It’s no secret that the HVAC market is hungry for new talent. It’s become an increasingly urgent topic over the past couple of years.

How do manufacturers, wholesalers and HVAC construction contractors – fix it?

One idea: embrace the millennial generation.

Millennials – aka Generation Y -- are the fastest growing segment of the workforce. As big as the baby boomer generation was, millennials are bigger. If you want to survive, you’ll have to play by their rules.

At HARDI headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, we just relocated the office and completely redesigned the way we work. Half of HARDI employees are millennials and in our experience they like to work collaboratively and are tech savvy. So, we now have an open floor plan with additional collaboration rooms. Everyone uses laptops for easy portability to the various working areas and we have LED displays throughout the office. It’s not Apple’s headquarters, but it’s the kind of place a young professional could sure get used to.

That’s not to say you have to gut your office. There are all kinds of small, unobtrusive tweaks you can make that will appeal to millennials. Consider this: many are becoming parents. Could you strengthen your ability to recruit and retain talent by supporting them as they enter this stage of life?

 “Review your policies for what rules will present roadblocks to your employees’ successful execution of both of their primary roles, and remove those roadblocks,” said Emily Saving, HARDI’s vice president of professional and program development. “Are your employees not allowed to have their cellphones on hand when working the front counter? Can you see how that would be stressful? Check your handbook and your unwritten cultural norms for things like this.”

I’m not saying you have to cater to their wants and needs, but look for things you can tweak that will appeal to them and make your business a little more millennial friendly.

Partner with technical schools

If you’re aware of the benefits of partnering with a technical school but haven’t done anything about it, you get no sympathy from me. 

Go to Google and search technical college followed by your five-digit ZIP code. You’ll likely find plenty in your area. If you’re a sheet metal or HVAC contractor, offer your expertise to assist in training your potential future employees or participate in a school’s career fairs. If you’re a wholesaler, you can also offer product training and build relationships with your future customers. You’re not bugging them; these schools want you to call them – the more graduates the schools place in careers, the better the schools look. It’s a win-win partnership.

AC Supply Co. in Fort Worth, Texas, is a prime example of an HVAC market wholesaler partnering with a technical school. They’ve been involved with nearly Tarrant County College for more than 35 years and were a major part of the college’s most recent initiative: the Center of Excellence for Energy Technology. Known as CEET, it’s a $42 million, 87,000-square-foot facility designed to help grow programs that teach HVAC construction technology and new approaches to energy efficiency.

In addition to serving on the college’s advisory council, AC Supply Co. leadership provides product demonstrations, guidance and discounts to students studying in the HVAC program. According to AC Supply Co. president Randy Boyd, this helps them develop lasting relationships with their future customers.

Leverage alliances

For you distributors out there, one of the most important things you can do is get involved with Industrial Careers Pathway. It’s an alliance among nine different trade associations representing industrial distribution. ICP is positioning itself as the central hub for growing interest in industrial distribution careers and connecting these potential employees with the jobs available to them. Start investigating how you can take advantage of those resources at www.industrialcareerspathway.org

As a final note, nobody is going to hold your hand to do these things. It’s on you. If you can’t take responsibility for attracting talent to your organization, designate someone in your company who can. Give them this article and send them on the recruiting trail. It’s time to put out this fire.

Mike Coughlin is HARDI’s digital communications and public relations coordinator. This article was written on behalf of HARDI’s professional development and training committee.