Such a gathering is impossible because these talented and dedicated workers
are on the job, making between 1 to 2 million service calls daily. Rain or
shine, in killer heat waves and blizzards, they provide vital service to
equipment that can mean the difference between life and death, comfort and
discomfort, fresh or spoiled food, and they maintain modern marvels like
clean rooms for computer chip fabrication and 24-hr surgical suites.
Sometimes taken for granted, the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning,
and refrigeration (HVAC/R) industry deserves more recognition for the wonderful
things we do. And that is why a stronger relationship building between
equipment owners and service providers could generate huge benefits for
an industry that is so fundamental to our quality of life.
Sometimes it takes a widespread blackout, a hurricane that deprives businesses
and homeowners of electricity or the tragedy of a heat wave, such as in
France in 2003, to remind HVAC/R equipment owners of the vital role we
play in improving the quality of life.
How can we rise above the fast pace of modern living to raise awareness
of what we do so well for so many millions of people? That's one of the
challenges being undertaken by a team of industry volunteers drawn from
the ranks of contractors and manufacturers, trade associations and media
Known as the Owner Awareness Committee, they started with the proposition
that our industry has an image opportunity. They are in the research stage
now, trying to determine how we are perceived by equipment owners, and
they hope to emerge with messages and recommendations that will build better
relationships and encourage customers to trust us to help make their lives
After all, this industry is involved throughout our lives - from our
homes to commercial and industrial applications. It is a pioneer in the
research and application of more efficient, cost-effective equipment and
procedures. New, exciting energy-saving and environmentally friendly innovations
are constantly being developed.
Demand for these imaginative, new products is increasing. Rapidly expanding
service and technology solutions provide new jobs and require more and
more skilled workers. With U.S. shipments of central air conditioners and
air source heat pumps totaling more than 6.7 million units a year compared
to just 127,000 units in 1953, a well-trained and respected workforce is
a key ingredient to improving relations with our customers.
Demand for these skilled technicians exceeds the supply as is often mentioned
by contractors in trade press surveys. They consistently note that with
more competent workers, they could service and install more equipment.
This problem is ranked their number one business challenge.
Before assuming the chairmanship of ARI's Board of Directors, I chaired
the ARI Education and Training Committee. This dedicated group of industry
volunteers has worked long and hard at trying to improve the technician
supply problem. Since the early years or our industry, sister associations
like the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, the Air-Conditioning
Contractors of America, the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, and
the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association, among others,
have provided vital support for technician training.
Our industry launched the North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
program in 1997 and it now has the support of a broad industry coalition.
It has certified more than 15,000 technicians and has as its goal the addition
of hundreds of thousands more certified workers.
In addition, more than 1,300 HVAC/R training programs now exist at
the secondary and post secondary education level. Education offerings
from applied technology classes in high school to four-year programs
at the college level. ARI is now publishing the full color fourth edition
of its "Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration" text book, which aides teachers
in the classroom.
Training is truly the key to our success. With the vast array of equipment
available, skilled technicians can manage the environment in any enclosed
area, from a home or office to a space capsule. A desired temperature
can be maintained. Humidity can be controlled. The air can be filtered
cleaned of pollutants. This "know-how" to install and maintain special
environments for people, products, and perishables is essential to our
Every new public building or complex requires installation mechanics,
qualified service technicians, operating engineers, maintenance foremen,
and crews who are trained to keep complex environmental systems operating.
New technology and new products which require refrigeration or special
environments create new demands and new jobs every day.
The challenge for our industry is to revitalize, improve and strongly
support HVAC/R training programs so that we can attract the best and the
brightest to our skilled labor workforce. That takes money as well as commitment
at the local level from manufacturers, contractors, the education community
and parents. Perkins grants from the U.S. government are a vital part of
this process and in its 2004 budget request Congress approved approximately
U.S. $1.3 billion with a portion going to HVAC/R training.
I mention this because earlier this year in a guest editorial in APPLIANCE
magazine, I called on the industry to contact members of the U.S. House
and Senate to support full funding of Perkins grants. Thanks to strong
response, the U.S. Congress responded positively and the proposed cuts
in Perkins funding were rejected.
But the fight is not over because reauthorization legislation will be
considered in 2004. We need to keep up the drumbeat of support for Perkins
programs that fund vocational education, Tech-Prep and occupational and
employment programs that train HVAC technicians needed by our industry.
Loss of these programs could greatly reduce the number of students being
trained for HVAC/R careers.
The benefits are many: meaningful and rewarding employment for thousands,
a reduction in the unemployment rate, and reducing the number one contractor
problem - the lack of skilled workers.
Worldwide, the number of people employed in the air-conditioning and
refrigeration industry is growing rapidly. For the foreseeable future,
there will be growing demand for skilled workers to help this industry
improve the quality of life. That is a noble task that should have great
appeal to the next generation of HVAC/R technicians and industry professionals.
Please do your part to help us and promote the HVAC/R industry.