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Why HVAC Careers Tend to be Recession Proof

Our economy has been strong for several years now. But those of us who have been around a while know that it is only a matter of time until the next recession hits. If you are thinking of a career in HVAC, now is the time to make your move. Jobs are plentiful, employers are hiring and training. By starting your HVAC career now, you will be in a safe position when the next recession hits. Why? Because HVAC careers are among the most recession-proof you can find.

HVAC Professionals Bypassed the Great Recession

During the global economic recession of 2007 – 2009 ago almost every economic sector experienced significant job losses. The stock market cratered, banks severely restricted lending, businesses were forced to cut back, leading to job cuts everywhere. Many people with stable jobs and promising careers found themselves jobless and trying to switch careers.

HVAC

Even during the great recession, though, a few careers were not severely affected. HVAC stands out as one of these recession-proof careers. The primary reasons why HVAC jobs do so well in recessions are:

  • Refrigeration is a Necessity
  • Energy Efficiency Saves Money
  • Modern Healthcare Requires Refrigeration

Refrigeration is a Necessity

Businesses that provide the necessities of human survival can continue to prosper even in bad economic times. Consider food, energy, and healthcare. Even when we are cutting back on everything else, we still need to buy food, keep the electricity on, and go to the doctor. As a result, these sectors are relatively recession-proof. Refrigeration falls into that category as well, even though it might be less obvious why. But, consider that our food supply is dependent on refrigeration during processing, storage, transportation and final sale at the grocery store. Refrigeration is also indispensable to chemical and energy processors. Consider liquefied natural gas (LNG), for example. Sophisticated, industrial-scale refrigeration is required at LNG receiving terminals, LNG rail cars, and LNG tanker fleets. Because refrigeration is such an essential component of producing these necessities, there is always demand for experienced HVAC professionals, even during tough economic times.

Energy Efficiency Saves Money

Contrary to what you might expect, during the great recession, many businesses invested in new, energy efficient HVAC systems. Why? Because many were looking to cut costs by reducing their energy bills. A new generation of energy efficient HVAC equipment had been developed that could significantly reduce energy consumption. So, businesses were investing to replace aging and inefficient HVAC equipment with the new technology. As a result, HVAC professionals were kept busy installing and maintaining new equipment for these energy efficiency projects. As HVAC technology continues to improve, becoming more and more energy-efficient, there are always opportunities for businesses to reduce their energy consumption by upgrading their HVAC equipment. As a result, there is a steady demand for HVAC professionals to install new, energy-efficient, equipment.

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Modern Healthcare Requires Refrigeration

Healthcare spending is an enormous and growing segment of the US economy, accounting for $3.5 trillion or 17.9 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. And, of course, refrigeration is indispensable in many aspects of healthcare. From storing and transporting medication, to critical care like intensive care units (ICU) and operating rooms, without HVAC equipment, modern healthcare would be impossible. As a result, as long as the healthcare sector is growing, so will the need for HVAC professionals.

In addition to the above, consider the fact that all new commercial buildings constructed, or newly renovated, in the United States need energy efficient air conditioning. All these reasons point to ongoing demand for HVAC professionals that makes the career particularly recession-proof. No matter what happens to the economy, if you are a skilled HVAC professional, you will be able to find a job.

HVAC Skills Are a Better Investment than College for Many People

For many years after the great recession, even as late as 2015, the job market was recovering very slowly. It was challenging for most people, but especially so at the entry level. Back then we noticed that there were a large number of college graduates who couldn’t find work in their fields of study. The problem continues today, even in a robust job market.

Polls during that time showed that nearly 30% or recent college graduates were unemployed, and another 14% were working part-time. Even among those who were working, it wasn’t clear that their time spent in college was paying off. Nearly two-thirds of them had taken jobs that did not require a college degree. In the US, more than 250,000 college graduates make less than minimum wage. Many of them took on long term debt to earn their degrees. Debt that they are now struggling to pay off.

The crazy part of all this is that college tuition continues rising even as jobs for college graduates are declining. Young people today should seriously consider the cost of a college degree, the burden of student loans, and how likely it is that their degree will even lead to a well-paying career.

College simply might not be the right choice for everyone. The myth persists that you cannot earn a decent living without a college degree, and so many people who won’t really benefit from college end up going, accumulating too much debt, and getting very little in return.

As it turns out, careers in the trades can provide a much better career path than many college degrees. Those of us working in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration services industry know this from long experience. For example, service technicians enjoy stable work with opportunities for advancement. After a few years, a hard-working technician can find themselves managing people and projects – responsibilities that college graduates in many fields don’t achieve for decades. In addition to career advancement, a service technician enjoys opportunities to learn new skills as technology continually evolves. Service technicians are paid well and receive great benefits including health care. And becoming a HVAC service technician does not require a college degree.

Is Being an HVAC Service Tech Right for You?

Do you enjoy working with your hands? Do you find it satisfying to fix things and sort out complex problems? Are you good at managing your time and getting tasks finished on schedule? Would you like to work out in the field, at customer sites, rather than sitting behind a desk in an office? If so, then you could be a great candidate to be an HVAC service technician.

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Of course, there are also “soft skills” that matter when working as a service technician. In the field, you will be working with customers, so you need to be able to communicate with them and explain what you are doing in terms that are not too technical for them to understand. You’ll also need to work well as part of a team because many projects are large and you’ll work with other technicians and report to a manager.

The best service technicians, those who tend to get promoted, are the ones who work well with customers, inspiring confidence, and building lasting relationships that lead to repeat business. Management at most contracting companies value service technicians who demonstrate a commitment to good customer service. So, if you enjoy helping people, and are perceived as trustworthy, that’s a big plus.

Earn Money Instead of Piling Up Debt

Most people start their careers as service technicians with an apprenticeship for an HVAC service company or contractor. Usually, it’s a 3-year program that involves being assigned a mentor to work with and completing a trade school program that is jointly sponsored by the HVAC contractor and a trade union.

The Metal Trades Branch of Steamfitter Local 638B provides a Service Training Center that describes itself like this:

In partnership with Labor and Management, The Service Fitters Training Center is dedicated to continuously improving the quality and value of the HVAC/R service technician. By providing the right combination of skills, innovative experience-based training, communication, supervision, and state-of-the-art technical support, Service Fitters Training Center refines and expands the service fitters technical capability to diagnose, repair, retrofit, install and service. Service Fitters Training Center strives to develop knowledgeable and loyal service technicians who are conscientious, career minded and devoted to the highest level of quality service and total customer satisfaction.

In this case, the “R” in “HVAC/R” stands for “refrigeration” in “heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration”. Although you will notice that, as we do in this article, the abbreviation is often shortened to simply “HVAC”.

The bottom line is that, instead of going to college, accumulating tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in debt, you can attend trade school for free while also working as an apprentice and earning money.

How Much Do Service Technicians Get Paid?

When you first start out and are attending trade school, you will be a “helper” or assistant to an experienced HVAC service technician. In the New York City area, you will earn around $15 per hour. Within 5 years, you can expect to earn $30 per hour. As a fully trained service technician, called a “journeyman”, you can earn up to $40 per hour. On top of that, union benefits packages are excellent – often much better than most business people receive. And you are also eligible for overtime pay. With overtime, many techs easily make $80,000 per year and there are many making over $100,000 per year. Those that have the ability to advance to service management jobs can earn well into the 6-figure annual salary range.

Building a Career in the HVAC Business

As a helper, you work alongside your mentor or other experienced service technicians. As you gain experience, you will operate your own vehicle and handle service calls on your own or as part of a team. Once you achieve certification and become a journeyman, you are trusted with the responsibility to maintain sites for specific customers, answer repair calls, and perform new installations. You may also be assigned new apprentices to mentor.

From that point, you can follow a number of paths. You can get trained in new types of equipment and work with a variety of technologies across the full HVAC spectrum. Technicians can work in heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and refrigeration. But, most choose to specialize. If you enjoy managing clients and projects, you may advance to a service management job. Technicians also can move over to the sales side of the business.

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A Bright Career Outlook

As we mentioned earlier, the job outlook in HVAC is excellent. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15 percent growth from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

In addition to the growth in demand over the next 10 years, about half of the existing service technicians are predicted to retire. The HVAC workforce is aging, which means great opportunity for young people moving into the profession. Skilled technicians will be in high demand.

Because demand for HVAC services remains relatively constant despite the ups and downs of our economy, service technician jobs remain stable. It is rare to read about an HVAC contractor needing to lay off service technicians. To learn more, check out these professional organizations:

 

Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA)

North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA)