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Johnstone Supply Attacks Industry Labor Shortage

If finding good technicians is not the #1 challenge for our dealers, it is most certainly in the top 10! Finding good employees is a serious impediment to our industry’s growth. In a recent study performed by the EGIA Foundation (Electric & Gas Industries Association), they found that 10,000 HVAC veteran technicians are expected to retire from the workforce each year as the average age of this worker is 40.2 years. When the need for those 10,000 replacements is added to the expected growth anticipated, we need 38,700 NEW workers every year!

Brian Redmann, Barry Tumminello, Colby Parker, Jean McCloskey and Dwayne Farbe
Brian Redmann, Barry Tumminello, Colby Parker, Jean McCloskey and Dwayne Farbe

What a great opportunity and challenge. Unfortunately, what others think about our industry is not always good. Recent research among high school juniors and seniors, as well as their parents, indicate that interest in an HVAC career is extremely low. For many, the idea of working as an HVAC technician – or any skilled trade – is perceived negatively. “The greatest negative to young people considering a career in HVAC is the fact that most high schools today only promote college and downplay or do not promote trade schools at all. So, it has become socially unacceptable to do physical labor to make a living.”

BRIDGING THE HVAC EMPLOYMENT GAP

It is clear that WE need to take-action to change our situation and Johnstone Supply is doing just that. I recently attended the graduation ceremony for their inaugural Train-A-Tech course and got a moment to speak to Harold Petit, Jr., the Owner and CEO of Johnstone Supply. Here is what I learned.

Q: Why have you invested in this Train-A-Tech program?

A: We see what is happening to our industry relative to workforce and felt required to take-action. When working with our dealers on their growth plans, we find good techs being one of the largest threats to their success. So, we want to help with this by recruiting, screening, and training new techs for our dealers to hire.

Q: So, what actions did you take?

A: We started by building two education facilities, one in New Orleans and one in Baton Rouge. Since completion of these, we started doing continuing education to get something going quickly and we are now training more than 2,000 students a year. But that is NOT enough, so we started the Train-A-Tech program. We just graduated our first class and are scheduled for our second class right after Thanksgiving.

Q: What exactly does the Train-A-Tech program deliver?

A: Our goal is to produce net new tech for hire that understand HVAC basics, have an EPA certification and have the NATE Core certification. We will also have screened the students to have great aptitude, clear physical and drug screen, good work ethic, great attitudes, and a valid driver’s license.

Q: How long does his take and what does it cost?

A: On the how long, we are figuring that out. We did the first class in three weeks and did OK with 10 graduates, 8 EPA certifications, and 3 NATE certifications. We think we can do better if we extend the course to four weeks and incorporate more hands-on experience. The students were instructed for four hours each day and the second half of the day was for homework, lab work, and “work-work” as some of our students were employed.

This is an investment effort for Johnstone, but we do intend to cover some of the direct costs like the text books, $1,000 in starting tools given to each tech upon hire, etc. We charged dealers $1,250/student for the inaugural class. We are thinking $2,200 for the second round. And, we will see after that. We want to keep improving the program, so we will adjust pricing to reflect that.

The cost to the student is their hard work and time. Hiring dealers will be asked to sponsor the financial costs and are free to enter employment agreements with them as they see fit.

Q: How can dealers get involved and help?

A: We need to start by lifting our industry. Talk it up every chance you get especially to our young people. If you know someone who might be interested in participating as a student, please get them in touch with Johnstone at 504-733-1495 by asking for Kyle. We have a long way to go in filling the 38,700 new jobs annually, but we are taking “little bites at a time!” We are thrilled to be in a position to help; we just love seeing our students and dealers succeed.

Photos from the Train-A-Tech graduation are available here.

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