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HVAC Jobs are Running Hot

Young workers and women are needed for this recession-resistant industry. Unlike most construction jobs, HVAC work usually remains steady — homes and businesses need their air conditioners worked on in the summer, and heating units in the winter. And older units constantly need some fine tuning.

After Melissa Elcheck graduated high school, she raised a family took on various jobs that never felt fulfilling. Then, at the age of 43, Elcheck entered an HVAC technician training program for six months. Since 2018, she’s been employed at increasingly skilled, and better-paying positions at Christian Heating and Air Conditioning in Southampton, Philadelphia. Now at 47, she worked through the entire pandemic making house calls, monitoring, repairing, and installing equipment.

Industry data projects an 8% jump in HVACR jobs between 2018 and 2028, higher than the estimated nationwide average increase of 4% in the same period.

HVAC techs usually work in either residential or commercial settings. Residential techs like Elcheck visit people’s homes to monitor, repair, and install equipment. The tricky part of home visits is having to work in crawl spaces and attics, where customers in small houses sometimes hide their equipment, Elcheck said. Commercial employees may install HVAC systems in new construction, such as apartment buildings and shopping centers, or maintain existing systems. Their hours tend to be more predictable than technicians who may have to go out at all hours to attend to home emergencies.

Someone who has finished six months to two years of education in the field can expect a starting salary of at least $47,000. For the remainder of the two- to five-year job training periods, income rises fast, with a highly skilled HVAC technician hauling in $73,840 or more.

Refrigeration is considered a growth segment, partly because of the continuing rise in sales of online groceries, which require cold storage in large warehouses. The quest for energy savings drives demand for new equipment. On top of that, a predicted 5.9-degree rise in temperatures by 2050 ensures that air conditioning will remain in high demand.

Going into HVAC work can present an alternative to a traditional college education. These days, many HVAC technicians start with post-secondary school training at technical schools or community colleges. Although post-secondary HVAC training classes usually cost money — from about $7,000-$10,000 for a six-month program at local community colleges — that cost is minor compared with the $60,000 or more for a four-year university education. In addition, financial aid for HVAC school training is widely available, and future employers often underwrite tuition.

Despite these perks, there is a shortage of HVAC workers in the country — one estimate by Women in HVACR, a national networking organization, puts the shortfall at more than 115,000 by 2022. A deficit has been around for 10 years. As a result of COVID-19, when fewer students trained, the situation for employers has become even more dire.

The problem is that a similar number of younger workers are not replacing retiring baby boomers. Nationally, the average age of HVAC workers is 55, according to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, or ACCA, a trade organization. There is one group that could make up the difference but hasn’t: women. Only 9% of American HVAC employees are female, according to the ACCA.

There is still a lot of heavy equipment, but it is smaller and lighter, easier to move. In other words, the physical labor is something many women can do. The emphasis these days is on technology, you need to understand computers, but you don’t have to be a whiz – if you can use a smartphone, then you can do the work.