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Despite the Economy, There is Still a Technician Shortage

By Howard Weiss, Executive Vice President, ESCO Group

The United States is presently experiencing the greatest loss of employment since the Great Depression. With THIRTY-THREE MILLION (at the time this article was prepared) Americans unemployed, economists are estimating that this number has the potential to jump to FORTY-SEVEN MILLION, resulting in a 32% unemployment rate. Despite these horrific statistics, many construction and building trades including Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) struggle to find enough qualified people to fill the multitude of vacant positions.

Howard Weiss, Executive Vice President, ESCO Group
Howard Weiss, Executive Vice President, ESCO Group

While most Americans are physically unable to go to work as a result of stay-at-home orders, there is a segment of our workforce that has been identified, by the Department of Homeland Security, as critical or essential to our well-being. While this list understandably includes our medical professionals and first responders, it also includes HVACR workers.

Why?

HVACR technicians:

  • Protect the American food distributing system
  • Keep data centers cooled and running, allowing for uninterrupted business conferencing (WebEx/Zoom), internet service and phone connectivity
  • Maintain negative pressure rooms in health care facilities which play an integral role in preventing the spread of infectious diseases

The work performed by the HVACR workforce is, for the most part, invisible to most Americans even though it plays an essential role in their everyday lives. So, why is there a shortage of people to fill these challenging, rewarding and essential positions?

HVAC technician photoMany have grown up tinkering with electronics, cars, computers, and robotics, but not with their furnace or air conditioning system.  As a result, the HVACR industry has historically found itself at a recruitment disadvantage. While essential to life, HVACR equipment, being hidden from view, for the most part, is often ignored as long as everything works.

HVACR employers have businesses to run and could not possibly visit the 37,000 high schools and 1,400 community colleges in the United States to help promote the lucrative career opportunities they offer. It would be far more beneficial to these company owners if they could visit HVACR training programs that are filled with students who have already committed to obtaining a career in the HVACR industry. In doing so, they can concentrate on discussing what great opportunities await a student by working for their firm.

It is important to note that, for the most part, a particular school has far more requests for graduates than graduates. As a result, no matter how great a job opportunity might be, program instructors are more likely to place graduates with organizations that are members of the school’s program advisory committee (PAC).

By getting involved in the PAC, employers have the ability to impact the quality of training, build relationships with the instructor, and have early access to the top students, often before they even graduate. Additionally, PAC members can collectively visit a larger number of high schools, leading to the recruitment of more people into HVACR training programs, and eventually, into the trade. These employers can share their success stories with parents, students and guidance counselors, while debunking many of the myths associated with a career in the trades. For example, not all success stories started with a college degree. The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that only 20 percent of jobs require a bachelorette degree or higher.

While many Americans sit at home worrying about how they will pay their bills, HVACR technicians are working and continue to be in high demand. The BLS projects the HVACR industry to grow by nearly 34% in the next decade, further increasing the demand for a career that cannot be automated or outsourced.

What Can You Do?

All HVACR employers have great stories to tell about our industry, so why not share them? Our industry has so many exceptional opportunities for the right people, so it’s important for us to spread the word by reaching out to as many people as possible.

Students often make lifelong career choices blindly without data to help them make these decisions intelligently. As a result, one may end up studying marine biology in Kansas where there are no oceans. Take the time to review the United States, Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbooks before selecting a career.  This free resource provides detailed, fact-based information on over 700 occupations, including the requirements to get into the field, job outlook, local data and, of course, salary ranges. In doing so, also take a look at the Occupational Handbook for HVACR. This will help you learn more about one of the fastest growing fields that cannot be exported or automated, and can pay just as much as, if not more, than most jobs requiring a four-year degree.

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