Field Service

Help Wanted: Why the HVAC Industry Is Short 20,000 Technicians — Q&A with Mike Moore

Despite national unemployment still hovering near 10 percent, there are pockets of labor shortages where thousands of new positions go unfilled. One of the biggest: the field service and HVAC sectors, according to Mike Moore, Director of Training and one of the founders of HVAC Learning Solutions. An experienced trainer of technicians and managers alike, Moore explains the problems facing HVAC firms looking for talent, and what the industry as a whole needs to do to remedy the situation.

How do things look these days for hiring managers in the HVAC industry?

One of the problems that we have is that as an industry, we have to let potential employees know that there are opportunities out there. Because a lot of people when they’re growing up or they’re graduating from high school or college, they don’t necessarily think about the HVAC industry when they’re looking at their career choice.

So subsequently, the age of technicians in the HVAC industry is older. So you have people that are leaving the workforce and you have a shortage of technicians. I think we’re probably about 20,000 people short in terms of the techs we need. So the key is to catch young people whether they’re in junior high or in high school and let them know there are opportunities, so when they’re planning for their career they can at least give the HVAC industry a look.

So as long as you’re a qualified technician, the job outlook is pretty outstanding if you wanted to break into the HVAC industry.

Oh yeah, if you’re a person who has good technical skills and good people skills. It’s important to have the good people skills because when you’re in the customer’s home it’s just as important that you’re able to fix the customer as you are to fix the equipment. If you’re having somebody come out to your house because your equipment’s not working, on a hot day or cold day, you’re not really in the best of moods. So you want technicians showing up that can relate to that customer, put her at ease, and then fix the equipment.

Are those people skills something that you can even teach? How does one get a feel for if a technician’s a good person or not?

I think what you do is, the interview process is critical. So you maybe have them go through a multitude of interviews and get people’s impressions. You ask different type of behavioral-based questions that sort of lead you down that pathway. Sometimes you’ll make mistakes, but if you use an interviewing guide that’s based on behavior, usually you can get to the facts about that individual.

How do you get the message out to kids who aren’t yet thinking about possible careers?

We’ve gone to some career fairs, but one of the things we need to do as an overall industry is to get the manufacturers, the HVAC dealers and the HVAC trade associations to work together as one on an educational campaign to where we could put together a comprehensive plan to do this so it’s not hit or miss. We may be competitive with each other, but if we’re 20,000 techs short we need to figure out as an industry how to work together to get those younger people to look at the industry. One of the things that we probably need to work on as an industry is to get full cooperation over the broad spectrum. Maybe we put together an HVAC awareness month, or something where take a day, take a week where we go to these schools.

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  • Mike’s definitely right. It’s a positive message to send that there are jobs out there that you don’t need a liberal arts degree for. Good jobs. And that message not getting out to good candidates leaves the industry with less high quality workers.

  • Brodrick Moore

    I graduated from a local technical college in Memphis Tn and sought employment with numerous companies and they required service techs to have 5-10 yrs experienc. How does one overcome that requirement.

  • broderick moore

    broderick moor….i am in a similar situation in memphis also.contact me at my email moc.o1501180744ohay@1501180744moor_1501180744latem1501180744_eht¦1501180744€esa1501180744elp1501180744

  • This field is suffering a shortage. Why? Hello! It sucks. What Technician do you know wants his son or daughter settling for this? C’mon, you people need to wake up and smell the coil cleaner. Wages will never come close to compensate someone for the daily drudgery of this field.There are just too many other viable options for young people. Visit as many schools you want, but at the end of the day, kids are entirely too intelligent to be dooped into such a “career”. (An hvac job is just that…. a job. Not a career).

  • I must agree with Maurice. To market this field as a career is a huge farce. Be honest with potential recruits…. Tell them about hot attics and dingy crawl spaces. Let them know how rough this dead end job is on a marriage. Stop promising a rose garden when a landfill is a more accurate description.

    • Sam

      I’ve been doing this for 19 years, never been in a union, never been laid off, I made 83,000 last year. I had a job lined up before I got out of school, on my own not from the schools placement. Almost every placed I worked at was hiring more than they weren’t. If you are not being paid good and are in attics and crawl spaces all the time either you aren’t good at what you do or you are not trying to advance. I started in residential, went to a school district, did some refrigeration, facilities hvac, now I’m at a commercial service company. Stop complaining and work smarter, not harder. You also need to look at the company you’re applying at, is there room for advancement. The interview is not just for the employer, you should also be interviewing them.

  • Wow! Didnt know it was that bad. I was considering hvac but not anynore. I’ll be taking up electrical in the fall. Thanks for the unbiased advice guys!!!

  • anonymous

    I work as an installer right now, and I think it’s probably the worst job I have ever had. Hot, hot, hot work, and poor pay and benefits.

  • Whatever

    This is the one of the most misleading article I have read yet. Graduated top of my class, 26 apps no interview. Everybody wants experienced hands, Im sick and tired of proving myself to this bastard industry and getting squat in return. Im done trying to start a career in this field.

  • John

    Maurice, You have hit the head square on the head, brother! This job sucks! I’ve been at it for 12 years and I have had it!!!!! Dirty, crusty job with absolutely ZERO avenues for advancement. Once a tech, always a tech. Thats the stinking thinking in our industry. For all young people who are considering this dead end job as a means to an end, Don’t….Walk away! Find another marketable skill to devote yourself to.

  • Joe Marcosalinoso De La Pena

    I’m on my 5th wife, 12th company, and 3rd suicide attempt spanning a 16 year “career” in this field! I hate being a tech. My peers who I went to school with and entered other white collar industries such as accounting, Financial Services, etc are all doing extremely well while my life stinks because I went into this stupid, unfulfilling JOB. -True story

  • John Rheams

    HVAC Tech/installer is a dead end job! I can’t stress this enough. The money and conditions stink! I feel bad for the guy whos on his 5th wife. But guess what, it’s true. What spouse would agree to the lack luster lifestyle this field provides? Keep looking kids. This industry is dry for a reason. It really is a crap job!

  • Jeff Kreiser

    These reviews are insane! I’ve been in this field for 14 years. I’ve been laid off a total of 17 times and that’s no lie. Things got extremely better for me once I joined the union. My pay practically doubled, and the OT compensation is awesome. We get paid OT on every hour over 8 so we don’t have to kill ourselves over the weekend and the beginning of the week to hit 40 hours. What a change from before! It’s been a rough climb, however. I would ABSOLUTELY NOT take the same path if given the choice. This field has been brutal for my family and social life. Remember, the real money didn’t start coming in until later. I was about to change fields before the opportunity with the union came along. I’m on my 4th wife. I missed my kid’s childhood. I’ll never get that back. I was too busy working in attics, under decks, and basements to be there for him. That’s why my wife left and my kid barely knows me. All the work, work, work and the pay was only enough to eek a living. No luxuries, college fund, or well funded retirement. THIS FIELD IS NOT WORTH IT.

  • I started in installation. Worked my way up to (or down depending on how you look at it) service. Toiled as a service tech for 10 years. Terrible job. Finally became a service manager. This gig was even worst. I found myself running calls when techs would call in sick, which was a lot. I suffered through that for 5 years before building my own company. I have 16 service techs and 10 installers. I have also branched out our services to take on the fire protection market. This dept is 4 years in the making and is 10 times more profitable than HVAC is. So much so that I have been thinking of selling off the HVAC end so that I can focus on the fire protection side. It is literally raining cash in that industry. HVAC has been a drag on the company. Entirely too many contractors out there.
    I have learned through hard knocks and experience that the HVAC is suffering from a severe image crisis, low pay for techs, and a ridiculous labor shortage. Why learn such a wildly vast trade for a lousy wage when there are so many better options out there???

  • I’ve been a tech now for 8 years and although I’ve gotten a raise here and there, The money still stinks. I am single so it doesn’t really matter considering I live for and take care of myself. Living expenses can gobble up a paycheck pretty quickly so I have to work a lot of OT. My 5 year plan consists of a career change.

  • I retired from the industry after a 45 year run. I started when I was 20. The scope of the work was vast. Residential, commercial and industrial. Throughout my career I lived a Spartan existence with literally no luxuries. I focused my efforts on funding my retirement accounts. I stayed single. No kids. No cable or phone. Just a roof over my head and a wood stove for those cold Pennsylvania winters. I never asked for much as I am a simple man. Living this lifestyle allowed me to save and invest in what has become a pretty hefty retirement fund. I doubt I would’ve been able to achieve my financial security on HVAC wages had I lived with other things in my life. Just depends on what you want in life, I guess. Had I had children…….. I would advise them on a much more lucrative route. I still have no tv but have allowed myself to get internet.

  • Duh

    The last attic i was in was 135F yes it was 135F. The summer desert air was 118F with 35% humidity, it was hell on earth. Fibreglass, dirty crawl spaces, a job yes. A career not!

  • Duh

    Your better off training as a registered Nurse……Or a lion tamer

  • chad

    Shortage huh. Hmm I wonder why. Employers want years of experience yet wont hire young new guys. Family members get hired on at $30 an hour and non-family $15 (yes I’ve seen that). Long days, rough conditions, rude customers (not all). I predicted the labor shortage in 2003 cause no one wants to hire new people only SR. Techs. I know an employer that wants to start you out at $9.00 and you must have $15,000 in tools. I interveiwed at a company that did one man installs and offered $8.50 an hour and complained they couldn’t find expirienced techs and when I said pay more for good techs she said that cuts in to her profit to much. Hvac experienced techs should make $75k due to the work conditions.

  • Tim

    I’ve been reading this and laughing my ass off for about 30 min I’ve been doing this for 12 years I’m 30 it’s pure misery seriously considering changing professions it’s ahit or get off the pot time do not join this industry it will depress and kill you

  • I have been doing commercial refregiration and Hvac for about 16 years now. And I am stuck doing this. I had couple of people that wanted to learn hvacr and was begging me to teach. But each one of them that I hierd end up Quiting on me within a month. It’s funny how exited they first are when they get in your truck the first day. But day by day thire face impration changes. And they quit. I use to take my time and explain the sequence and the aporation to them. And spend a lot of times with them while we would be in the customers house. But not any more. I first watch them the whole summer before waisti g my time on someone that’s going to quit on me. Anyway. To all you young guys please go to college and do something that you would be able to do at your 50’s and 60’s.

  • Anonymous

    It really is the worst job, I don’t even do service but it’s just complete bullshit. Owner hired his son at 35 an hour, I get 23 and I’m way more experienced. Thinking of going union, any thoughts? I’ve heard horror stories.

  • Samuel Garcia De La Pena

    I have been in this field for 15 years and I have regretted it since day one. I am currently enrolled in a Mechanical Engineering program at a local university. Once I earn my degree, I hope to NEVER again look back at this sorry chapter in my life.

  • Steven

    I have had my HVAC certification since 2012 and have not been able to find work in that field but everyone is saying that there is a shortage of tech’s. I would like to know where the work is at. It is not here in southwest Missouri. Everyone wants 3 to 5 years experience but is unwilling to give anyone a chance to get the experience.

    • Mr.V

      Steven, come up to Kansas City MO. Everyone is hiring. I had a commercial HVAC job lined up before I even finished Tech school.

  • Richard Trimmer

    I knew I made a mistake getting into hvac on my first week on the job. I quit after a year, got an Accounting degree and haven’t looked back since.

  • jackweasel

    I just came across this even though its a few years old im going to leave my 2 cents. Ive been in the hvac field for 7 years now, Left the army in 2008 and went straight into trade school and working as a residential helper, Ive been in attics , crawl spaces etc , been laid off , fired etc. But i love what i do every setback made me want to become better every lay off i saw as a opportunity to learn a different aspect of my trade. I don’t buy into the whole once a tech always a tech and frankly if you’ve been in this field for 10, 15, 20 yrs and your still just a tech then you’ve done nothing to try and advance your career. This is like anything else you get out what you put in. 7 yrs later i am the lead hvac tech working for the dept of veterans affairs m-f 8-4:30. Will i ever be rich? no Do i love what i do ? absolutely . so any new guys that may come across this don’t let anyone else’s negativity stop you from doing what you love. Dont let anyone tell you theres no future in this trade, whats true for them may not be true for you, and there is certainly alot more to hvac than just service calls, installs and crawling around a hot attic.

  • Tony Taglieri

    I was in the HVAC/R industry for 15 years and hated every day of it. So much so that while in the field, I pursued an online degree in Economics and am now an economic strategist for a large commercial lender. Now I love life everyday. I will never recommend the HVAC industry to anyone but my enemies.

  • Tony Taglieri

    Not for nothing but lets face facts folks. I now a registered nurse with 5 yrs on the job who makes $30+/hr. I also know a senior HVAC Tech with 24yrs on the job. He makes $24.00/hr. Enough said.

  • Charlie Pent Robinson

    Worst job ever. I would never recommend.

  • Charlie Pent Robinson

    I will also say this… My Friend did this for about 10 years, quit and went to work for UPS as a driver and made more than most 10 yr techs make off the bat at UPS. Another friend of mine left after a year and went back to school to study Robotics. This was about 12 years ago. He now owns a a private firm that builds robots! He is a multimillionaire with a staggering wealth building portfolio. Me? I’m still eeking out a living as a HVAC tech making well under 55k a yr! The money is nowhere to be found in this field unless you are a commercial/industrial contractor (owner), an Applications Engineer, or a manufacturer’s rep/distributor. This HVAC Technicians make a boat load of money crap is just that…. I truck load of DUNG!
    My friend with the Robotics company just hired an Electronics Tech right out of school at a starting salary of $50k. This Tech will see $70k within 2 years!!!!!! That is a salary a HVAC Tech can only dream of and drool over because a snowball has a better chance in Hell then a tech will ever see that in the hvac industry. Facts are stubborn things, and there is no arguing these facts. HVAC sucks! Always has, always will.

  • Jason Houck III

    I did this field for 20 years and said ENOUGH. I took a couple business classes a long with a few accounting workshops and now own my own night club/pub. By year 5 I was able to hire a manager for the day to day. I left the HVAC field making the usual crap wages for hard work and now I am the CEO of my own company who has just achieved millionaire status doing something I absolutely love. HVAC is horrible on the physical and mental state of any poor soul that participates in the field as a monkey wrench. Think outside the box and move up to a higher calling.

  • No Dough Hoe

    This HVAC field is terrible. Nobody wants hire nobody coming out of school and if they do they only want to work them like a dog in the summer and lay them off in the winter. I cannot do you “get paid when you get to the job and hurry and finish to you off the clock”. I am starting my own HVAC company, Truthfully, the HVAC field thier is only enough money for one person maybe two people.

  • Kayden Zadilsky

    I am 16 almost 17 I am interested but you need to be 18 to get into the actual work so can someone please help me and describe the best thing I do.

  • Tom brennan

    Ok for all those looking for a great position in HVAC in the NY/NJ
    TRISTATE area we are hiring and
    With benefits and great pay. Maybe
    You haven’t work for a good company
    That appreciates your work? Call
    973 445-6485
    Tom

  • Anne Blodgett

    What can I say except this industry is becoming more technical everyday. The federal government as well as the consumer demands more energy efficient systems and designs. There is nothing more satisfying then turning on a system and not hearing it running because it was installed correctly. Or diagnosing and repairing a system for an elderly person and not overcharging them for this service. EVERYONE wants air conditioning and heating. As an owner for a company located in central Florida, we find it extremely difficult to find people who are willing to learn, take pride in the work they perform and enjoy the satisfaction of exceeding consumers expectations. The rewards a person receives in this industry can be more then monetary if you want more for yourself and your family. Millionaires are few and far between in this industry but if you are driven to exceed its not out of the question. So how many of you out there actually want to work for a living and make a better life for yourself and your family. How many are willing to work long hours during the peak season to relax and enjoy your hard work in the slower times. As a company we enjoy training our employees, watching them grow and seeing their success. As an owner we are always searching for ways to help our employees and their families. From finding the best health insurance at a reasonable rate, paid holidays and vacations to training classes and seminars that local manufacturers provide. We even encourage and help an employee get the necessary certifications needed in this industry. Are we the best air conditioning company out there today….no. Could we get better….yes. It all starts with you. We are only as good as the people we have working with us. So if you want to be part of our family here in central Florida give us a call 407-886-5960

  • Phantom7th

    Most residential companies don’t want techs they want “Sales Technicians” AKA shysters…

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