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Ensuring an Adequate Workforce

Originally published: 1/1/10 by Rex P. Boynton


What are the main challenges contractors will face over the coming years?

The industry will adjust to the new environment of 13 SEER and the move to HFC-based refrigerants. Higher efficiency heating and cooling systems will clearly impact pricing and management strategies throughout the distribution channel.

Manufacturers may consider smaller margins to mitigate the 30+% increase in equipment cost and distributors will be challenged by residual demand for less expensive 10 SEER systems still in their warehouses, as well as finding ways to accommodate the dramatic increase in the size of the new 13 SEER equipment.

Contractors will be confronted by installation hurdles (i.e., fitting larger, higher efficiency systems into spaces designed for much smaller equipment), and they’ll place a premium on top technicians who know how to install and service these more sophisticated units. This is likely to exert upward pressure on the cost of an installation and the value of professional technicians.

Of course, the consumer will be asked to pay for all of this, causing some contractors to offer lower-cost equipment brands. Central air conditioning is no longer a luxury item, but rather an essential ingredient in most consumers’ lives.

Over the next three to five years, we’ll see contractors

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seeking shortcuts by replacing condensing units (in lieu of a complete system changeout), for consumers who want to delay replacing older air conditioners due to cost.

Top contractors, however, are welcoming the move to 13 SEER, as they are already selling upgraded systems that deliver total comfort – not just energy efficiency. The transition to R-410a refrigerant from R-22 will be felt acutely at the point of installation.

R-410a operates at pressures much higher than R-22, so refrigerant charge and regular maintenance are more important. Having professionally trained and certified technicians performing this work is critical.

Other trends? With tens of millions of consumers suffering from allergies and other respiratory ailments, there will be significant interest in IAQ solutions. HVAC contractors should position themselves as “comfort consultants.”

Research continues to show that consumers have multiple problems with their indoor air environment, but most have no idea where to go for answers. This has opened the door for manufacturers of portable air purifiers/cleaners whose aggressive advertising has sought to fill this void.

The HVAC industry is uniquely positioned to ride this wave. The demand for comfort will grow. There will be a continuing, and, in my judgment, worsening climate for the recruitment of quality technicians.

The demand for talent and the competition between the HVAC industry and other skilled workforce environments will increase dramatically. The U.S. Department of Labor’s employment projections forecast job growth of 32% for heating and cooling technicians for the period ending in 2012.

In HVAC alone there will be a minimum of 20,000 new job openings annually. Impediments to recruitment include a serious bias by high school counselors who attempt to steer most students to college, and the challenges associated with small businesses where benefits and pay often lag behind larger employers.

Expect to see more women and Hispanics enter the HVAC industry in the coming years, in part because more of them are entering the workforce. Over the next five to 10 years, women’s share of the labor pool will grow to 47.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Hispanic pool will grow to 24 million by the year 2012.


Articles by Rex P. Boynton

Ensuring an Adequate Workforce

Rex Boynton discusses the main challenges that contractors will face over the coming years, including adjusting to the new environment of 13 SEER and the move to HFC-based refrigerants.
View article.