Father Time does not grant very many interviews, so when he called New Year's Eve and said he had a few things to get off his chest before leaving at midnight, on went the tape recorder.

"But why are you calling me?" was my immediate question.

"Have you looked around the industry?" he boomed.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean really looked around?"

The question threw me for a minute. I thought the industry had a great 2004. Before I could respond, he shot back his follow-up remarks.

"I'm talking about the labor shortage," he boomed. "In 2006, the Department of Labor says there is going to be a 17 percent increase in the need for HVACR mechanics and installers. Meanwhile, the Department of Labor projects a 24-percent increase in HVACR technicians needed by 2007. Yet, I don't see the industry addressing this issue at all.

"There is a window of opportunity that the industry cannot squander."

Before I could think of a response, all I could hear was a buzzing sound coming from the other end of the phone line. Father Time had hung up.

A Longtime Problem

Father Time's phone call should be a wake-up call for all of us.

I know after the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) helped the Milwaukee Public Schools start an HVACR program at Custer High School in 2001, The News saw its importance and worked to help start a technical program in our own backyard. We followed the template created by ARI and, after a lot of effort, Oakland Schools finally had a top-notch program in place for the first semester of the 2004-2005 school year.

I can understand why some contractors would not undertake such a task, especially alone. That is not to say it cannot be done. It can. It just takes patience and persistence.

I know that the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) has its MIXâ„¢ Groups. These groups consist of contractors who help each other improve their respective businesses.

What's stopping MIX Groups from challenging members to establish educational programs? If these groups help contractors overcome business hurdles, certainly these groups can help contractors overcome hurdles that might crop up during the course of trying to establish programs.

A New Year

Let's make 2005 a year designed to create more opportunity and interest in the industry among students. There's no doubt in my mind that we all have to become more proactive in bringing young people into the industry. If you always stay on the sidelines and observe, now is the time to step forward and participate.

At the Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Expo next month in Orlando, The News will bring together the winners of our annual "Best Contractor To Work For" contest.

We will hold a panel discussion with these top-notch contractors, who will share their secrets about how to keep and retain technicians. We encourage those attending the expo to save some time on Feb. 8, as everybody will learn from this session, which is scheduled to take place from 9-10 a.m. in room S220E at the expo.

There will be an added twist this year. Some time will also be set aside to address this issue of workforce recruitment and retention. What can we do together to re-shape outdated perceptions among students, parents, the public at large, and the media about careers in this industry?

If nothing is done, Father Time will not be smiling at the end of 2005.

Mark Skaer is senior editor. He can be reached at 618-239-0288 or markskaer@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 01/24/2005