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Why It's So Hard to Find Workers

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HeatingHelp
HeatingHelp Administrator Posts: 651
edited July 2022 in THE MAIN WALL
imageWhy It's So Hard to Find Workers

A contractor posted a plea for help in his endless struggle to find qualified technicians. The comments that followed said much about the current state of our industry.

Read the full story here

Comments

  • dirtbike59
    dirtbike59 Member Posts: 8
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    I’m in the auto industry. Many of the same issues here. Lack of talent and many shop not paying the talent what they are worth and having to pay green techs near what the master tech is paid. Couple that with slow wage growth over the past 15 years and weak benifits. Many fields are teed up for hard times. I’m a master bmw, alfa and maserati tech with all the ase certs. I want out and I’m looking to other fields now.
    JOutterbridge
  • Labenaqui
    Labenaqui Member Posts: 72
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    Began with my Dad (also a newbie) at 15 and built a small heating trade service business. Went off to University and "did my own thing" in High-Tech Electronics Manufacturing for 50 years while helping Dad out as well.
    Back at heating in "retirement" and in my eighties with patents, etc. Can't stop ..... yet ultimately will.
    So, yes Dan, where do I "dump my database" ..... ?
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 395
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    I think the problem is more complex that just shop class as the labor shortage is more universal. There are shortages in engineering and many other fields in addition to the skilled trades. Demographics is a big part of it in addition to the cultural issues such as not emphasizing working with ones hands.

    I am a retired engineer, but I had shop in high school even though I was in the academic track rather than Vo-Tech (not sure my former high school even has Vo-Tech anymore). Also, I learned to work on bicycles, motorcycles and cars long before I could even drive a car. And shop class is as useful for future engineers as it is off future carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

    So, yes, I agree lack of shop class is a problem, but so are demographics, parents who don’t teach kids hands-on repair and building skills and a society that increasingly rewards those who refuse to work with government subsidies. It is a complicated problem with no one easy solution.
    MikeAmannhot_rodCLamb
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,567
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    I think shop class is -- or was -- very important, not just in learning to make a buzzer (I still have two table lamps I made in mine, around 1950 or so!). I really can't explain it -- but you pick up the idea of "I made that" and it's real. Or "see how well my car runs now" and for the girls the same thing, different capabilities.

    Part of it is pay scale, sure -- which is complex. But that's not all of it. How much of it, I wonder, is a real fear that the world -- or job -- is just too complicated and an attitude of "I can't possibly do that" vs. "how hard can this be"?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    MarjPinard
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,870
    edited July 2022
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    I think shop class is -- or was -- very important, not just in learning to make a buzzer (I still have two table lamps I made in mine, around 1950 or so!). I really can't explain it -- but you pick up the idea of "I made that" and it's real. Or "see how well my car runs now" and for the girls the same thing, different capabilities.

    Part of it is pay scale, sure -- which is complex. But that's not all of it. How much of it, I wonder, is a real fear that the world -- or job -- is just too complicated and an attitude of "I can't possibly do that" vs. "how hard can this be"?

    I learned far more from my parents than I did from shop classes.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    CLamb
  • ChrisUNY
    ChrisUNY Member Posts: 6
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    It's wages & overtime. People understandably don't want to work 80 hours a week (with exceptions). Your shop may pay $30/hr but a lot of shops don't. You have an interested applicant apply to 3 jobs before you and find out "hey this pay/hrs sucks. I'm out."
    JOutterbridge
  • highfallsny
    highfallsny Member Posts: 5
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    i know this isn’t the point, but you’re such a great writer. just saying! (i’m not a contractor, engineer or employee—just a homeowner who researched some things a while back and as a result i still receive your posts. they’re great).
    MarjPinard
  • Leo
    Leo Member Posts: 770
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    First off the pay often stinks. Next is the guy with the bad back from over work treating the young guys like dirt because that's how he learned. Today's kids aren't built that way. So be lucky and find a good one then break his spirit and watch your investment walk away.
    MarjPinard
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,553
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    Thanks, @highfallsny! That means a lot. 
    Retired and loving it.
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,596
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    Another angle to look at is liability. When I was 13, I had a physical, got my work permit, and my father (thank God for Dad and his employer for none of this experience would be possible) put me to work covering people on vacation. First, it was the switch board, then cleaning bathrooms at night, followed by painting and changing lightbulbs, then painting the water tower on the roof and cleaning the boiler that burned number 6 oil. Riding the subway alone whenever my shift started or ended. And paid above board , with taxes taken out. I can't imagine that being possible today. Is liability insurance preventing opportunities? Would you hire a thirteen year old for the summer? I could put a 13 year old work, safely, but my employer wouldn't hear of it. Has to be 18+ and a college student.
    IronmanCLamb
  • Dan Nibbelink
    Dan Nibbelink Member Posts: 17
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    I had a young man doing some basic plumbing work on my house and I chatted with him a bit. He was definitely smart and knew what he was doing. I asked him why he wasn't an engineer. His answers: "I like working with my hands" and "they cannot off-shore my
    job".
    I am amazed at the short-sightedness of the school administrators who have shut down the votech programs.
    Voyager
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,567
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    There are a couple of more pieces here (now that the coffee has kicked in). One is "how hard can this be" is not quite as simple to answer now than it was even 20 years ago. Not infrequently, the answer is -- un... well... very. The difference can, I think, be seen in two of my enthusiasms. At one time, a heating system was controlled by a very simple system of temperature or pressure sensitive devices. Not hard, to trouble shoot, once one put some real though into it. Now, however, very often the brain of the system is a computer which adjusts some of the outputs based on some of the inputs in ways which are not always transparent to the user. Worse, if the brain part fails, you can't fix it, and there's no point in trying to learn how -- just replace it. This is not satisfying, even when it works. The problem is even worse with automobile engines. You are pretty well limited to finding bad powers and grounds and, if that fails, replace the part.

    And this leads to an even more insidious problem: we are becoming, as a society, dismaying dependent on and deferential to "experts". This is fine, so long as the experts really are, and so long as all people are willing to listen and tell them to fly a kite if they don't make sense -- but complete deference is only a very short road from rule by a self-selected elite, which is not, at least in my view, a good thing.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    GGross
  • mvickers
    mvickers Member Posts: 30
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    I recently read about a high sch in the midwest that has readopted shop classes. Yea!
  • hozb
    hozb Member Posts: 2
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    HVAC trade requires people with good analytical/troubleshooting skills, ability to work in difficult environments, and customer-facing skills... Potential employees are looking for competitive compensation, career advancement/training, and a good work environment. Not sure a trade school will fix the problem, most school districts can't afford the technology/teaching staff to develop programs and no state money as well.. Many of the comments mention the loss of critical skills/knowledge as they approach retirement. I would argue much of that is non essential as many of them cannot interpret a 3 LED fault code on today's computer controlled HVAC systems let alone troubleshoot the problem.
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,596
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    Somebody has to teach them. Them has to be there to be taught.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,870
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    SlamDunk said:

    Somebody has to teach them. Them has to be there to be taught.


    They also have to want to learn.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    CLamb
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,567
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    Ah... @hozb ... the reason they can't interpret the 3 LED fault code (or whatever) on today's computer controlled systems may be that the fault code is pretty close to useless in tracking down the actual problem, never mind fixing it -- and the instructions as to what it means are very poorly written, to put it kindly. They make sense to the folks who wrote them, true, who know exactly what they mean -- but not to someone sitting there trying to get the thing up and running.

    I looked through the fault code tree on a common recent heat pump, just for laughs. There were some 20 possible fault code indications -- of which 15 simply said to call factory service. Not one dealt with suggested real world problems which might occur.

    Now mind you, most of those problems on a bit more digging did indeed need factory service -- they were related to faults in the computer which is not repairable. (two of them dealt with sensor errors -- which could be a bad connection at a molex, but that wasn't mentioned).

    All of which simply emphasises my comment that we are, as a society, becoming more and more dependent on "experts", and less and less capable of fending for ourselves. Not, in my view, a good trend.

    With regard to funding trade schools, or shop classes in regular schools, you are, unhappily, quite right. There's no money in the schools to do it. But... a lot of this is, frankly, due to the scorn which the elite educational community itself heaps on the trades.

    To go a bit further, I wonder just how much of the malaise many feel in today's society isn't related. If you can go home at the end of the day able to point to a job well done, that lifts you up. If you spent the whole day pushing paper or pouring lattes, not so much.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,335
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    There's a summer camp going on right now in NYC that is teaching girls the trades: https://www.toolsandtiaras.org/ Want to help? Donate to programs like this.

    President
    HeatingHelp.com

    GGrossPC7060CLambhozbHydroNiCK
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,596
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    @Jamie Hall , I had a troubling heat pump on a geothermal system that would blink twice indicating out on high pressure. No reason for it, I was told by the unavailable tech over the phone. Just remove power for a minute and restart i was told-over the phone. It would run fine for a few days then go out on high pressure. After doing this a few times, I had to open the manual and I learned... For every ton of cooling, a heat pump needs 3gpm. The setter was set to 5gpm on a 3 ton unit. Dialed it to 9gpm and havn't lost it yet. Knock on wood. I'm not a heat pump or a geo thermal tech-but I had an emergency and I can read!

    It is good to be an analog guy in a digital world. That has helped me a lot!
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,850
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    As I am thinking about this, I wonder if the problem is bigger, if it is big companies not keeping most work in house but contracting it out. I'm specifically thinking of gas utilities and phone companies where they used to have in house techs and construction crews and had in house training programs but now they contract out the big jobs to the lowest bidder who doesn't have the in house training or techs with combined hundreds of years of experience to learn from.
    PC7060
  • Dave Carpentier
    Dave Carpentier Member Posts: 604
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    mattmia2 said:

    ... they used to have in house techs and construction crews and had in house training programs but now they contract out the big jobs to the lowest bidder who doesn't have the in house training or techs with combined hundreds of years of experience to learn from.

    And if those contracting companies dont retain workers, it's a steady stream of minimal experience training the new hires.
    There are indeed quality contractors (who do tend to retain workers), but as you indicate they aren't the lowest bid.




    30+ yrs in telecom outside plant.
    Currently in building maintenance.
  • JOutterbridge
    JOutterbridge Member Posts: 15
    edited July 2022
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    I’m in the auto industry. Many of the same issues here. Lack of talent and many shop not paying the talent what they are worth and having to pay green techs near what the master tech is paid. Couple that with slow wage growth over the past 15 years and weak benifits. Many fields are teed up for hard times. I’m a master bmw, alfa and maserati tech with all the ase certs. I want out and I’m looking to other fields now. 
    Shops not paying well in some parts of this country is very real. I'm still in my 20's but with 12 years experience in HVACR and a couple in automotive. I got out of residential HVAC into commercial and my pay increased about 50% and I'm no longer on call and working 80 90 hour weeks. I wish there was more young talent but the work in the middle of the summer and winter can be quite difficult. We struggle to hire still but a stable environment and keeping employees happy is the key. Background checks and drug tests do narrow the field a bit. I'm willing to train anyone but it's hard to get guys through the door. It's much easier for kids nowadays to work on a computer all day and make 60 to 100k a year doing programming or coding compared to the work we do. It's sad but the average shop age is not dropping and a lot of experience is not being passed on😕
  • BDR529
    BDR529 Member Posts: 290
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    Regulated to extintion. Health coverage, insurnce, registrations,licecensing... Can't go to school unless you show a W-2 (journeyman) in short company has to babysit and accept liability for the real education.

    Want to smoke legal weed and drive delivery? Or send you to a call smelling like skunk cabbage?

    Last of a generation who dosen't rely on google for answers. We're doomed.
    GGrossMikeAmannSolid_Fuel_Man
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,870
    edited July 2022
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    BDR529 said:

    Regulated to extintion. Health coverage, insurnce, registrations,licecensing... Can't go to school unless you show a W-2 (journeyman) in short company has to babysit and accept liability for the real education.

    Want to smoke legal weed and drive delivery? Or send you to a call smelling like skunk cabbage?

    Last of a generation who dosen't rely on google for answers. We're doomed.

    It's interesting you mention real education with all of that.

    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,394
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    Clean, sober and on time, in addition to a desire or willingness. That limits the field quite a bit,
     sadly.
    Every industry is looking for that exact same person to walk through their door.
    more and more shops doing their own training starting with high schoolers, with the promise of a job when they graduate.
    Retrain school teachers and nurses, they usually have the right attitude. 
    Here in the west and southwest it is clear who the majority of the workforce is on construction sites. It also clear who the boss is, the guy sitting in the jacked up 4x4, AC on max.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    SlamDunkMikeAmannJOutterbridge
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 1,596
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    BDR529 said:

    Regulated to extintion. Health coverage, insurnce, registrations,licecensing...
    Last of a generation who dosen't rely on google for answers. We're doomed.

    I'm 59 and use google almost exclusively.

    I walked up to my neighbor who had his daughter's engine hood open. A turn signal light was out. when I peeked in, I took a step back and said, Whoa! you better YTTS.

    He asked what that meant so I told him it was an acronym for technical term: YouTube That ****.
    GGrossratioMikeAmann
  • BDR529
    BDR529 Member Posts: 290
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    Problem solving skills is asking alexa. Think here is a malfunction between the office chair and keyboard.

  • Darrell_4
    Darrell_4 Member Posts: 79
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    I’m sixty-two and my wife and I invest ourselves into younger couples and kids when we get the chance. I have two boys that ride with me in my service truck one day a week. The oldest is fifteen and has been hanging out for six years…he needs some solid “grandpa time” and experience apart from what passes as his family. He will never be a good serviceman…his future lies in gaming. As a fifteen year old he has two games online that he has built and that kids pay to play. He also has been running a campaign for a major game platform (at their invitation) for most of a year. He’s good company and a project for me. The other boy is ten…I almost forgot the “and a half”…we’ve been asked to be parents to his folks and grandparents to he and his younger siblings. Yesterday we had to replace the HX in a Lochinvar boiler. As we pulled in he said, “you unload the truck and I’ll get started.” He expected me to say something else but I said, “Ok!” Fifteen minutes later he had the boiler skinned, the sensors and peripherals all out and tagged and laying on a rag on the floor…all by himself. Talent is where you find it, and the kid, “Fetch”, is clearly abit ahead of the curve. In my opinion, the kids are not allowed to be on a job site because of over excited OSHA standards and so they turn 18 without even knowing what dad does for a living, much less have any idea what to do next. So they go to college and run up a bill before they discover that there is money in that ditch back home, or twisting wrenches for a living. The kid makes good money for a ten year old…and he’ll get a raise for his eleventh birthday.

    Sometimes I think us older guys spend too much time driving around alone cussing at the talk show host on the radio when we really should find a big that needs the life experience that we bring to the table. I find it incredibly rewarding. I know that not everybody can do it or has the latitude because of the law…but if you can, you should,

    And my sons? One is a P+H contractor here in town. He ride with me on calls since he was old enough to be away from mom for a couple of hours. The other went the college route, although the too rode with me from an early age…he is now heading to nursing school chasing his dream with the blessing and encouragement of the hospital he has been working for.

    Sometimes I wonder if us old guys drive our trucks and holler at the talk radio host when the next next generation is crying for a chance to hang out with us. True…it takes effort and time and not everybody has the freedom to do it…the laws being what they are…but if you can, it really rewarding to see the lights come on in a young boys eyes. And you get to live into the next generation instead of letting somebody else do it.
    Larry WeingartenJOutterbridgeGGross