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Posts tagged ‘Bob Labbett’

HVACR Contractors Offer Practical Perspectives on Refrigerant Regulations

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel of three Atlanta-area HVACR contractors to glean their firsthand insights into the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses and customers. A recent article covers a wide range of topics and issues, including this discussion about the impacts of refrigerant regulations on contractors and their customers. You can read the full article here.

The service impacts of refrigerant regulations

Imagine showing up to a job site and not knowing which refrigerant is being used in the refrigeration or AC system. According to Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta, this has become an all too common scenario. “When pressures aren’t reading true, we have to start from scratch with a total refrigerant evacuation, recovery and recharge before even attempting a diagnosis,” he said. Hoover noted that the transition from legacy refrigerants to today’s lower-GWP options comes at a cost, even for those refrigerants that are considered “drop-in” replacements.

Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., added that customers are not happy to see recovery and disposal fees tacked onto their bill, and this is putting competitive pressures to use shortcuts on small contracting businesses. “Many companies may not be following proper recovery protocols to win business, which can put companies like ours at a disadvantage,” noted Duffee. “It is obviously counterproductive from an environmental standpoint.”

When asked if customers were even interested in the trend toward using lower-GWP refrigerants, Duffee said that in his experience, cost considerations are his customers’ first priority. Even if their legacy systems are leaking, customers are reluctant to invest in replacement equipment. They may be more open to discussing new refrigerants when that investment eventually becomes inevitable.

Presenting new refrigerants as an opportunity to add value

Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, serves a much larger enterprise customer base. He said his customers have demonstrated more interest in making these investments, and his company is trying to frame the transition as an opportunity. “It’s challenging to align customers’ goals with the available equipment options, but there are some cases where federal and regional regulations are forcing a change.” Wharton added that change isn’t always good news for customers, but he helps them understand the real values of their investment, including total lifecycle costs, energy efficiency and performance advantages.

Too many options result in too much complexity

All three of the contractors said that refrigerant uncertainty is also adding complexity to the equipment decision-making process. Hoover noted his customers are concerned about the long-term viability of the changes. “The last thing they want after investing in a new system is for it to be phased out in four to five years due to a refrigerant change.” All three contractors agree that the industry would benefit by standardizing. Hoover added, “Preferably, we’d like to see one refrigerant, not five or six different options, to replace the old ones.” He pointed out that many contractors simply aren’t able to carry multiple varieties of refrigerants in their trucks at all times. And since these different refrigerants often have unique performance characteristics, variety only adds complexity to service calls.

At Emerson, we’ve seen the wide range of new refrigerant options as a technical challenge, developing equipment and retrofits to accommodate and optimize their performances. But it’s our interactions with contractors and customers that give us insights into how options ultimately impact end users. Their answers shed much-needed light on potential solutions — such as a press toward a single, standard and regulatory-compliant refrigerant.

HVACR Contractors Discuss the Potential of New Technologies

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel discussion among HVACR contractors to glean their insights and opinions on the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses. It was a valuable opportunity to get a working perspective on issues more often discussed by industry analysts. A recent article covers a wide range of topics, including talks of new, high-end technologies at a practical level. You can read the whole article here.

The new technologies, IoT and analytics in the field

In recent years, the HVACR industry has experienced an influx of new electronic controls, connected technologies and data analytics enabled by the internet of things (IoT). As these technologies have come online, each of the three contractors on the E360 panel, with companies and customer bases of different sizes, has had different degrees of experience and interaction with these technologies in the field — from working with component-level information to gathering insights on facility management.

Making better use of data and analytics in the enterprise

Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, works with an enterprise-level customer base. He explained that while data collection capabilities have been available for decades in different forms of energy management systems (EMS), many operators don’t use them to their full potential. Many may glance at their facility dashboards, see multiple areas running in the red (out-of-tolerance conditions), and may simply ignore the potential problems. “Most operators know the way their building behaves, and if they see an alarm in a certain area, they also know whether it will go away or if they need to act on it,” he said. He added that advanced data analytics now offer more insights and the potential to add tangible operational value by helping to drive informed decision making, detecting performance trends and providing equipment diagnostics and troubleshooting.

Embracing new technologies at home

Residential consumers are also embracing whole-home automation, said Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta. He said that his customers love getting notified of routine maintenance items, such as when to change filters or fix a water clog or leak. But most importantly, homeowners are using these systems to diagnose problems. “They like the fact that their home automation systems can let us know if something’s broken, so we can fix it before it affects their comfort levels,” said Hoover. But from a contractor’s perspective, he stressed that a home system also helps properly trained and educated technicians perform their own diagnostics. “This doesn’t allow us to take someone straight out of high school and put them in the field, but it certainly makes it easier,” he added.

On-board compressor controls are also helping service contractors gain deeper insights into overall refrigeration system performance. Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., cautions that these advanced controls require trained technicians. “If they’re not familiar with the technology, then you have to train them to avoid misdiagnosis, as there’s still the potential for things to go wrong,” he said.

Developing new technology for the real world of refrigeration

Designing new sensor technologies to be resistant to the impacts of weather, water and humid conditions are also very important considerations for Duffee. For example, he said, “In walk-in cooler environments, where it’s wet and sometimes caustic with the food and so forth, we’ve seen issues with consistency and where sensors and microprocessors can cause problems.”

With our broad knowledge of the full range of commercial refrigeration applications, Emerson keeps these environmental considerations upfront as we develop and introduce next-generation sensors and controls. For applications as simple as automated residential controls or as the source of real-time data for enterprise and IoT analytics, Emerson continuously consults with end users on the real-world issues raised by new technology.

How HVACR Contractors Are Responding to the Labor Shortage

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

At a recent E360 Breakfast, Emerson hosted a panel discussion among HVACR contractors to glean their insights and opinions on the biggest challenges and emerging trends impacting their businesses. In an article written about the discussion, a wide range of topics was covered, from the impact of new regulated refrigerants to the potential of today’s emerging high-end technologies, and more. One issue dominated the discussion: the impact of the labor shortage in contracting businesses. You can read the entire article here.

“We all would agree that labor is our number one issue.”

This statement by Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta, phrases American HVAC contractors’ key concern in a nutshell. Throughout the panel discussion, the technician shortage was a recurring theme — regardless of the topic discussed. When the conversation zeroed in on their labor challenges, each contractor was eager to detail how it was impacting his business and what steps the industry could take to help improve the situation.

The recruiting is non-stop

Finding qualified candidates starts at the company level, and each panelist has different approaches to the recruitment, onboarding and training processes. Hoover said his recruitment never stops. “We’re a small company and we recruit 24/seven/365,” he said. His company has developed an accelerated career progression plan for promising candidates, one specially designed to appeal to younger people new to the trade. “We’ve divided career steps into 30-day increments, which engages the younger generation from the entry level and allows them to progress very quickly,” he said. The goal is to accelerate their path to senior technician level and provide ample avenues for advancement.

Changing the perceptions of a valuable skill

Michael Duffee, owner of Restaurant Equipment Services, Inc. of Tucker, Ga., said one of his biggest recruitment hurdles continues to be the negative public perception of the trade. “Let’s face it, the trades sometimes have a less than positive image, and our trade is very demanding,” he said. “We get our hands dirty, we work with heavy equipment, on rooftops in the pouring rain, in snow and 100-degree temps.” Because of these factors, Duffee’s company places a premium on candidates who are enthusiastic and possess positive personality traits.

According to Duffee, the industry needs a renewed focus at the high school level to promote the trades. As experienced technicians retire from the industry, Duffee sees the labor shortage only getting worse in the coming years. “We all should be aware and take whatever steps necessary to change this trend,” he concluded.

Putting HVACR careers on the radar

Adding to Duffee’s point, Jim Wharton, area vice president of Link Network, ABM in Atlanta, noted that HVACR has fallen off the radar of many high schools with trade programs. “When you talk to high schools about trades, no one is talking about HVACR, so most don’t know it is an option.” Instead, Wharton’s company relies on alternative sources for recruitment, reaching out to former members of the U.S. military, vocational schools and technical colleges, and career and technical organizations.

Wherever recruits are found, Hoover stresses that on-the-job experience is the final step toward developing a well-rounded technician. “Tech schools don’t really teach someone how to present yourself to a customer and have the proper communication skills,” he said.

New challenges in HVACR bring new opportunities to technicians

With the introduction of new refrigerants and technologies, there’s no question that the HVACR service technician trade is more challenging than ever. But within this growing knowledge base lie growing career opportunities. As Hoover pointed out, “The technician shortage will drive up pay rates.” And the influx of connected technologies, software and analytics transforming the industry may help make the job more attractive to younger, tech-savvy candidates.

At Emerson, we believe that creating awareness of HVACR technologies and career opportunities at high schools and technical colleges is one of the keys to attracting the next generation of candidates. Even as technologies advance to provide more proactive and predictive capabilities, the industry will still need highly skilled individuals in the field to apply their own experiential know-how to system diagnosis and repair.

 

Five Prestigious Reasons to Become an HVACR Apprentice

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P. – Aftermarket Distribution, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

As National Apprenticeship Week (March 4–8, 2019) once again approaches, the critical shortage of qualified HVACR technicians within the U.S. continues with an estimated industry shortfall of 118,000 technicians by the year 2022. Recruiting apprentice HVACR techs remains as challenging as ever, because students with an aptitude for technical trades are not being encouraged to pursue vocational or technical training. Students need to be convinced that an HVACR career path is a viable alternative to a four-year college degree, offering them a chance to work on new and emerging technologies in meaningful careers that contribute to society.

What’s stopping them? One is the perception among American high school students that a college degree is more valuable and prestigious than an apprenticeship and a fast track to a career. The other is that we collectively as an industry are not adequately presenting them options. Here are five great reasons for a high school student to consider becoming an HVACR apprentice.

  1. College is more popular — and more expensive — than ever.

At least two-thirds of the high school class of 2020 intend to go to college; this represents the highest rate of secondary education attendance in U.S. history. They and their parents know that college is getting more expensive, while financial aid is shrinking. The average student graduates with an average of $40,000 in student loan debt just as they’re about to begin looking for an entry-level job. What isn’t as well-known is that about half of all college students drop out without earning a degree — and with no real job skills. Yet schools, guidance counselors and peers continue to push students straight to college.

  1. There is an alternative: A fast start — with no debt.

When many “traditional” students are just starting their sophomore year in college, some of their high school friends will be beginning their careers as HVACR apprentices with average entry-level salaries ranging from $47,000–$60,000 a year, depending on skill set. It’s a matter of supply and demand, and being an HVACR tech is a vocation in extremely high demand. It’s time high school guidance counselors had information about alternative apprenticeships on hand.

  1. An apprenticeship is a wise path for students who can use their heads — and their hands.

A bright student with some high school courses in math and/or physics can learn to read a blueprint and earn an HVACR apprentice certificate at a community college in six months to a year, at little or no cost and with no student debt. Others can even start straight out of high school, getting paid while earning their certificate on the job. In an industry that needs 118,000 new HVACR apprentice technicians, their certificates mean they are almost certain to get job offers from almost any company to which they apply. As an apprentice, their future career tracks are limited only by their ambition and drive (or lack thereof).

  1. An apprenticeship is a top-notch education.

An HVACR tech certificate may not sound as glamorous as a college degree. But four years of on-the-job training in a technical field are easily the equivalent of a four-year academic degree. HVACR techs are responsible for maintaining healthy environments at major medical centers. They work in the aerospace industry and in high-tech corporations. HVACR techs know how to maintain and repair 12-ton coolers, heat pumps, furnaces, ultralow-temperature freezers and refrigerators; they can manage the electronic systems that connect them; and they can run the software and internet programs that monitor and control them. HVACR techs work with advanced technologies, doing essential work that significantly affects people’s lives.

  1. They’re wanted.

The HVACR industry is working with educators, unions and contractor organizations to make it even easier to earn apprentice certification, with more online courses, night classes and technically advanced curriculums to create valuable on-the-job training. Even the federal government has stepped in, with the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act providing funds for students who are looking for more career-oriented education after high school.

 

Four Keys to Addressing the Technician Shortage

BobLabbett_Blog Bob Labbett | V.P., Communications & Channel Marketing, Refrigeration

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

This blog summarizes the Contractor Connection column in our most recent E360 Outlook, entitled Answering the Call.” Click here to read it in its entirety.

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It’s estimated that 115,000 HVACR technicians will be needed by 2022 to fill industry jobs. At our latest E360 Forum in Tucson, Ariz., Emerson hosted a half-day symposium entitled “Industry Challenge: Addressing the Technician Shortage.” The meeting assembled nearly 50 contractors, wholesalers, and Emerson leadership team members to take the first steps toward forming a consensus on how to solve this critical technician shortage. Meeting participants were divided into four group ideation sessions that focused on the key aspects of the challenge.

A common theme emerged as each group then presented its insights: the importance of appealing to the current field of job market entrants. Specifically, they identified career attributes that the millennial generation values most, including:

  • The desire to have a meaningful career that contributes to the betterment of society
  • The preference for working with modern technology
  • The importance of selecting a career path that has both long-term security and growth potential

With these drivers in mind, the groups presented four keys for addressing this shortage:

  1. Awareness — because vocational occupations are often overlooked in today’s culture, students with an aptitude for technical trades are not encouraged to pursue vocational or technical training. To overcome this trend, students and faculty need to be convinced that this career path is a viable alternative to a four-year college degree.
  2. Recruitment — engaging millennials requires appealing to their unique sensibilities, including their preference for working with new and emerging technologies, or careers that have a meaningful societal contribution. Studying to become an HVACR technician fulfills these needs while ultimately providing competitive compensation, job security, career growth and low competition.
  3. Training — to ease the process of earning a certification, schools should make training classes more convenient (via online or evening classes) and more affordable. As important, the curriculum should be kept current to cover the latest technologies, refrigerants, and equipment.
  4. Retention — attracting and retaining students requires making them aware of the bigger purpose and meaning the job provides. It also means helping them to achieve proper work-life balance and charting a path for true career progression.

It’s important to remember that turning the tide on the technician shortage will not happen overnight. In the meantime, we need stakeholder participation and engagement to maintain awareness of the issue and look for solutions in our day-to-day activities. To contribute to this important effort, please email the Emerson team at e360.climate@emerson.com.

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