Dale Belman, professor at the School of Labor and Industrial Relations at Michigan State said, “As the Baby Boomer generation leaves the work force, you no longer have that very large pool of experienced trade workers.”

There’s a lot of growth opportunity and job security within the trades; however, they can carry a variety of stigmas. It’s dirty work. There’s no money to be made. It doesn’t require education.

We’ve seen the work. We’ve done the work. We don’t believe that at all.

So, we asked the Mission: HVAC students to tell us about the stigmas they’ve heard.

Derick: Let’s Focus on Hard Work and Dedication

Whether it’s HVAC, plumbing or contracting, I do believe there are many stigmas associated with most trades, particularly when it comes to people saying tradesmen are uneducated and that the work is dirty. But the truth is: we in the trades are in control of our futures in this industry. It takes hard work and dedication.

In the past, it was fairly common to drop out of high school and enter a trade to help support your family. But, in today’s world, it’s very hard to find gainful employment without some sort of higher education. In today’s society, we are moving so fast and there are technological advances every day. A lot of schools are taking this into consideration because this is what the work force is requiring. So, the stigma that this doesn’t require an education is pretty much irrelevant to the current job market.

I, myself, am going to school for HVAC and my college requires taking advanced math, English, history, and science. If I wasn’t educated properly in the trade of HVAC, one mistake could have catastrophic outcomes. For example, if I get the gas pressures wrong, I could cause the whole unit to explode.

As for the stigma that HVAC is dirty work, well sometimes it is. But that also depends on the route you take.

If you want to install or repair units, it can be dirty work. But, if you choose to go into the sales or marketing aspects of HVAC, you could easily work in an office environment in which you wear dress clothes daily.

It all depends on you and how you want your career path to go.

Jacob: We are Knowledgeable Workers

My main problem with the overall view of work in any trade is that it is basically just labor. Customers and others who ask about your job generally don’t understand that they are not just paying for materials and installation, but the ability to correctly diagnose the initial issue through knowledge and experience. Also, many parents these days see working in the trades as something someone else does, not their kids.

First, let me go ahead and get this out of the way:  if you don’t like being hot, dirty, wet or any combination of the above, maybe this is not for you.  On the other hand, if you like seeing a tangible accomplishment or want to be in an in-demand position, this may be a good option for you.

My last job was a customer service position and it was important to the company due to the fact that someone had to answer the phone when a call came in or the company would fail.  On the other hand, when I walked into that store every day, my computer and the phone looked exactly the same as I had left it.  There was no obvious sign of what I had completed the day before and this lack of seeing something done kind of wore me down.  Being able to go to a job, diagnose a problem and get something working again gives me a feeling of accomplishment that I need in order to go to work every day.

In addition to my own feelings about what makes work important to me, I would like to note a couple of things I have learned from an instructor and an employer:

A couple of years ago, I was taking an electrical circuit analysis course at a community college and found that electricity was pretty understandable if you had a good instructor. It was always a complete mystery to me; something akin to magic.  One day, my instructor was out and we had a teacher who was getting close to retirement fill in.  The poor guy was kind of caught off guard, didn’t know what we had covered up until that point and did the best he could. But he also used his time to tell us his experience working over the years and what it meant for us as students.  He explained that four year universities at the time were teaching computer programming almost exclusively at the expense of basic knowledge of hardware and electronics.  For example, a computer science major would take a basic hardware course and generally learn nothing about the inner workings of a computer.  He further explained that if someone received an error message on their computer, they would probably just go replace one of the larger components in the server rack and see if that fixed the problem.  If it didn’t work, nobody knew what to do.  They would have to come find him to diagnose and fix the problem.  This message has stuck with me as I chose to get into the HVAC field.  If an individual has the thermostat set on 72 degrees and it is 80 in the house, what do they do?  Turn it down to 68.  If your system can’t keep it at 72, it will not get it to 68 either. But that’s the only way that most people know how to interact with their system.  You need to know how to fix the problem. You may be sweaty and dirty and “just a tradesman,” but you are a knowledgeable worker – whether people see it or not.

Another example for me came years later in a job interview.  A potential employer who was significantly younger than retirement age was telling me about his general overview of the industry for the next 10 to 20 years.  He kept up with the trade magazines and statistics and informed me that it was predicted that the number of people working in the HVAC industry would top out in approximately the next 9 years.  This meant that more people would be retiring or otherwise getting out HVAC than starting a career in it.  There is already so much demand in this field that almost everyone I sent a resume to called me in for an interview when they learned that I had attended school for it.  Yes, experience is great and a real asset when looking for work.  But having some formal education goes a long way in this field.  For example, having some formal education from an electrical engineer in how electricity works goes a long way.  There are a lot of guys out there who started at the beginning and learned from relays and contactors up through to today’s circuit boards and learned along the way as advances were made.  But if you are planning to get into this field today, you will be entering an industry of fairly advanced electronics, variable speed motors and thermostats connected to your phone through Wi-Fi.  There is a good deal of grunt work involved in this trade, but know that at its core you will be a technical knowledge worker.