The shortage of skilled labor in trades such as HVAC has become a hot topic in the industry – as seasoned pros reach retirement age; many positions are left unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. Because of this, many HVAC businesses are having trouble keeping up with the continuous demand for their services.

We asked our Mission: HVAC students to speak with HVAC business owners to find out how their companies have been impacted by the labor shortage – and what they anticipate for the future of the trades.

Glenn: Improving Accessibility to Training

Glenn Mission 6My interview for this mission was with David Volante, owner of Heartland Heating and Cooling. I asked several questions about labor shortage and how it has impacted his business.

Dave has noticed a large drop in qualified candidates applying for HVAC jobs. He states that they have plenty of business but can’t get to it all. Labor is probably going to be the largest problem within the HVAC industry for the next 5 years.

Dave says the largest cause of the shortage of the HVAC workers is because of the recession of 2008. It took people out of the industry and distributed them to other types of employment outside of the construction fields. Also, the state of Iowa requires licensing for the mechanical trades which includes plumbers, electricians, and the heating and cooling pros. Any of the folks wanting to get involved in building trades must sign up for schooling, get the training and work 8000 hours as an apprentice – this has deterred many people from entering the trades. They just don’t want to mess with all of that.

Although licensing is a good thing, we have to think of ways to make it a little easier to go through the training and licensing processes. Dave hopes that more guys and gals enter the trades – realizing that not everyone needs a 4-year degree, which has been the thought over the last 20 years. More high schools and trade schools are trying to get these young people into skilled labor training.

For now, Dave thinks the trend will be steadier as the word about the labor trades is starting to get out. There are people out there speaking about building trades like Mike Rowe with the show “Dirty Jobs,” which promotes the trades. These types of endorsements get more people to think about skilled trades instead of 4-year college degree. Dave will interview anyone interested in joining his company. Anyone with the desire to switch within the mechanical trades or wanting to enter the HVAC field is a good candidate.

My thoughts: I wish that when I was in high school someone would have made me aware of the different building trades available. My life might have gone in a different direction. It is very difficult to change careers once you start a family and have financial obligations. Speaking to students before they graduate from high school and enter into higher education would be the best time to guide them into the building trades.

Stefan: The Strain of Shortage

Getting more and more time in the field to really learn the trade has been priceless. School is amazing for a basic knowledge but there is not a classroom in the world that can simulate all the diverse conditions one will encounter in the field. Doing installs with an AC contractor also affords the ability to have extensive, in-depth conversations regarding the AC trade. My conversation with Rob Tinely, owner operator of Cooling Advisors out of Riviera Beach, FL, clued me in on different aspects of the state of the HVAC trade industry.

Rob made his comments very clear to indicate the lack of tradesmen in general, much less skilled tradesmen entering the AC profession. With media and advertising much more readily available the difficulties are not to get the phone to ring, but to find the skilled personnel to be able to do the work. Rob also cites the increase of older tradesman hitting retirement age compounded by a millennial age demographic that has little to no interest in working with anything other than a computer. Rob’s hopes are high, but he has come to the truthful realization that the gap may be too big to bridge with what is needed and what is offered for personnel in the field. He has been able to recruit through other avenues though. Procuring “sub” crews alleviates the time constraints of installation work, allowing for more time to run the business and run service. All in all, he was initially at a complete loss as how to find a good tech, especially during the peak season.

[continued in Mission 7]