Envision the hvacr industry five years from now. What do you see in your crystal ball?

Mine tells me the industry will continue setting records for the amount of equipment purchased each year. This trend means contractors may never have a “slow time.” (And, from a business standpoint, it’s better to have more work than less, correct?)

Now, the bad news: The technician shortage is going to get worse, meaning there will be fewer and fewer qualified techs to hire. To make matters worse, there continues to be reduced enrollment in hvacr technical schools.

The bottom line: Today may be the good times compared to 2005 (or beyond) — unless the industry gets its act together. And, that means everyone — from the owners, to the technicians, to the manufacturers, to the educators. Once it is established that we are all in this together, only then can the issues be resolved.

It’s good to know that several industry associations have been working together over the last year, determined to “make a difference.” For instance, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) has been conferencing with approximately 15 associations to form the Industry Coordinating Coalition (ICC). This group’s aim, among other agenda items, is to promote hvacr as a solid career choice at every level. And this means grabbing the attention of grade schoolers and high schoolers, plus supporting votech and college — and beyond.

The coalition is soon to roll out its “official hvacr recruiting” site, www.coolcareers.org. The site currently provides basic information for interested parties concerning the opportunities in this industry. With more input, the coalition plans to supply on this site everything from where a student can get hvacr training in the town s/he lives in, to offering industry-sponsored scholarships. This coalition includes the likes of ACCA, MCAA, SMACNA, ASHRAE, GAMA, NHRAW, and RSES.

Meanwhile, ARI’s Industry Recruitment Task Force is creating a positive stir in the Milwaukee, WI, school district. For the last year, the task force has been working to develop an hvacr pilot program at Custer High School, located on Milwaukee’s northwest side. ARI hopes that this program will be successful and will lead to the development of more high school programs in other cities across the country. (Read more about this development on page 13.)


Individually, there is plenty one can do to improve the industry’s future. Several strong suggestions came in a recent letter to The News from Chris Reak, an instructor at Northwest Technical College in East Grand Forks, MN. His No. 1 request: Everyone needs to promote the NATE certification and support it.

“I realize that there are some problems with NATE being accepted and recognized,” he wrote. “However, if everyone supports this certification, believe me, in five years it will be recognized. All of us need to back NATE and make consumers aware of what it stands for. This can and should be the standard of excellence. Technicians should wear this patch with pride and owners should relate this certification with ability and professionalism.”

Manufacturers should join right in, too. “They could put a sticker on their merchandise, just like they do for the energy use. It could say ‘Recommend installation by a NATE-certified technician,’ or even more extreme: ‘Manufacturer warranty will be void if equipment is not installed by a NATE-certified technician.’ This would promote NATE and force homeowners to think twice about doing it themselves and possibly save lives.”

No. 2 on his list is the elimination of “cut-throating” — and, everyone knows about this unhealthy industry practice.

“Cut-throating is to reduce the estimated cost to get the job,” wrote Reak. “The only people benefiting from it are the consumers. The owners do not benefit because less money is accepted and technicians do not benefit because they now have to do the job faster to make up for less money. It is a no-win situation for the industry. Used car salespeople do this. I ask you, do we want that reputation?”

I don’t think so. I hope not. Yet, unless attitudes and mindsets change now, expect this unhealthy industry practice to continue through 2005 and beyond. What does your crystal ball say?

Publication date: 09/04/2000