For years we have been hearing about the skilled labor shortage in the HVAC industry and construction industry at large. Have you ever stopped to think about what that might mean for your business? The May 23 issue of ACH & R news talked about the ramifications of this in an article entitled, Is HVAC Becoming a Plug-And-Play Profession? The article started off by telling the story of one of the writers neighbors whose water heater had recently died. They simply went to Home Depot, bought a new one and replaced it themselves. Another neighbor purchased a ductless mini split off Craigslist and had a friend help him install it for a new room which he had finished off above his garage. Both apparently cited how easy it was to install their equipment and how little skill was needed.
One contractor in the article said this was the perfect storm of skilled labor shortages, huge demand for our products and manufacturers who have always been looking to make their products easier to install and service. This is not just a recent phenomenon. Refrigeration piping used to consist of all braised joints requiring skilled technicians to install it. Technology and a workforce shortage caused manufacturers to introduce quick connect fittings so other mechanical trades could install this equipment. This trend is not exclusive to the residential side of the business either.
According to Kirk Thorne, Executive Vice President of sales, marketing and aftermarket at Daikin Applied, “Unfortunately there is no sign that the tide is turning on the skilled labor market in any quadrant of the industry. To that end, Daikin’s product portfolio is designed around their customers needs for ease of installation. We are responding with product solutions that reduce the tasks and requirements for installation and commissioning as well as limiting the requirement for on-site commissioning . For example, Daikin’s modular central plants are pre-engineered and preassembled, arriving at the site on a trailer, ready for simple installation ” he said. The article mentions similar comments by executives at Nortel Global, Victaulic and Ruskin.
What does this mean for your business? It means that simply being an installer and servicer of mechanical equipment may not be a sufficient skill set for the future. It means you need to take a strategic look at your business and plan for its future, not just letting its future happen. Perhaps you need to expand your skill set to become a full mechanical systems provider for your customers. One such well-known company in the industry for example handles everything from furnaces to boilers to air-conditioners, heat pumps, air cleaning and filtration devices, humidifier/dehumidifiers, gas fireplaces and inserts, water heaters and standby generators. They also offer service plans, duct cleaning, electrical service, plumbing services and handyman services. Other companies have become the energy experts for their customers by offering home energy audits covering everything from efficiency evaluations to air and duct sealing, attic ventilation, renewable energy products and indoor air quality solutions. How do you begin this transformation of your business? First, identify the areas that you have a passion for and that represent profitable areas for expansion. Second, look at your trade area and make a list of all the competitive businesses, the services they offer and the strengths and weaknesses of each. From those two things, you can begin to fashion a business plan for your company.
According to Monty Betts, product manager for Viega, “While most do not believe that HVAC systems will become plug-and-play devices anytime soon, contractors will have to respond accordingly. I still do not fully appreciate or understand the depth and breath of changes being considered by manufacturers, but as shown here they are becoming very innovative at designing systems and components to address the lack of skilled labor in the HVAC industry.”