Sounds like a profound question, doesn't it? Maybe. But we are all familiar with the old saying: "There is good in all people." And I believe it. Even the meanest and baddest have a good streak inside - somewhere.

So why is it such a stretch to believe that children, especially of the pre- and elementary school age, have certain traits that are hidden from us - and from themselves? Sometimes it takes a little nudge to activate those traits.

In family-owned HVACR businesses, the trait is given a heavy dose of nudging. Many children are born into an HVACR business and grow up working in the shop or helping the parents run the business. Some do it by choice, others by obligation, and still others by necessity. Regardless of the reason, it is important to keep these young people in the HVACR trade.

Why? Because the average age of our technicians is over 41 years of age, and the trend is continuing upward. This means that our trade is graying and older technicians are not being replaced by younger ones.

The U.S. Department of Labor, at its Web site, said, "Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2012. As the population and economy grow, so does the demand for new residential, commercial, and industrial climate-control systems."

The "faster than average" statistic means an increase of 21 percent to 35 percent by 2012. Based on the most recent estimate of 249,000 HVACR mechanics in 2002, the United States will need between 53,000 and 87,000 additional workers by 2012.

You do the math. Do you think there will be that many kids looking for work in HVACR in the coming years?

The need for computer programmers will only increase 10 percent to 20 percent in those years but with a base of 500,000 workers, that still means the need for an additional 50,000 to 100,000 computer programmers.

Again, I ask you to do the math. I'm willing to bet that a lot more kids, those who sit in front of a computer screen all the time, will choose a career in computers versus HVACR.

We need to do something.

Did I say we? Sure I did. We need to take the bull by the horns as business owners, employees, and yes, journalists. If we are to stem the tide of the aging process, we need to find answers to why young children are staying away from the HVACR trade in droves. Short of that, we need to take action to bring young people into the trade.

The Tool Belt Is A Start

The pictures in this column show a product called the Go! Belt Construction. It is designed by Lucon Kids Inc. ( The tool belt is one way to get young children interested in using tools (and maybe get them away from the computer for a nanosecond).

Laurie Norton, spokesperson for Lucon Kids, told me, "It's the perfect gift for mom or dad's helper, or young ones in training for the heating and cooling trade.

"It is perfect for hours of pretend play on the job. It comes with a battery-operated drill, adjustable wrench, working tape measure, and safety light and is recommended for children ages 3-7."

What makes this picture even more intriguing is the little girl with the Go! Belt. Wouldn't it be great to encourage young girls to enter the "boy's domain?" We might get a few takers if the offer is worded [politically] correctly.

Another good idea for getting kids interested in the construction trades is an idea I have spoken about in the past. It is a teaching and learning tool available from the Associated General Contractors (AGC) ( The product is called the "Build Up!" tool kit, which is part of the overall Build Up program. When you visit the Web site, type in "build up" in the search function for more details.

The tool kit contains literature and building materials (e.g. modeling clay and popsicle sticks) for teachers to share with students in a classroom environment, focusing on the construction of a skyscraper detailed in a book titled "Up Goes the Skyscraper" by Gail Gibbons. In the book, there is a section on the "finish workers" including heating and cooling specialists.

According to AGC, one of the goals of Build Up! is to "create a positive lasting impression -

Build Up! exposes children and their parents to the exciting world of construction, emphasizing the variety of available career options."

Service Techs Can Chip In

The Go! Belt and Build Up! products are learning tools that HVACR contractors can encourage parents and teachers to use in order to familiarize young people with the trade. And there is another way that HVACR contractors can help out too - via their service techs.

The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute ( has a 27-page coloring book titled "Behind The Thermostat On The Wall Is An Important Industry." Through the use of cartoon characters, the importance of the HVACR trade is told in story format. Children can color in the characters and other objects on each page.

There is a blank space on the back page of the coloring book for a business to imprint its name and contact information. Crayons or pens are not provided but can be easily purchased with an imprint on the package or writing instrument itself. Service techs can leave a coloring book at each home they visit - as an advertising piece and goodwill gesture.

I don't expect coloring books, tool belts, or popsicle sticks to reverse a trend that has been going on for years. But I do know that children are very impressionable and, with any luck, a few might remember what they learned at a young age and carry it over when they are facing career choices.

A few years ago I visited my son's school, accompanied by a local HVACR contractor. Our goal was to make the life of an HVACR tech interesting and "cool" to the 4th grade students. A lot of them loved the gadgetry and the machine that "made smoke," but I can't be sure that it influenced any to become a service tech of the future. If it swayed even one 10-year-old toward HVACR, it was worth the effort.

It may seem like an impossible task to divert a child's attention from the computer to a construction model. But we all should take a crack at the task. Maybe there is a little HVACR trait hidden away in our nation's pre- and elementary school students.

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

Publication date: 09/19/2005