MEMA: In your opinion what do you think is in store for the industry,
specifically when it comes to the future of its workforce?
CB: I think the industry has to get very proactive about bringing young people into the business as well as politicians and school administrators. They have to recognize that the trades are a very important part of where the workforce is going to be. The other nice thing about the trades in our business is that it’s going to probably be one of the last fields to be replaced by AI. It’s amazing how many jobs today that are probably not going to exist ten years from now.
MEMA: Do you believe that there is a “skills gap” associated with HVAC? How would you define this so-called skills gap? Why do we have it?
CB: Yes, there is a skills gap. One of the biggest mistakes that educators made was taking the shop classes out of the high schools. I really think those should be reint
roduced with life skills. It may not be all woodworking, but there’s a lot of skill that needs to be taught to our young people because they shouldn’t have to hire everything that needs to be done. Whether it’s wiring the computer, simple electrical, or simple plumbing, it’s going to allow them to have an interest in these different things.
MEMA: You have mentioned before about how there are a lot of technicians in the industry who are getting ready to retire. In your opinion at this time, who will be taking over these positions?
CB: We have the young people, but we [as a membership] have to go out and recruit these people. We’re going to have to invest in their education. It’s not going to be cheap for us. Here at the school we talk about tuition a lot. I personally pay a lot of tuition here. It’s going to cost us some money, but we’re going to have to invest in these people. The other thing we need to do is go out and get friends into the business. When I first started in the business, quite often somebody recruited you. If you had a friend working, they would say “well, why don’t you come over and work with us?” It sets up a really good environment. So, I like to really reach out and encourage my people that may know somebody that they’d like to work with. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to work with your friends? Talented people tend to work together and have similar interests. The other thing that we find is that they do well policing themselves and keeping the standards up. I’ve been really pleased that we haven’t had an opening in 8-9 months.
MEMA: How can we ensure that new blood is being trained and groomed to fill these rolls?
CB: I think the Ride to Decide program you have is just fantastic. The last three you sent to me, I can tell you right now, two of them I would have hired right on the spot if I had an opening. The other one I just didn’t have interaction with, but those two were great. I have two employees that participated in the Ride to Decide program before they went to MTEC and both got hired after going to MTEC. We’ve got to make very good use of “Meet the Graduates”. We’ve made good use of that program, too. 29
MEMA: What would you say to a potential student thinking about a career in HVAC?
CB: First off, I would invite them over to check out what it is that we’re doing. I’d show them what paychecks look like. Many of the people who are interested in our industry are also interested in the great outdoors: purchasing an ATVs and motorcycle. This is a ticket to being able to purchase and have these things in a very short amount of time. Lots of times, when we do a Ride to Decide, especially if we’re really searching hard for somebody, we make sure to put that person with someone who has recently gone through school with them so that they can explain what they have accomplished in a year or two years. I think that the guys have been fantastic about filling the positions. This is one reason why we haven’t really been looking. The guys did such a great job with the Ride to Decide at identifying people that would be great fits.
MEMA: Out of curiosity, what do you think the modern world will look like if we do not fix this skills gap problem in HVAC?
CB: We’re definitely going to need to do something, but I think the biggest problem we’re going to see is that we are going to be looking at long periods of time to have things repaired. Where we have been a 24/7 industry, that window is getting harder and harder to fill with people who want to work after hours. The day is going to come that except in dire emergencies you’re going to have trouble getting somebody to come out nights and weekends… It’s a tremendous wait for things. We are seeing that now. If someone has a boiler that fails, where years ago there was no question that it would happen tomorrow, it’s not going to happen tomorrow anymore because there may be permits or help is not available. In emergencies it’s getting tighter and tighter. Fortunately, with some of this stuff we’ve been able to make up with more reliable equipment, so there’s not as many calls as there used to be. The improvements in the homes that are insulated better gets people through until morning, except in the most
severe weather in this area. Pretty much if you get until eight o’clock at night, it will go until the next day. But even still, a catastrophic failure in the unit: very hard to come up with the people to change it out as rapidly as you would like to.
MEMA: Okay, let’s talk about the industry. What do you think is the #1 biggest concern that our industry faces?
CB: It absolutely is the workforce, but we also need a plan on where the industry is heading so that our workforce development is staying up with the technology and the changes. Here at MEMA, we’re always updating the lab and looking for the latest equipment. I know that Bryan is working to integrate technology with the new systems. Some of our new systems are tied together with the technologies and the computers to drive them. This morning we had a “no heat” call come in because someone had it on the smart phone that there was no heat, so they asked if we would go check. This stuff is goin
g to be very common-place to see.
MEMA: If you could relay one message to the membership, what would that message be?
CB: I think the biggest message that I would like to get across is that everybody needs to look towards the future and remember not only as a company, but as an industry we constantly have to reinvent ourselves. The changes in fuel, the changes in usage, how we’re going to become more of a mechanical contractor–20 years ago we rarely sold air conditioning, now it’s rare for us not to be in air conditioning. Very few oil companies once sold propane, now most oil companies sell propane. Variety is where we need to be and reinventing ourselves as changes are needed is so important. It’s going to be the same thing for individuals. We explain to our employees that we’re all going to grow throughout this journey, and I will try to steer us in the right direction, so we’re ahead of the curb when the changes come, and it has worked out well for us on this 30-year ride. It might not be the game we want to play, but it’s going to be the game that’s dealt to us.
MEMA: Is there anything else that you feel is important that you’d like to speak about?
CB: I just want to emphasize that this whole business is a career and it’s important to talk to employees and make them feel like part of the industry. As opposed to a job, this is a career and they’re all part of it. The customers are glad to see them, and we do some wonderful things. There’s a good reason why it’s a good career choice. You go in and somebody has no heat and you dig them out of a mess on Christmas day or whatever. People are going to be glad to see you. I think it’s so wonderful when I see employees that have been with us that have been able to buy homes and have gotten married and they’re having families. Sometimes you go back and look at where they are now. It’s so great to see these things happening and people advancing within their careers.