I’ve attended several industry events for HVACR trainers and educators over the past several years, and I’ve noticed something troubling. At these events, industry educators have told me over and over again that the younger techs entering the trades generally either possess the technical skills to do the job or can be trained in those skills easily enough, yet they often lack the ability to communicate effectively with the customer both in writing and in person. Some of these otherwise qualified techs have been passed over for jobs because they lacked the refined communication skills necessary for anyone who hopes to interact successfully with customers. But, whose fault is it that they don’t have these skills, really?
TEACHING SOFT SKILLS
There’s a popular saying among industry educators and contractors when it comes to this soft skills deficit, and I hear it all the time in my travels for work: “I can train them for skills, but I can’t train for personality.” This irks me every time I hear it because it just isn’t true — in fact, it’s an incredibly lazy way to look at the younger workforce, which now outnumbers the baby boomer generation in terms of active workers.
Certainly these techs don’t lack personality, though I do believe many of them have some very underdeveloped communication skills that need to be cultivated as part of their technical education. There is an extraordinary opportunity to equip these young techs with all the skills necessary to be successful in their careers, but without teaching these necessary communication skills in trade schools, community colleges, and apprenticeship programs nationwide, we’re only going to continue to fail these students.
And the training can’t stop there, either.
Some of the most successful contractors I’ve spoken with over the years have happily divulged their secrets to success, which, without fail, include ample training and educational opportunities — and not just in how to fix things. In a 2015 column in The NEWS, Mark Matteson, a speaker and author of the international bestseller “Freedom from Fear,” wrote that one thing he’s noticed successful contractors do is “train and educate their associates like crazy.” One of his clients, Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, New York, “created Isaac University and requires 100 hours of technical training and 24 hours of soft skills training a year.”
Twenty-four hours. How many hours of staff training do you devote solely to soft skills each year? Do you provide any at all? If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to reexamine your training program.
JOBS UP FOR THE TAKING
According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), several occupations in the trades are growing at a rate that far surpasses the national average. Additionally, these are jobs that cannot be outsourced, and they also often pay well — for instance, the average annual salary for an electrician in the U.S. is $51,880, and boilermakers earn an average of $60,120 per year. There is a great opportunity on the horizon for individuals who are willing to get their hands a little dirty.
Some people are lucky enough to be born with soft skills, but it’s not always intuitive; often, these skills must be learned, practiced, observed, and practiced some more. Especially for Generations Y and Z, which studies have suggested are more socially inept than their predecessors due partly to the influence of technology; soft skills training is no longer something that can be glossed over — it must be included in every training program, apprenticeship, two-year degree path, certification program, and continuing education plan. Just like technical skills, soft skills can be developed and sharpened, but only if HVACR educators and contractors change their mindsets and take responsibility for the next generation of technicians.
Publication date: 5/23/2016