In these times of economic insecurity, the term “return on investment” can sometimes get down to a matter of immediate dollars and cents. But the HVACR industry may need to step back for a bit of broader perspective.

Those thoughts surfaced at the most recent SkillsUSA/VICA Championship a few months ago in Kansas City. It was my seventh trip to this annual event and the third time I served as a judge in the HVACR competition. Unfortunately, a shortage of people and companies willing to be a part of SkillsUSA may in some way be part of the reason for the lack of qualified technicians entering our industry.

In the HVACR sector of the contest, one organizer noted with some frustration that a manufacturer scheduled to provide equipment and personnel to serve in one testing area had pulled out, questioning the return on investment for shipping equipment and sending employees to Kansas City for a few days in July.

(I’m not sure of the costs a manufacturer faces, but I know a number of the manufacturers involved got equipment from local distributors the day before the event and returned it the next night. The cost of housing and food in the Kansas City area comes nowhere near charges at upscale resorts in California, Arizona, and Florida, where many other industry events seem to be held.)

The organizer noted that 50-some persons took part in the HVACR competition, but he said there could have been twice as many — with more industry support. Those in the championship were winners of regional competitions sponsored by a variety of industry organizations.

Contestants had already made it through various rounds of competition, touching on a wide range of HVACR skills. Those that made it to Kansas City were the cream of the crop. That’s why a company backing out because of “return on investment” frustrated some organizers.

I’m not going to go into all the details about getting involved in SkillsUSA. The organization has a website ( with a lot of information. SkillsUSA isn’t the only way those in the industry can get involved in improving the quality of technicians entering the industry, but it’s a great place to start.

Wholesalers and trade associations (including union-related organizations) need to be willing to offer as much training as possible for those potential techs who have made it through the high schools, colleges, or votech schools. Manufacturers are constantly being asked to donate equipment and provide speakers. That needs to be factored into the cost of doing business with the potential for a good return on investment, even if it is not immediate.

I figure it this way: The more involved one is in the education and training process, the more right one has to complain about the lack of qualified technicians.

Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or (e-mail).

Publication date: 09/02/2002