Help Wanted: Changing the Perception of the HVAC Trade

February 21, 2019
4 min read

Most kids dream of growing up to be professional athletes, dancers, doctors or even video game designers. Not many dream about becoming HVAC technicians. The negative perception of working in the trades has contributed to the growing labor shortage epidemic facing not only the HVAC industry but other skilled trades as well.

So how can industry representatives tackle one of their biggest challenges?

The first step is changing the perception of the HVAC industry.

Ultimately, in order to change its destiny, the HVAC industry will need to change the way outsiders perceive them. For too long, the image of a career in trades has been a terrible cliché. Many believe that trade jobs are dirty and dangerous, that they require little skill or thinking, and that they offer virtually no career advancement. Pop culture depicts trade workers as bumbling, poor, uneducated, lazy, and rude. These stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. HVAC contractors are professionals in a highly technical field who work to preserve livelihoods, structures, and the environment. Those involved in the industry must take advantage of every opportunity to highlight who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

This lesser view of the trades has created a culture where vocational programs have seen decreased enrolment. Technical colleges have had to cut programs that would offer opportunities for veterans, young adults, and others looking for fulfilling careers to gain the certifications they need to secure skilled positions. With a decrease in a trained workforce, many HVAC businesses are unable to find qualified, skilled workers.

One major misrepresentation is the idea that HVAC and other skilled-trades careers require hard work for low pay. The reality is, however, that the median income wage for HVAC mechanics and installers, last measured in 2017 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $47,080. In many cases, this wage can be earned without completing a four-year degree.

It’s not that finding a job in the trades means needing no education after high school. Most regulators and employers require certificates, certifications or associate degrees. But those cost less and take less time than earning a bachelor’s degree. HVAC students also have opportunities to learn through apprenticeships, which allows them to incur less debt and gain quicker entry into the workforce than students completing a 4-year college/university degree. People with career and technical educations are also more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, and significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study. The industry must market the HVAC trade as a comparable option to the traditional college/university path. Encourage children to explore the trades. It might not be their career path, but allow it to be an option. Teach them to appreciate the training and education that goes into learning a skill.

The industry must do a better job of making a career in HVACR “sexy”. The HVAC industry has long been considered a dinosaur when it comes to innovation and adoption of technology — an image the industry is still fighting today, even as the industry itself is in the midst of a technological evolution. It’s time to sell young professionals on the transformation happening in this industry, and how innovations like AI, IOT and field service software are automating and simplifying work. Many HVACR technicians use IOT, work in smart homes and buildings, use cloud-based monitoring and controls, and so much more.

The skilled trades deficit developed over decades. We can start to shrink the gap if we emphasize all the benefits the skilled trades have to offer and market it in a flashier, modern way. The HVAC industry has not only a tremendous opportunity, but an obligation, to communicate to the younger generation and potential job-seekers the exciting career opportunities this industry has to offer.

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Read here to find out how the HVACR industry is tackling the labour shortage.

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