date: 12/14/2015

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