It’s a story as old as time. The younger generation is lazy. They don’t want to work. They’re soft.
Every generation gets that label at some point, and in today’s world, it’s the millennial.
The fact is, there are lazy and soft workers in every generation. But there are also smart and motivated workers. In the HVAC world, it’s so important that we value, attract, and keep those young new talents. That’s who will grow your business to the next level long after you’ve made your mark.
In the next two years, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce according to all of the research. Already, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America says the average HVAC worker is 55 years old. At the same time, the U.S. labor market is constricted with only 3.8% unemployment in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics1.
What Matters to Millennials?
It is business-critical to understand what drives millennials. For this generation, work isn’t a method of earning money to live. It’s an extension of life itself.
Growth. Millennials want to feel fulfilled in their work while knowing that they are continually being trained for improvement. They also communicate in an ongoing, real-time way. Consider how a social media feed rolls with endless conversation. Similarly, millennials expect to be in regular, ongoing contact with colleagues.
More than 80% of millennials say that wellness is among their top priorities, according to digital marketing company ThriveMyWay. That means 12-hour workdays or spending time in unhealthy environments will be a quick turnoff for this group.
Technology. Nearly three-quarters of them believe their smartphone is a professional benefit. Technology is their problem-solving tool – and savvy Internet navigation is a skill you’ll be happy they have. From cross-checking online repair manuals to sending electronic invoices, millennials can help boost both your efficiency and productivity through technological adoption. As the industry continues to develop smart tools and tech-based HVAC products, it will need technicians who move fluidly through those systems.
And millennials are smart – a full 40% hold a college degree. The sky could be the limit when bringing these brilliant minds into the HVAC field. Yet, millennials are not knocking down the door to break into this industry.
That’s not going to change until HVAC businesses are intentional about funneling the younger generation into this industry.
So where should you start? Developing a millennial base within your company – particularly during a tight labor market – comes down to three basic concepts: Recruit, train, and retain.
Recruiting Top Millennial Talent
The first step in having a great workforce is recruiting top candidates. That requires an aggressive approach to recruiting, rather than simply waiting for candidates to come to you.
- Cultivate Local Relationships
To begin, develop relationships with your local trade school or community college. Offer to be a guest speaker or to tour students around your facility as a field trip. When it comes time for those students to get their first jobs, both they and their instructors will remember you.
- Donate Old Equipment
Pour any resources you can into trade schools. If you have old equipment they can use for hands-on training, donate it. The more effectively students are trained at school, the better candidate pool you will have down the line.
- Forecast Staffing Gaps
It’s also crucial to forecast your staffing needs. Don’t simply plan for next week or next month. Instead, vision-cast your business three to five years down the road. Hire and train the team you believe will make your future business successful.
- Invest in New Technology
Finally, tout the new technology available in HVAC careers with your company. Millennials are the first generation to grow up entirely on technology. They will be attracted by advanced furnace and thermostat software systems.
- Benefits, Culture, and Work-Life Balance
It’s important to note that millennials won’t be wooed by an uppity job title or big responsibilities that aren’t commensurate with pay. But you’ll create loyalty among younger workers when you empower them and simply provide well: pay and benefits, a good work culture, and a solid work-life balance.
Remember, too, that not all pay comes from dollars and cents. Provide good benefits like a 401k, comprehensive health plans, and training programs that will help your employees view this as a career, not a job.
The Covid pandemic changed the face of continuing education forever – and that’s a good thing when it comes to millennials. Comfortable with technology and virtual interactions, this age group flourishes with virtual training opportunities. Many learners don’t retain information well when it’s provided in a book-and-lecture format. Recognize that and offer plenty of hands-on training for your workers as well. Consider the way other fields train their workers. Many use a system that takes them from apprentice to master journeyman. That’s something you can establish in-house, even though the HVAC field doesn’t require it. Imagine the potential of a staff that has been trained well and consistently. There’s power in cross-training peers and incentivizing shared knowledge or lessons learned among coworkers.
Show your employees that upward mobility through ongoing training is an option at your company. Hone their abilities, keep them challenged, and make it clear there’s room for them to grow. You’ll keep employees happy and engaged when they know there’s advancement within their current workplace and they are on a training path to get there.
Focus on retention. What happens when hourly workers grumble about low pay at the very moment their boss pulls into the parking lot in a brand-new sports car? Talk about a morale killer. Above all else, take care of your employees first. Doing that will motivate them to take good care of your customers in return. Remember that workers have no problem jumping to the shop down the street if it’s paying an extra dollar an hour, especially millennials. So be aware of your competition’s pay rate and make sure you’re meeting it. At the end of the day, a $1 increase is only $40 per week – that could be a bargain compared to the income you lose hiring and training someone new. Finally, offer your employees job satisfaction on a deeper level. According to the Manufacturing Institute2, a full 83% of young workers say job satisfaction is a top factor in keeping their current job. It’s important to note that 69% of workers under 25 also say that career advancement and job training keep them content at work.
Millennials are focused both on helping people and the environment. In the HVAC world, this makes them perfect for the advent of green technology and energy-efficient products, allowing them to take home a paycheck while still finding meaning in their work.
Without a doubt, millennials are the future of the HVAC industry – and your business in particular. Leave your generalizations about young workers at the door. Just as with any generation, excited and ambitious young leaders exist among millennials. Find and invest in them.
Your business will be better for it.
1. News Release Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor, October 2023)
2. Manufacturing and Engagement Retention Study (APA, July 2021)
Matt Serdar used his background in construction technology to launch a contracting business before entering the HVAC field. Today, he is the Director of Customer Support for HVAC distributor Munch’s Supply, a Marcone Company. As the father to two millennials, he is passionate about training the younger generation for careers in HVAC. www.munchsupply.com