How to Expand & Support the HVAC Workforce

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“The HVAC industry will continue to advance in response to environmental concerns, technological advancements, and changing customer expectations, providing opportunities for those who are prepared to change and grow with it.”

Jason Killinger, Associate Professor of HVAC Technology and Department Head, Pennsylvania College of Technology

Homes and buildings are getting techier, becoming more alive. They breathe and regulate temperature. How they’re heated, ventilated, and insulated contributes greatly to their overall health: their lifespan, value, and upkeep are all affected. Environmental considerations raise the ante further. A well-educated and well-compensated HVAC workforce is critical for the vitality of America’s commercial and residential buildings. But demand is repeatedly outstripping supply.

According to the BLS (2023), job openings for HVAC mechanics and installers are expected to grow 6 percent nationally between 2022 and 2032—double the average growth of all occupations during that period (3 percent). Continued trends in commercial and residential buildings and a growing number of sophisticated climate-control systems will likely contribute to further job creation. However, the HVAC workforce will require broader support to expand and upskill to meet society’s needs.

To look at how America can expand and support its HVAC workforce, read on.

Meet the Expert: Jason Killinger

Jason Killinger

Jason Killinger is an associate professor of HVAC technology and the department head at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He earned his BS in HVAC Design Technology from the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and his MS in Education from Wilkes University. He has over 25 years of industry experience.

Notably, Killinger is a chief examiner for ARI’s/AHRI’s Technician Certification Exam and Industry Competency Exam.

The State of the HVAC Workforce

“The HVAC workforce today has its challenges and opportunities,” Killinger says. “There is a growing demand for HVAC services with increased construction activity. Customers understand the need for regular maintenance and upgrades of existing HVAC systems to maximize energy efficiency. But a shortage of skilled HVAC workers to meet this demand continues to grow.”

The HVAC workforce is getting older. As veterans retire, the training pipeline must keep pace. Cutting-edge energy-efficient equipment requires specialized skills, as do digital controls and automated systems. But as training and education become more challenging, so does attracting new talent.

From a recruitment point of view, HVAC has a bit of a branding problem. It’s generally considered by the public to be a blue-collar job, which can obscure the field’s heavy focus on cutting-edge technology. And while some other trade professions have seen contracting employment numbers, as the American economy becomes more and more service-based, the HVAC profession sits at the forefront of substantial innovation, largely immune to the job-neutralizing trends of robotics, offshoring, and automation.

Expanding and Supporting the HVAC Workforce

“Actions can be taken to expand and support the HVAC workforce,” Killinger says. “The first one that comes to mind is promoting awareness of HVAC careers among students, parents, and educators to encourage more individuals to consider this trade. The second one is that HVAC companies, trade associations, and educational organizations can collaborate to create standardized training programs, share best practices, and incorporate emerging technologies. Additionally, providing training to existing technicians to keep their skills updated.”

The HVAC workforce is also getting some indirect government support. When President Biden signed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 spending bill into law, it boosted funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Grant by $45 million, bringing its total funding level to $1.38 billion. That money helps fund continuing technical education (CTE) at secondary and postsecondary institutions. Boosting CTE programs can be a big benefit to the HVAC workforce, helping grow it, diversify it, and upskill it.

Associations like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) are advocating for more. In addition to additional funding for CTE programs, they recommend making it easier for contractors to work through the Veterans Administration (VA) to create GI Bill apprenticeship programs. Furthermore, ACCA advocates for immigration reform that extends the E3 visa to all skilled workers, allowing them to be admitted into the country for a two-year period, renewable indefinitely, provided that they can demonstrate they do not intend to remain or work permanently in the US.

But the most important way to support and expand the HVAC workforce is homegrown, starting with more innovative HVAC education and training programs. Curriculula need to train students in cutting-edge technology as well as foundational skills. A pipeline from education to certification is essential. Killinger recommends keeping curriculums current through industry partners and advisory committees. Programs have to go beyond mere competency: at PCT, the focus is on creating workers and future leaders in the HVAC industry.

The Future of the HVAC Workforce

“There will be a greater emphasis on energy-efficient and eco-friendly HVAC systems, requiring technicians to have expertise in green technologies,” Killinger says. “The advancement of smart HVAC systems will require technicians to be proficient in digital controls. Ongoing education and training will be essential to keep up with rapidly evolving technologies.”

The future of the HVAC workforce is tied to the future of America’s homes and buildings. Increasing extremes of temperature and weather and volatile energy prices will likely contribute to more rising demand for climate control and energy efficiency. Innovations in technology will necessitate innovations in HVAC education, both at the academic and professional levels. New efforts must be made to recruit the next generation of HVAC leaders, and the market should prepare to compensate them competitively.

“The HVAC industry will continue to advance in response to environmental concerns, technological advancements, and changing customer expectations, providing opportunities for those who are prepared to change and grow with it,” Killinger says.

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. He's been living abroad since 2016. Long spells in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America have made the global mindset a core tenet of his perspective. From conceptual art in Los Angeles, to NGO work on the front lines of Eastern Ukraine, to counterculture protests in the Southern Caucasus, Matt's writing subjects are all over the map, and so is he.

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