Let’s be honest here, kids are not really digging careers in HVAC. There are probably multiple reasons for this, but I believe the biggest one is they are not that aware of the industry and the opportunities it allows.
A lot of folks lament the high school guidance counselors and their beliefs that all kids need to go to four-year universities. I have talked with many in the industry who believe once kids reach high school, society has placed them on a path, and it is very difficult to introduce trade schools into their plans at that point. These people say you need to reach these kids in middle school to plant the HVAC seed.
THE EARLY BIRD
There is a contractor in Fort Myers, Florida, who is taking it a bit further. United Mechanical Inc. has paired with a local school to introduce the HVAC and plumbing world to 5 and 6 year olds. It started because the company participates in many charitable projects. Last year, the contractor partnered with United Way to install an irrigation system at the school.
“We met the staff, and we created a bond,” said Jill Moreland, business manager of residential and commercial service of United Mechanical. “It’s a challenging time to find technicians. We were kicking around the idea of getting kids interested at a young age.”
The original idea was to physically build a house where the learning could take place. The group soon realized that with permits, slabs, etc., the idea was a bit ambitious. They quickly started Plan B, which was to use a trailer. This way they could drive it around to different locations and schools.
It was a quick process. The brainstorming of the idea started in September of last year, and by February, they had already bought the trailer, which includes sections for HVAC, plumbing, and electrical.
“It shows them how everything works,” Moreland said. “There is basic air conditioning in the trailer. Of course, everything is behind plexiglass, so they can see what is going on but also be safe.”
The best part of the story is how the entire company is invested in this project. When Moreland presented it to the owner and vice president, there was immediate buy-in. They realized doing this was for the good of the HVAC industry. They also realized it would raise awareness of the company in the very competitive southern Florida air conditioning market, where there is practically a contractor on every corner. United Mechanical takes education very seriously. It obviously aims to educate its employees, but staff also finds it important to educate their customers. This is just an extension of the company culture as management attempts to educate the community and the next generation of the workforce.
“It became a passion project for the company, and everyone is very excited about it,” Moreland said. “It was not a hard sell to anyone. We started to build it out, and vendors donated the items to be used inside. Employees are volunteering to help us physically build it. There is a list of people who want to help.”
The 200-person company seems to be all-in on this cause.
Nobody can predict if any of those 5-year-old kids will eventually be installing air conditioners in 20 years, but it is fairly evident that continuing with the status quo is not going to fill the huge workforce gap HVAC is currently experiencing. Especially since all statistics point to this problem only getting worse.
It’s up to the people in this industry to think outside the box and try to stem the tide. United Mechanical is doing its part.