Recruiting HVAC Technicians for the Next Decade

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WHPA Special Feature

Note from Chief of Staff Mark Lowry – The WHPA is, by mission, composed of a wide range of stakeholders, in fact 27 categories, united by a common interest in HVAC Energy Efficiency in California and beyond. This special issue of the WHPA quarterly newsletter provides data and many experienced voices providing their views on the topic of “Recruiting HVAC Technicians for the Next Decade”. We hope this stimulates you to join in the dialog, whether through WHPA Committees and Working Groups or in other ways. This is a challenge that we all must work to solve in order to meet energy efficiency goals.

HVAC technicians might seem to have it made. Eventually they’re paid well, there’s always work, and many of them go on to run their own businesses. Despite these truths, the HVAC industry is facing a challenge that will impact contractors and consumers; there is an abundance of good jobs that need to be filled and a shortage of qualified people to fill them.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC mechanic and installer jobs nationwide are expected to grow 14% from 2014 through 2022. That’s double the average rate of all occupations.

In California HVAC is booming even more, largely because of the critical link between HVAC and California’s energy efficiency initiatives.

According to the California Community Colleges Centers of Excellence 2016 report, public and private training programs in the state produced about 1,000 new HVAC workers – only half the number needed for the year.

We might start by asking why the supply of people entering an HVAC career is less than the demand. HVAC offers many opportunities for young Americans entering the job market:

  • It offers the prospect of a well-paid career for which there is always demand. The US needs more stable jobs that cannot be outsourced and HVAC offers just that.
  • HVAC jobs are well suited to mechanically-inclined individuals. Learning the HVAC trade requires minimal personal expense compared to a 4-year college degree.
  • Hourly wages for a trainee often start $5 an hour or more above minimum wage, and can increase to a living family wage after completion of an apprenticeship or non-union training.
  • Many HVAC technicians become business owners over time.

The individuals interviewed for this special feature offer many observations as to why too few people enter the HVAC trade. You can read their views in depth in the accompanying articles. Some of the factors cited the most are:

  • Shop classes are far less common in middle and high school than they were 50 years ago.
  • High school, and society in general, have established college as the de-facto goal for students.
  • There are very few “trade track” educational programs in high school.
  • The pool of entry-level candidates who can comply with drug, criminal record, and clean driving records is smaller than in the past.

What is the impact, if there are not enough HVAC technicians entering the training pipeline in California?

  • Barrier to achieving California’s energy efficiency goals – The 2016 California Community Colleges “Workforce Barriers” report states, “Mounting evidence indicates that workforce quality has become a barrier to Energy Efficiency goals... set by (California) Assembly Bill 32 in 2006.”
  • Rising costs to consumers – When demand exceeds supply, prices increase.
  • Restricts future business success of mechanical contractors – A survey by HVACR Business found that 79% of contractors viewed their ability to recruit technicians as critical to the future success of their business, while only 6% said that it was not important. Unfortunately, 64% of them said finding these technicians was very difficult.

Source: HVACR Business Contractors Study 2016

The Western HVAC Performance Alliance (WHPA)’s mission is to contribute to the advancement of energy efficiency in the HVAC industry by providing a forum where a wide variety of stakeholders provide experience, expertise, and opinion to help inform state policies and utility programs.

In this feature, “Recruiting HVAC Technicians for the Next Decade,” we have asked a number of our members – representing experience from residential and commercial mechanical contractors, distributors, labor, education, and more – to add their voices to this important discussion.

Click the names below to hear their side of the story.

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Below are links to referenced research on the HVACR workforce, WHPA groups that are currently working on Workforce Education and Training (WE&T) topics, and the WE&T work product that the WHPA has produced.


CEC Calls on WHPA Committee for Input on Existing Buildings Plan

Last year, the California Energy Commission (CEC) produced the Existing Building Energy Efficiency Action Plan to serve as a 10-year roadmap for boosting the efficiency of California’s existing buildings. The WHPA’s Existing Buildings Energy Efficiency Action Plan Committee (EBEE) assisted in the development of the Action Plan by reviewing it through an HVAC lens and identifying barriers and gaps, many of which were addressed in the final plan.

The CEC has been preparing an Action Plan update for 2017 and once again tapped the wealth of HVAC knowledge in the WHPA. Due to the complexity of the topics, it became clear after a few meetings that an in-person meeting of the minds would lead to the best input.

On July 19, 2016, the EBEE Charrette was attended by 19 veteran stakeholders from the EBEE Committee, IOUs, and CEC (see attendance). The constant theme was community engagement and how to support local government funding so that it gets down to regional levels, building departments, and staff.

The charrette was laser-focused on five sub-strategies in the Existing Buildings Action Plan

  • 1.5.1 - Improve Clarity and Ease of Use
  • 1.5.2 - Review Building Energy Efficiency Standards for Cost-Effectiveness
  • 1.5.3 - Training and Communication
  • 1.5.5 - Understand the Compliance Shortfall
  • 3.3.1 - Priority Sectors, Systems, and Workforce Categories

 

After a lively day of discussion and deliberation, the group of industry veterans had documented their collective input on the pathways to implementation for the sub-strategies.

Bob Wiseman, IHACI Board of Directors Member and charrette attendee, thought it was a success. “It was a great opportunity to get some of the sharpest people in the industry together in a small room and really work on some difficult topics. I think it did a lot of good and will have an impact.”

It appeared to be valuable to the CEC’s Existing Building Unit, who included the resulting interim work product with their Action Plan update submission to Commissioner McAllister.

The CEC is expecting to hold a workshop on the draft update toward the end of October. The WHPA will pass along the details when that information is available.


WHPA Submits Recommendations to Support Workforce Training

In 2015, the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) asked the WHPA to provide recommendations on how to operationalize “employer support,” as identified in the WE&T Sector Strategies Background, Definition and Application document approved by the CPUC Energy Division in December 2013.

The WHPA Employer Support Working Group was promptly formed, co-chaired by Jake Huttner (SCE) and Daniel Jones (who was with Honeywell ECC, and is now with Pelican Wireless Solutions). The collection of stakeholders snapped into action and after eight lively meetings produced the following recommendations for promoting employer support of workforce education:

  1. Expanding the Employer Support Definition as defined in the WE&T Sector Strategies Background, Definition and Application document approved by the CPUC Energy Division.
  2. Asking employers to sign a voluntary Letter of Intent demonstrating how they support “work-based learning opportunities.”
  3. Developing HVAC Sector Strategy Contractor Recognition Strategies that support contractors who are “doing the right thing” as demonstrated through: (1) pulling permits; (2) supporting professional development for employees; and, (3) ensuring employees have the time, resources, and tools to do standards-based installation and maintenance work.
  4. Offering HVAC Sales Training that emphasizes how to sell value over price to help contractors and their sales staff members sell “performance work” or “standards-based work” to support the market transformation called for in the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Strategic Plan.
  5. Developing a Clearinghouse of Internships/Pre-Apprenticeship Program Opportunities to connect students with contactors (employers) for internship/pre-apprenticeship opportunities.

View complete list of recommendations and more detailed information >>

The list of recommendations was approved by the Executive Committee on July 13, 2016 and the Work Product was officially delivered to the IOUs.


We’ve Made it Easy for You to Talk About the WHPA

The Council of Advisors established a 2016 goal to spread the word about the WHPA activities and work product in the HVAC community.  In September, they completed a project which provides materials for WHPA members to share within their organizations.

  • A one-slide “elevator pitch”
  • A presentation that highlights the specific organization’s involvement in the WHPA
  • Sample website text for members’ websites.

View materials >>

There is a logo created especially for our member organizations to use on their websites, email signatures, or anywhere else you want to show your organization’s credential as a member of the WHPA.

Copyright 2018 by Western HVAC Performance Alliance