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Look around and you’ll notice new construction everywhere.
Whether they are residential or commercial, new buildings are popping up in communities all over the country. And what do 95-percent of the new homes and commercial buildings built since 2000 have in common?
They are furnished with HVAC/R equipment. And like technology is known to do, eventually that equipment will require routine maintenance, or even fail.
Fixing it, though, might not be a simple task in the future.
Like other industrial sectors, HVAC/R is in the midst of a skills gap – thanks in part to an aging workforce combined with advancements in technology. Companies are facing increasing pressure to find qualified labor, as mechanic and installer jobs are expected to grow 15-percent nationwide by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
When that projected job growth is paired with current workers on the brink of retirement over the next decade, it highlights the immediate challenges the HVAC/R industry faces.
Why Is There a Labor Shortage in the HVAC/R Industry?
‘Why’ questions always seem to be the most difficult to pinpoint, and understanding the ‘why’ behind HVAC/R labor shortage is no different.
However there are some clues as to why fewer workers are choosing the field:
1. “The Stigma”
The first, and perhaps most obvious reason surrounds the decades-old stigma of a “blue-collar” worker. Even as we continue through the 2020s, many still view HVAC/R and other skill trades as a hard-work, low-pay alternative to not attending a four-year college or university.
The reality is that HVAC/R mechanics and installers can make an average of nearly $48,000 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is on par with the median wage for US workers. The top 10-percent of workers averaged more than $76,000 annually.
Plus, the shortage of skilled workers is causing more employers to offer competitive salaries, placing workers in the driver’s seat of finding the ideal workplace.
2. “The Fallacy”
To many parents, the only logical step following their child’s high school diploma is for them to enroll in a two- or four-year university. The problem is that they think this is the only path to a rewarding career.
While post-secondary institutions are the dream for some, the naivety that it’s the ideal solution for everyone has not only exacerbated the industrial skills gap, but also led to misconceptions about the industry.
Graduates of two- and four-year colleges, as well as those that successfully complete an apprenticeship program, both help the industrial sector to create and attract a pool a talented workers. And at a time where Baby Boomers will begin to call it a career more frequently, the HVAC/R field needs all the help it can get, regardless of the educational path chosen.
3. “The Perception”
Along with the stigma of a blue-collar worker, there is a perception that the country’s best and brightest students are too talented for the world of HVAC/R. For many, the only interaction with HVAC technicians is when they recharge a house’s refrigerant, or come by for a quick tune-up, which may attribute to the misconception that these technicians are low-skilled.
However with the amount of smart technologies developing within the industry, including use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation, people might be shocked to find out about the complex systems being installed and maintained in today’s cloud-connected world.
Every day, HVAC/R professionals are faced with new, unique challenges. Ranging from air conditioning installation to programming air purification systems, HVAC/R technicians will need to be quick-thinking problem solvers. Or talented, as some refer to it.
How Can We Solve the HVAC/R Skills Gap?
Unless modern medicine can extend the working career of many Baby Boomers, a large chunk of HVAC/R technicians are going to retire over the next decade. In fact Adecco, a staffing agency, claims that 31 million positions in various sectors nationwide will be left vacant by 2020 because of retiring Baby Boomers.
So with experience out of the question, companies may turn their attention to younger, more inexperienced workers that possess the knowledge, yet lack field experience. With as many businesses that are currently looking to add talent, however, some business leaders might have to get creative in attracting new workers. Whether they expand their criteria for potential hires, or provide basic internal training to make up for an applicant’s lack of technical training, HVAC/R employers need to realize that due to the skills gap, the employees are in the driver’s seat to find the best position possible for their success.
As much as industry leaders would like to wish the problem away, the fact is that the skills gap is only going to get wider unless something drastic is done. So manufacturers will be forced to take a long look in the mirror to figure out solutions to stay in front of this potentially crippling issue.
Potential Solution #1 – Attract a Younger Generation of Eager Learners
Where would the manufacturing workforce be without Baby Boomers? As of 2017, the Baby Boomer generation made up the majority of skilled trades workers, but that number is expected to drop to 40-percent by 2022. While workers grow older and retire in every job worldwide, the manufacturing industry – especially HVAC/R – is feeling the crunch the most.
That’s why it’s imperative for the HVAC/R industry to attract a younger generation of learners to re-energize the sector. And the one thing that, ironically, could help attract younger workers to that career field is the one thing older workers worried about: technology.
For example, students interested in IT might notice an ideal career pathway within the HVAC/R sector. Thanks to the popularity of working with computers in creating more IT professionals, the new Smart technologies being utilized in HVAC and manufacturing create a perfect fit for an individual with IT skills.
Smart technology is making its way into the HVAC/R industry, which will open the door for a variety of new jobs that have never been seen before. These positions will help maintain and troubleshoot smart HVAC/R devices to make a more energy-efficient, customizable user experience.
Setting up programs with two- and four-year colleges, as well as with local businesses for apprenticeships, would help attract younger talent pools that are eager to show off their skillsets.
Potential Solution #2 – Change the Narrative on Trade-Based Careers
Hollywood has done Industry and Manufacturing no favors in its portrayal of these sectors in movies and television shows. Typically, their work spaces are grimy, dimly-lit warehouses that feature a tough, dirty collection of lunch pail-carrying workers.
However what the directors and producers fail to show are the cloud-based monitoring and controls of a smart home’s HVAC/R system. Or they glaze over the part where smart sensors can use data mining to learn a customer’s habits, and adjust them automatically – unless it’s a horror flick, of course.
The fact is that HVAC/R is becoming a cutting-edge industry that utilizes the newest cloud-based technology to increase efficiency. Thanks to new environmental regulations, there is a growing demand for energy-efficient products and cleans units powered by solar or geothermal energy.
Needless to say, this isn’t your father’s HVAC/R, and that change-of-narrative should be well known to everyone, both inside and outside of the sector.
Finally, and perhaps most important, educating men and women about the intriguing opportunities in the HVAC/R industry is one of the most valuable steps toward solving the worker shortage. This includes providing the necessary training and certifications to help up-and-coming technicians stay current within an ever-changing industry, as well as offering classes on emerging technologies like IT to help prepare technicians for new Smart systems.
This training, though, would not only be useful for employees new to the field. With the amount of change on the horizon for the HVAC/R industry, even the most experienced workers will need refresher courses on how new technology works.
By offering in-house training, companies will have the opportunity to attract workers that may have overlooked industrial sectors in the past. Now, those that are changing careers, or have little-to-no experience in industry can be considered for unfilled positions, opening up a whole new set of prospective employees.
Re-training also allows those seasoned employees to get pointed training in the fields that their employers deem fit. So if a company needs someone who specializes in electronics, they can set-up a training program for those specific skills to be learned. Not only does it keep the employee working on their day-to-day tasks, but it also sets them up for future professional success.
Unlike apprenticeships and changing people’s opinions of industry, which are largely dependent of others, technical training is the one solution that an entire company can get behind to find success. It is also the only sure-fire way that the HVAC/R industry can begin to regain its footing and begin to close the skills gap.
Amatrol’s HVAC Learning Systems
When it comes to re-training employees, getting hands-on skill training on industrial-relevant machines is ideal. Not only will learners have a chance to mimic the troubleshooting skills they’ll use on a daily basis, but they will do so on the equipment they will most likely encounter in the field.
To help prepare learners in the most accurate ways possible, Amatrol’s HVAC learning systems will put them in the driver’s seat of not only understanding the theoretical knowledge behind the craft, but honing their hands-on skills using the best trainers on the market today.
Amatrol’s Refrigerant Recovery and Charging Learning System for R-134a (T7031) teaches aspiring HVACR technicians the critical hands-on skills they need to succeed on the job. Learners will work with real equipment, such as: a recovery machine, manifold gauges, submersible cooler, temperature probe, filter dryer, low side liquid charger, vacuum pump, and micron vacuum gauge.
When it comes to learning important refrigerant recovery and charging skills, there’s simply no substitute for hands-on experience with real equipment that technicians will encounter on the job. That’s why Amatrol’s Refrigerant Recovery and Charging Learning System for R-410a features a wide variety of real industrial HVACR equipment.
Amatrol’s Residential Mini-Split Heat Pump Learning System (T7130) teaches the critical hands-on skills HVACR technicians need to succeed when working with residential ductless (“mini-split”) HVAC systems. Learners will work with real equipment, such as: a heat pump condenser, evaporator unit, thermostat, panel-mounted gauges, and condensate pump.
Amatrol’s Residential Heat Pump Troubleshooting Learning System (T7100) teaches the critical hands-on skills HVACR technicians need to succeed when working with residential HVAC systems that use a heat pump and traditional ducting. Learners will work with real equipment, such as: a heat pump condenser, heat pump air handler, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, fuse box, ducting, and manifold.
About Wes Scott
Wes Scott is a former public high school teacher and journalist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Wes on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.