Women make up approximately 50% of the Earth’s population. No surprise there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they held approximately 50% of jobs in the United States of America in 2019. However, women make up just 2% of Americans employed in the HVAC labor force.
Those numbers, especially the final one, show that there is a vastly untapped group of potential employees for the HVAC industry: Women. And as the labor shortage grows even more over the upcoming years as an increasing amount of Baby Boomers retire, contractors will benefit from starting recruiting and hiring women for their company right now.
Shelly Matter, director of business development at HB McClure in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said that women are looking for a lot of things similar to what men are looking for.
“Something that’s challenging, interesting, versatile, and something that can withstand the test of time,” she said.
Those already in HVAC know that it checks every box on that list. And now the pandemic gives contractors a shining example that shows the HVAC industry as recession-proof. Because of both the labor shortage and its necessity to maintaining safe living spaces, HVAC industry skilled are marketable in nearly every location in the country.
Karen DeSousa, president of Advance Air & Heat Co. in East Freetown, Massachusetts, agreed, saying that many of the women she knew who got involved in the Women in HVACR (WHVACR) organization did so because they were looking for an industry that would allow them to use their minds and hands, while also providing a livable wage and an opportunity for growth. Many skilled trades offer these same benefits, but the amount of innovation occurring in the HVAC industry sets it as apart as a trade especially fitted for those who desire constant learning.
Part of the reason some people, including women, write off HVAC as a career is because they only picture it as working out in the field as a technician. And while the position of technician is perfect for somebody wanting to work with their minds and hands, HVAC offers a far wider swath of career options. Lauren Roberts, president of WHVACR, listed a group of job options at the contractor level: ownership, office managing, accounting, sales, marketing, technicians, and more. There are even more opportunities in manufacturing and distribution.
And for women who believe a career in HVAC might get in the way of successful parenting, Roberts said she has seen many examples of women who are full-time professionals with high-level leadership roles, while still being great mothers.
Where should contractors recruit women? Career fairs and trade schools present an excellent option for getting in front of potential hires, both male and female. Contractors could even cooperate with schools, so that students could spend some of their time in the classroom while also receiving in-field training. DeSousa said that can be an excellent way to get to know a student before committing to a full-time hire. Matter explained that collaborating with schools and offering presentations, interviews, and job shadowing opportunities could create more introductions to potential employees. And with the labor shortage, when a competitor down the street is working to get the same up-and-coming technician, having a relationship with industry newcomers will help a contractor secure the hires they want.
That relationship building can happen at a young age, too. Roberts explained that WHVACR has even done grassroots recruiting in elementary schools, ensuring children knows that there are careers other than office jobs requiring college degrees. Talking with students in middle and high school can accomplish a similar goal.
The HVAC industry is predominately male, so onboarding a women onto an all-male team is a possibility that presents unique challenges. At the same time, the key to ensuring the new hire feels welcomed is not so complex.
“We just want to be respected and treated equally,” said Roberts. If contractors are not careful, employees might pass over women’s opinions in team meetings or be at the end of jokes about not being able to lift as much weight as the men or not wanting to get dirty. Even if the jokes are made in good fun, they can unintentionally isolate a woman in an all-male team.
Shelly Matter said the issue isn’t so much about gender as it is about creating a team that is open to diversity and inclusion. If a woman feels isolated because she is the only woman, it is likely that other people could feel isolated too, perhaps for being at a different age or experience level than everyone else, or because they are a different ethnicity.
“Women need to be treated just like anyone else,” she said. “Treated with respect, respected for the knowledge they have, and not looked at any differently.”
Although males make up the majority of employees in the HVAC industry, there is a strong precedent for female success in the HVAC industry. When asked for examples of female success within HVAC, DeSousa said, “So many! How to pick?” WHVACR offers mentorship and networking opportunities for females who have made HVAC their home, and DeSousa remembers one specific woman who signed up to be mentored. The mentee had sought mentorship because she wanted to take over her father’s commercial refrigeration business, and in just a few years, the mentee had significantly grown the business’ revenue, number of employees, and added plumbing to the company’s service offerings.
Lauren Roberts herself started as an accounting assistant at cfm Distributors and, over the course of sixteen and a half years, moved to marketing, then grew into different management roles, finally becoming the executive vice president in 2017. Then, in 2018, at the age of 33, she became president and CEO. The company runs around $42 million a year and has six locations. She can think of many other women who have exploded with success in HVAC.
So if a contractor is looking to hire new talent in a market with a labor shortage, women are presenting a needed solution.