According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the current rate of employment in HVACR, we will only have one in two technician slots filled by 2027 – just three years away! As an industry, we must work together to reverse this course — ASAP.
At AHR this year, I had the honor of hosting a panel of leaders from different segments of our industry, including manufacturing, education, and contracting. The panel was titled, “How Do We Address the Workforce Development, Recruitment, and Retention Gap?” Video of the discussion will soon be available on AHR’s website at ahrexpo.com.
The consensus of the group was not only do we have to work together to attract new people to our industry, but we also need to retain our existing workforce. Of course, there will always be attrition due to retirement, but we must work to replace them while keeping people from leaving for other careers.
The real challenge is increasing awareness of the great opportunities in HVACR. What’s truly unique about our industry is the variety of knowledge that is needed. Not only do our field people need to understand the refrigeration cycle and combustion, they must be proficient in electrical, controls, plumbing/piping, and air distribution. With the advent of AI in building controls and smart homes, the skills list grows longer.
Career Paths Are Key
Each of these areas can become a workforce career path within our industry. There are many opportunities to specialize in one or more of them. Just in the past decade HVACR technology has advanced significantly and continues to evolve at a breakneck pace. The need for the best and the brightest is more urgent than ever.
We need talented people in the HVAC workforce who can understand and work with not just hardware, but the software that is prevalent in every aspect of HVACR. Systems are less forgiving than ever and require precise installations, testing, and adjusting to perform as designed. New tools, instruments, and software are coming online every day. These tools require advanced learning and skills training.
This is not our grandfather’s HVAC industry. We need our new generations to help take us to the next level. I believe many are up for the challenge. Millennials and GenZer’s grew up with computers and smart devices in their hands since practically birth. These devices are a big part of what they will need to work on products and systems hitting the market today.
While all of this will present challenges for our existing infrastructure, particularly in the area of education and training, it also presents significant opportunities to attract a larger segment of the population. The key will be our ability to articulate all of the benefits we have to offer – especially as an alternative to a college education.
Overcoming the Stigma
The HVAC industry and the trades in general are feeling the pinch more than other service industries. While the facts prove differently, in many circles the trades are still viewed as dead-end low-paying jobs.
There have been numerous studies that show how someone entering the HVAC industry at age 18 can out-earn a typical college grad – especially in the first eight years. Plus they’re not saddled with tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt!