It’s no secret — there’s a shortage of skilled workers in the trades. Here at The NEWS, we’ve heard a lot about it, read a lot about it, and written a lot about it. It almost seems as if you literally can’t talk with someone in the HVACR industry without the topic of workforce development sneaking its way into the conversation.

When I hear people talking about the labor shortage, I’m hearing things, like contractors need to get into the high schools — middle schools even — to talk to students about the benefits of the trade. The most common points I seem to hear are about how students can become licensed in less time than it would take to earn a bachelor’s degree, and they can leave school with little to no debt; a career in the trades offers up to a six-figure income; the jobs cannot be outsourced; and so on.

I agree … these are all great things. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t necessarily believe college is always a good investment. I just paid off one of my student loans last month, and I have one more to go. I can’t wait. I’ve been paying them for years.

But, to be totally honest, all this sounds like to me is a low-grade sales pitch. It’s like the industry is trying to motivate students to take the path of the trades, but what you should be doing is inspiring them.

If you’re wondering what the difference is, here’s Webster’s definitions:

To motivate means to provide someone with a motive for doing something.

To inspire means to fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

You can see the difference with just those simple definitions, but here’s a real-life example.

When I was applying for journalism internships, I was offered a position at a popular, local paper. I wasn’t expecting to get it, but I did. My boss who hired me told me it was because I had a story, and no one else did. In my cover letter, I explained why I wanted to be a journalist — because I grew up watching my dad read the paper every single day. I watched as he learned more every day about the English language, technology, politics, health, etc. My dad was a foreigner, who came to the U.S. when he was 33 years old. Reading the newspaper every day is, in my opinion, what transformed him into an American.

That inspired me.

Aside from being a “word nerd” as my friends and family call me, I am also a math geek. Growing up, my dad gave me the same speech that I’m hearing from experts in our industry. He encouraged me to be an engineer. He told me that I could find a company to pay for my school — that I would have no debt. He talked about how much money I would make throughout my career. He pointed out other people to me who were engineers, so I could see how great their lives turned out.

That motivated me. But, I wanted to be filled with the urge to do something creative that could impact other people’s lives — that’s why I’m writing editorials on how to recruit future techs to the trades instead of engineering the systems they will be installing.

I guess it depends on your perspective whether or not you think I made a good choice. But, that doesn’t matter. We’re not talking about me. We’re talking about the labor shortage and how the industry can overcome it. And the answer is to inspire the younger generations you’re trying to capture. Don’t talk about student loan debt, health insurance, and room for growth — teenagers, and even some adults, don’t care about that. They don’t even understand the value of it all. What they do understand is the technology that has the power to change the world, the recovery efforts that take place after natural disasters, and people in need who are given comfort and hope.

The HVAC industry is not about finishing school as quickly as possible, paying the least amount of money for your education, and making the most money you can without a college degree. It’s about continuous education that leads to break-through technologies that provide us with comfortable, healthy environments.

Stop trying to sell the HVAC industry — start sharing it. I think you’ll find there’s a lot more people who will want to buy in that way.  

Publication date: 3/5/2018