Long-term unemployment in the United States continues to hover between 8 percent and 9 percent nationally, and both the Republican candidates for president and President Obama continue to tout plans that would “get Americans back to work.” I happen to think there are some things that candidates of both parties could stress to help our nation regain its economic footing. Reforming the tax code and establishing the rates for a period of time longer than two years would help, as would transforming the regulatory process to be fairer to small businesses and taking a real stab at controlling spending.
All of these things can be done in a relatively short period of time and would help the economy, but there is something that needs to be done, would benefit the American worker and appears to be paid only lip service by our candidates for office. While candidates talk about preparing our country for the jobs of the future, I believe that many have looked past the jobs of today and that we are missing an opportunity to encourage and develop skills for the work force that could help our country and our industry right now.
In 2011, the Government Accountability Office (don't snicker, it does actually exist) said only five of 47 total federal work programs had been identified as effective, many of these programs had duplicitous duties and the total cost ran at $18 billion to taxpayers on a yearly basis. The overgrowth and ineffectiveness of these programs has been a detriment to job seekers, employers and taxpayers. In recent remarks, President Obama has agreed that this process needs to be remedied, and the House committee on Workforce and Education was happy to oblige, as Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has introduced the Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act (H.R. 3610) , which does just that. This seems like a commonsense piece of legislation that Congress should be working on, but I believe there should be one caveat. While much of the stimulus spending went toward training for “green jobs,” I would like to see a focus on high level training for the trades, including HVACR contractor training.
Federal spending is just a small fraction of training dollars in the country and a small piece of the pie in developing our work force. I believe there needs to be a renewed focus in our country on encouraging the study of skilled trades at both the high school and collegiate levels of education. I understand that this may rub many school administrators the wrong way, as high schools are often judged on the percentage of kids who begin a four-year college education, and directing students to vocational training may hurt their “status,” but I believe schools are doing students a disservice by forcing everyone into a one-size-fits-all education plan. Schools should be proud that they have helped identify a path to success for their students and make no bones about it, there are a lot of success stories in HVACR contracting; heck, my grandfather is one of them.
Finally, I think the HVACR industry needs to rise to the occasion and make sure that our work force is as highly trained as possible. We know this much. Well-trained contractors make homeowners happy, they make good customers for distributors and manufacturers get the benefit of having their products function properly and keep warranty rates low. The products in our industry have become more complex in recent years, and the entire industry benefits when our finest technicians install and repair the best technology properly. Having said that, I don't believe our industry has done nearly enough to promote education. American businesses spent a staggering $125.9 billion on employee learning and development in 2009, according to the American Society of Training & Development's 2010 industry report, and I would wager that our industry barely made a dent in that total.
What can be done? First off, I know that everyone has a vested interest in training their own employees. Second, I think it is in the best interest of our industry to continue to support vocational training and organizations such as NATE. Third, I believe it is a great business decision for distributors. Serving as a NATE testing facility brings contractors to your store and gives you the chance to build a lasting relationship with a potential long-term successful customer. Fourth, NATE's new chairman, Don Frendberg, is one of the most respected people in our industry. I am confident that any project he undertakes will bring with it his unquestioned integrity.
There is job security in a well-trained HVACR work force. Our country should be encouraging a well-educated trade industry. Let's dispense with training for jobs that might be irrelevant in 10 years and start training our work force for those summer installs.
Jon Melchi is director of government affairs for HARDI. Contact him at 614/345-HEAT (4328) or jmelchi@HARDInet.org.