AHR 2019: How HVAC Companies are Attracting the Next Generation

01/16/2019 | By Sarah Kloepple

One of the major challenges faced today in the facilities management industry is the looming number of Baby Boomers set to retire soon. We’ve written about it before – but the challenge is particularly daunting for the HVAC industry, which is poised to lose more employees to retirement than are in the pipeline for recruitment.

As AHR 2019 continues in Atlanta, conversations abound about how to attract the next generation to the workforce. Air-conditioning manufacturer Daikin Applied took the movement a step further by hosting an event exclusively for engineering and technical trade students during the show to foster interest in HVAC professions.

Daikin Applied hosted an event exclusively for engineering and technical trade students during AHR Expo 2019.
(Photo: Daikin Applied hosted an event exclusively for engineering and technical trade students during AHR Expo 2019. Credit: Daikin)

An HVAC Event for the Next Generation

“How do we meet students where they are as opposed to expecting them to come to us?” says Susan Kaufman, vice president of marketing for Daikin Applied.

The company reached out to a number of universities and their engineering chapters and invited students to join their recruiting program at AHR.


Listen to this related podcast.

BUILDINGS Podcast - How HVAC companies are recruiting the next generation.BUILDINGS’ Sarah Kloepple speaks with Susan Kaufman from Daikin Applied about their Next Generation Event they hosted at AHR Expo 2019 in Atlanta.

The event, created exclusively for engineering and technical trade students during the show, helps to foster interest in HVAC professions.

Read the full transcript at the bottom of this article.

The program involved a presentation that highlighted the forces that are making the HVAC industry a dynamic place to work; afterward, students were given tours of Daikin Applied’s booth and product portfolios on which that they could potentially work – essentially, an understanding of what it could be like to work for the company.

“I was impressed with the students’ questions. It shows that they’re definitely paying attention,” Kaufman says. “They’re really dialed in… You could tell from the kinds of questions they asked. They were really thoughtful – not just about our industry but about specific career pathing.”

What Other HVAC Companies Are Saying

Emerging technologies and innovations are already creating more interesting opportunities for new and recent graduates – from cloud-based controls to building automation. Some companies have training programs in place to recruit students as soon as they graduate.

“We hire between 30 and 50 people straight out of school [every year]. Concerned? No. Interested? Yes.” - Manlio Valdes

HVAC manufacturer Trane has such a program that encompasses sales, engineering, HVAC systems design and application.

Vice president of product management and marketing Manlio Valdes says the company is not worried about recruiting enough young professionals. Through the training program, he says, “We hire between 30 and 50 people straight out of school [every year]. Concerned? No. Interested? Yes.”

Monica McMahen, director of marketing for Optigo, a building network solutions company, says her company also isn’t concerned – though she acknowledges that retiring vs. hiring is an industry issue.

[On topic: Attract Millennials and Gen Z to Facilities Management]

“It’s a massive problem,” she says. “It’s definitely a topic people are talking about.” She adds that recent engineering graduates are often lured to companies like Google or Amazon, and that mentoring from the Baby Boomer generation could be one solution to turn their attention to HVAC.

Corrie Neukirchner, marketing director for REHAUs Window Solutions & Building Solutions division, says the company aims to educate the next generation of engineers with online resources and lunch-and-learns. “As a trend, I would say generally, they’re younger, they’re open to more new ideas.”

At AHR Expo 2019, Daikin Applied hosted an event for students.
(Photo: Daikin Applied hosted an event exclusively for engineering and technical trade students during AHR Expo 2019. Credit: Daikin)

Mike East, an account manager for REHAU, adds, “They want to know more about doing things in different ways. New technologies and newer applications are certainly something that attracts them.”

Although industry insiders agree that the imbalance between HVAC retirees and new recruits is a critical problem, they remain optimistic.

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At AHR 2019, LG Electronics’ air-conditioning division introduced its new and improved variable refrigerant flow system, the Multi V 5, with advanced smart load controls. Kevin McNamara, senior vice president and general manager, says this proves that “it’s an exciting time to be in the industry.”

Read the related podcast transcript below:

Sarah: Hey, everyone. Welcome to this new BUILDINGS Podcast. I am Sarah Kloepple, staff writer and we are here at AHR 2019 in Atlanta. I am here with Susan Kaufman, who is vice president of marketing for Daikin Applied. And Daikin has just done a really cool program here to attract the next generation of HVAC workforce.

They’ve invited a lot of students here and they’ve met up with them and are doing a really great program. So, tell us, Susan, a little bit about this program.

Susan: Sure. One of the things that we’re really challenged with in this industry is the number of Baby Boomers who are reaching retirement age. And 10,000 people reach retirement age every single day. So, 3 million people a year are leaving the workforce.

And they’re leaving not just positions, they’re taking a lot of that knowledge with them. And we don’t have enough young engineers who are coming into the industry.

A lot of these engineers are going to sort of the “sexy” companies in Silicon Valley, like Google, thinking that there are really great opportunities there. And yes, of course, there are really good opportunities there.

But there are also really good opportunities in the HVAC industry. So, one of the things that we wanna do at Daikin Applied is address this gap with people leaving and not enough people coming in. How do we meet students where they are as opposed to expect them to come to where we are?

So, we think about places where we’re going to be able to engage students. A place like AHR. We reached out to a lot of different university (unintelligible) chapters and we welcomed them to come to this Future of HVAC recruiting program that we just hosted.

[Read next: A Case for Future-Proofed Indoor Location Services]

We scheduled a presentation with the students, talking a little bit about Daikin, but really talking about the forces in the industry that are making the HVAC industry a really dynamic place to work.

So, we talked about those market trends and now we’re giving tours to these students of the booth and different product portfolios that they could potentially work on and helping them understand what a career with Daikin would be like.

Sarah: That’s great. So, you just did this today, right? It just ended.

Susan: Yeah. It’s going on right now.

Sarah: Okay. So, how did it go? How did the students react?

Susan: I was impressed with the students’ questions. It showed that they were definitely paying attention. They’re really, really dialed in. I think that engineering students now are having like 6 or 8 or 10 different job opportunities before they even finish their senior year in school.

So, you could tell from the kinds of questions that they asked that they were really very thoughtful, not just about our industry, but about specific career pathing. They’re defining their career path as seniors in college. And we want to make sure that we’re able to offer them an opportunity that hits their career path.

What’s exciting about Daikin is that there are so many careers to choose. It’s not just engineering and product development. I’m a marketer. There are roles across virtually every discipline. There are sales roles, there are service tech roles, there are factory roles, operational, manufacturing, design, there are so many different things that the industry offers. And it’s nice to see the students really dialed in to be focused on that career pathing for themselves.

Sarah: Yeah. That’s great. So, we talked about the younger generation too. What about women too? I know that’s probably part of the workforce you want to attract. Even just being at this conference, you’re only the second woman I’ve talked to.

Susan: Yeah. I know. That’s crazy.

Sarah: So, is that part of this plan too, trying to attract more women engineers who are graduating?

Susan: Yeah. It’s not just women, it’s actually just diverse thinkers, right? I don’t even care if you have a mechanical engineering degree. I care what kind of a thinker you are and what kind of ideas you bring to the business.

I know that we’re going to have more ideas from a diverse group of students who come into our organization. So, I’m definitely amped up about getting more women into the industry, because I think it’s a really, really dynamic industry where a different point of view coming from women is going to be valuable to further the advancement of HVAC.

Sarah: Yeah. Any advice you’d give to companies who are also trying to do the same thing, attract younger generations, like maybe mentoring programs or anything else that you can think of?

Susan: I don’t want to give our competitors any advice. I think the pendulum is shifting. It used to be that the companies had the power and now the students really have the power. And I would say to just embrace that. Be transparent about who you are and what opportunities that you offer.

Let the students take control of the recruiting process. Let them ask the questions. Make sure that in that process, it’s a mutual good fit, so that when you attract students, you invest in that recruiting effort.

Make sure that you’re investing for the long term to bring the students in for all of the right reasons and then it’s a win-win on both sides.

Sarah: Yeah. And that brings up a good point about the younger generation, I’ve read a lot about how they are aiming for jobs instead of careers, so that brings up that point. Anything else you wanted to add about the next generation program or just in general in HVAC?

Susan: I would just say that I think that the HVAC industry is really a dynamic place. I think that we come from sort of a negative perception that we’re a slow-moving industry. And we’re on the cusp of dramatic change.

We’re looking at digital transformation in manufacturing. It’s amazing. We’re looking at artificial intelligence. We can now read over 300 data points on a rooftop unit or on a chiller. We can bring all of that data, suck it up into the cloud, analyze it in the cloud and push it back down to make actionable insights.

There’s so much transformation that’s happening in our industry right now. It’s just a really dynamic place. We look at sustainability, environment, climate change, legislative regulation around all of those topics. There’s so much opportunity here.

Sarah: That’s wonderful to hear. Well, thanks so much for your time, Susan. I really appreciate it.

Susan: Thank you.

[End transcript]

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