|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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.