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Help Wanted: Trades Trying to Replace Retiring Workforce

Many parts of the country are facing a workforce shortage that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. From healthcare workers to basic trades, companies have the “help wanted” sign out.

Mike Hauptman, an HVAC technician in Virginia, is a man of many talents – he does everything from heating and cooling to plumbing. There is a lot of manual labor that goes into maintaining systems to prevent problems that could arise in the future. On this particular call, Hampton is changing air filters. “All of that nasty stuff in there that you want to filter out. But if you leave it, you leave dirty filters in, you’re not really doing yourself any favors,” he said.

Hauptman didn’t always expect to be an HVAC service technician, he went to college and graduated from UVM in 2010 with a nutrition and food science degree but couldn’t find many job opportunities in that field. He re-thought things and went to trade school for a year and decided it was something that was going to be in high demand.

High demand is right. Jason Lyman, a manager at Alliance, says a majority of the workforce in the industry will be retiring within the next decade. “I think statistics show that the average age of a service tech and a plumber and a sheet metal worker is low fifties,” he said.

Shaun Patnaude, another Alliance manager, says part of the problem stems from choices students are given about what to do after high school. “One of the things that has always been a struggle for us to get people in the trades is that they have falsely been given a bad rep, there’s a stigma.”

To help address the labor shortage, many HVAC contracting companies have set up apprenticeship programs with local high schools and trade schools. They give students training at night and they can come to work and apply the skills during the day. Companies need experienced workers now, but they’re investing resources in the upcoming generation to hopefully ensure workers for the future.

Those looking to get into the field who don’t have prior experience could expect to learn simple things on the first day of the apprentice program, like how to change a belt for a heating and cooling system or how to inspect for any damage to the wired components.

Hauptman says a benefit of the job is not being stuck behind a desk all day. “It’s nice because it’s hard to get bored when you’re not at the same place every single day.” Another perk is the pay – a first-year apprentice can expect to make up to $25 an hour and a senior tech can make between $30 to $40 an hour. “There’s definitely a lot of opportunities to make good money. I’d probably be making considerably less doing what I actually went to school for.”

For more information about starting a new career in a HVAC, visit our blog for more resources.