The HVAC industry has more eventual jobs to fill from among recent high school graduates than there are people to hire. One problem is that high school graduates often don’t consider a technical trade as a viable career path. Perhaps influenced by school counselors, parents or even peer groups, many students single-mindedly pursue a four-year college degree (whether or not their academic history supports such a decision). Many young folks miss the opportunity to create a more direct path to prosperity – and a better life – through a career in the trades.

StrataTech's Survey

One reason high-school graduates don’t pursue trade careers is a lack of awareness, according to a survey by StrataTech Education Group, which operates several skilled-trade institutions, including The Refrigeration School Inc. The company conducted the study to explore attitudes and beliefs about trade schools and skilled trade careers among young Americans and their parents. 

33% of survey respondents don’t know about available options

The most common reason high school students don’t consider a trade school is that they don’t know the options available. According to the StrataTech study, 33% of survey respondents don’t know about available options.

Other barriers to trade school cited by respondents are expense (30%), lack of confidence in their ability to perform a skilled trade (26%), and pressure from the community to attend a 4-year university (23%).

Slightly more than half of students surveyed (51%) said they considered attending a trade school.

CEO of StrataTech Speaks Out

There is no one-size-fits-all path to success for high school graduates

Mary Kelly, president and CEO of StrataTech Education Group, says there is no one-size-fits-all path to success for high school graduates. “For decades, students believed a 4-year degree is necessary to succeed in life, but we believe differently. We are optimistic this research show perceptions are shifting and there are opportunities to strengthen pathways to skilled trade opportunities.”

One challenge is that high schools tend to push the idea of college over trade school. In the survey, only 32% of respondents reported that their high school promotes trade school education as a potential path (compared to 73% promoting 4-year universities and 45% promoting 2-year college programs).

Parental objection does not seem to be an obstacle to a student choosing to attend a trade school. Among parents in the survey, 93% said they would support their child’s choice to pursue a career in skilled trades. Specifically, 62% said they would provide emotional support, 57% would provide major financial support, and 47% would offer limited financial support, such as letting the child continue to live at home while pursuing a skilled trade certification.

A majority of survey respondents see trade or vocational schools as just as “credible” as traditional college – 82% of responding parents and 73% of students.

The survey included 1,000 high school students and 1,000 parents of high school students across the United States.

Addressing The Shortage

Many students who sought a 4-year degree have been disappointed by their job prospects

Addressing the skilled worker shortage in the HVAC industry will require approaches on multiple fronts, and directing high school graduates toward technical trade careers is an important element of the broader effort. Many students who sought a 4-year degree have been disappointed by their job prospects after they graduate. Pursuing a technical trade career, such as HVAC, provides a more direct path between high school graduation and an independent life built around a successful career.

HVAC professionals can play a role in communicating with today’s youth about the value of their work, their job satisfaction, and the better life available with a well-paying job. Encouragement can go a long way to overcome any lack of confidence among young people about their ability to perform a skilled trade.

As the StrataTech survey results suggest, there is a solid foundation to build on and an opportunity to attract more young people to the trades. The future of our industry depends on it.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

In case you missed it

Lessons From The Past: The Value Of Ventilation In A Pandemic
Lessons From The Past: The Value Of Ventilation In A Pandemic

If history truly repeats itself, might we learn lessons from the past – even lessons about managing a novel coronavirus that upends our way of life and changes the world forever? The most commonly cited parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic is the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Both diseases are caused by viruses that had not been seen before. In both cases, no one had immunity to a highly infectious germ that was spread through respiratory droplets. Both outbreaks occurred in multiple waves over several years. Furthermore, in both cases, it became clear that ventilation, fresh air, open spaces and sunlight are useful factors in promoting good health. Fresh Air Movement During the time of the Spanish flu, there were signs posted in buses and throughout New York that advised: "Keep your bedroom windows open [to] prevent influenza, pneumonia [and] tuberculosis." There was even a national campaign known as the “Fresh Air Movement,” calling for people to be outside more, and urging greater ventilation indoors. The movement included a kind of traveling show that spread the word about the “national poison,” which was the result of people breathing stale air inside closed rooms. These concerns predated by decades our enthusiasm for “indoor air quality.” In became common after 1918 to position radiators providing steam heat under open windows to combine warmth with fresh air, even on the coldest of days.   The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza It was also common practice by 1918 to place the sick outside in tents or in specially designed open wards But the advantages of fresh air go back even further, as described in a 2009 article in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) titled “The Open-Air Treatment of Pandemic Influenza.” During the 1918 pandemic, as today, many cities banned public assembly, closed schools, isolated those infected and mandated the wearing of face masks. It was also common practice by 1918 to place the sick outside in tents or in specially designed open wards, according to the AJPH article. The practice dates back to English physician John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815), who was among the first advocates of the “open-air method.” The 1800s saw emergence of tuberculosis sanitoriums, which treated the lung disease with a combination of fresh air, gentle exercise in the open, nutrition, and a minimum of medicines. Lack of ventilation Spending time in well-ventilated houses in the country became seen as superior to patients being confined to warm, badly ventilated rooms to protect them from the supposedly harmful effects of cold air. Lack of ventilation forced patients to breathe foul air, contaminated with germs, over and over. Research later confirmed the importance of measures to prevent influenza virus from spreading through buildings. Improvements in air-handling equipment, portable filtration units, and introduction of physical barriers and other partitions or doors also provided protection. These lessons were clear long before the advent of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Their successful deployment during the pandemic have further supported their value. importance of HVAC Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, there were plenty of historical precedents However, lockdowns during the pandemic have also tended to keep the population closed up in buildings, sometimes with less-than-adequate ventilation and access to fresh air. In retrospect, some of those decisions seem regrettable.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, there were plenty of historical precedents. Copious research over the years supported the best approaches to stemming the spread of the virus, although it took time for historical insights to work their way into the general practice implemented in the current pandemic. There is also historical precedent for the importance of HVAC in the current pandemic. Ventilation and fresh air have become higher priorities, as has the HVAC market’s role in providing a safer indoor climate with minimal disease spread.

Pandemic Spotlights Need To Balance Costs While Improving Air Quality In Schools
Pandemic Spotlights Need To Balance Costs While Improving Air Quality In Schools

Attitudes about indoor air quality need to change, especially given the current pandemic that forces people to spend most of their time indoors. But addressing the pandemic through increased ventilation and better indoor air quality can be expensive. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation, has spent $6 million on HVAC upgrades and new air filters in response to the pandemic and expects to pay about $1.7 million a month for ongoing inspections and filter replacements. Updating & Improving HVAC Systems Updating HVAC systems to minimize virus spread has been an expensive proposition all around. Some school districts in California report the costs are insurmountable. Sometimes seeking to replace or update an HVAC system opens a can of worms: Electrical systems must be rewired, asbestos must be removed, and/or an expensive roof needs to be replaced. Schools in low-income areas are especially likely to be in poor condition, and unable to afford improvements. Some school districts have used money from the federal CARES Act – a $2 trillion federal economic package passed in March – to make ventilation improvements. Hope remains that additional state and/or federal money will be available, but funding is still likely to be inadequate. Airborne Transmission Study showed that some classrooms had air change rates below 0.5 changes per hour The airborne transmission was initially underplayed as a means of spreading the novel coronavirus. There was more emphasis on the dangers of touch during the early days of the pandemic. However, the airborne (aerosol) spread is now believed to make up about 75% of transmissions. A group of 239 scientists from around the world advocated more action to address aerosol spread in a July 2020 open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO). The concern is a global challenge. For example, a survey of 20 classrooms in the United Kingdom, carried out by National Air Quality Testing Services (NAQTS), revealed very low air change rates that could increase the risk of virus transmission. The study showed that some classrooms had air change rates below 0.5 changes per hour (3 to 5 changes per hour would be desirable). Even small increases in flow rate could reduce the risk of infection significantly. Raising airflows from zero to 100 cu m/hour cuts the risk by up to a third, according to NAQTS. Fresh Air Ventilation & Filtration The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised the UK Government last fall of a need to ensure undisrupted education for children of all ages. A critical part of keeping children in school is clear guidance and support packages, including better ventilation and air filtration, particularly through winter. The German government advises schools to open their windows for at least five minutes every hour Other countries can learn a lot about the value of opening windows to allow in more fresh air from the Germans. For years, Germans have habitually opened their windows twice a day, even in winter. In fact, “lüften,” or airing a room, is among the cheapest and most effective ways of decreasing the spread of the coronavirus. The German government advises schools to open their windows for at least five minutes every hour; for example, when classes are changing. Improving Indoor Air Quality Airing of rooms is a likely factor in the lower number of coronavirus cases reported in Germany compared to, say, the United Kingdom. In the end, improving indoor air quality involves some combination of letting in more fresh air, upgrading air filtration systems, and installing technologies such as UV light to kill pathogens. However, implementing these measures only mitigates the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Some risk remains.

What Technologies And Trends Will Define HVAC In 2021?
What Technologies And Trends Will Define HVAC In 2021?

The pandemic of 2020 presented unique challenges to the HVAC market, and in many instances, responding to those challenges relied on technical innovation. It’s safe to say that the pandemic accelerated several technology trends, redirected others, and overall raised the stakes in the industry’s ongoing challenge to meet customer needs across a wide spectrum. But what comes now? We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable to weigh in on this question: What technologies and trends will define the HVAC industry in 2021?