The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the HVAC industry is set to grow by more than 21 percent between now and 2022. If you find the idea of working in this exciting and vital sector an interesting one, there are several things you should know about the skills tomorrow’s employers will look for. But first, let’s have a word about “traditional” HVAC skills.

Traditional skillsets aren’t going away

It's a familiar statement: The march of technology will render some of our knowledge obsolete and that's true. But the HVAC industry stands on more secure footing than many others — in some ways, the skillsets of future heating and cooling technicians will look a lot like they do today.

For example, you will always need a familiarity with the mechanical workings of air conditioners and furnaces, even as they grow more compact and efficient. Although the average HVAC unit might have a functional lifespan of 15 years or more, both residential and commercial customers will likely shift to somewhat more frequent upgrades in the name of energy efficiency. The advancement of technology in this field doesn’t imperil your job — it might deliver job security.

But achieving that security will require you to become a constant learner. Here are four subject areas you will need to learn to be a skilled HVAC employee.

1. Computer prowess

We’re quickly approaching a time when computer knowledge will be mandatory for most positions in the HVAC industry. Even if you’re not planted behind a computer monitor during your time on the job, you will need an understanding of the tools at the disposal of the modern HVAC technician.

It's become typical for employees in this field to travel with tablets and other handhelds to facilitate customer payments, perform diagnostic tests, monitor vital equipment, receive assignments and additional information while out in the field. Additionally, the future will deliver even more robust tools into your hands — including advanced tools that can help you:

  • Identify problems more quickly during service calls
  • Uncover less-obvious issues that require attention, thereby increasing sales opportunities
  • Reduce the number of call-backs you receive about incomplete repairs or unforeseen issues

It might sound like you’ll be doing less “real” work than before, but that’s not the case. Most of the other entries in this list involve the gathering of data, but you’ll still need to apply your expertise and insight — plus some elbow grease to get components installed and replaced as needed. These algorithms and pieces of code can study the issue in greater detail than you can, then recommend action. But, you will still be the one to carry out those operations.

2. Automation, IoT and other emerging technologies

It’s hard to believe, but robots are already here, and they’re helping us work smarter. In some cases, they do our work for us, like when they turn down the thermostat after your family has scattered themselves among workplaces and classrooms for the day and you forgot to do it yourself.

But, the robots need a helping hand. It’s true that automation represents a threat to — or deliverance from — many types of physical labor, but in the HVAC industry, in particular, automation technology is creating, rather than destroying, jobs. The process of setting up a building with automated temperature and climate control, all of it powered by internet-of-things devices like sensors and mobiles, is a big job unto itself. So far, we only see the beginning of this trend.

Advanced technology now permeates just about every industry — and that means you’ll find plenty of it in your future clients’ homes. If you want to be successful in this field, you need to keep aware of new developments. Learn everything you can about the ways physical and digital technologies entwine in the HVAC industry. You don’t want your first exposure to a smart thermostat to be the first time you’re blindsided with one during a service call.

3. Data analytics

It seems like data-gathering and analytics blew up into a full commodity of its own practically overnight, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t play a significant role in other industries, as well — including HVAC.

You can expect future HVAC contractors will require, or at least strongly recommend, their new hires to have experience in data analytics and computing — or at least be open to ongoing learning to keep their skills sharp. There is now a learning curve for homeowners when it comes to current and future furnaces, thermostats, humidifiers and all the other separate systems that make climate-controlled living possible.

If there’s a learning curve for the homeowner, there’s certainly a learning curve for technicians sent there to troubleshoot their middle-of-the-winter heating troubles. The ideal hire for HVAC employers will have studied data analytics at some point, even informally, and will be able to leverage that knowledge to service systems that use customer data, including behavioral patterns, to make this technology ever more efficient and better at predicting our needs.

4. Marketing tools

Marketing isn’t optional these days. You might be part of a large HVAC company, or perhaps you’re involved in the daily workings of a smaller outfit. No matter your type of employment, the future of HVAC will require at least a passing understanding of how any given company can compete in a crowded marketplace and a noisy online community.

In some ways, marketing doesn’t even look like marketing anymore. Your future in the HVAC field might see you taking questions and furnishing knowledge to curious would-be customers on message boards and social sites. This is a fantastic way to build your name recognition and generate some goodwill while you’re at it.

The bottom line is that we get back what we’re willing to put in when it comes to technology. Heating and cooling might feel like blunt instruments today, but a keen, curious mind coupled with bleeding-edge tech will make for a desirable job candidate, indeed — and a world of possibilities.