While women account for about 57 percent of the total U.S. workforce, the HVAC industry isn’t as fortunate, with women making up just 1.7 percent of the workforce.
Women in total U.S. workforce
women in hvac industry workforce
Has the women’s movement really stalled that much? More than 70 years after Rosie the Riveter stood as the iconic image of how women in the trades could contribute their minds and muscle to the war effort during WWII, can’t we manage to attract more women to the HVAC industry?
Women in HVAC and other trades not only buck the concept of the stereotypical male-dominated profession, but they also fill labor shortages and bring more minds to bear on common problems, which ultimately results in innovative solutions and more work being accomplished quicker.
It’s not just about gender equality or a simple equation where more women in the trades make for a more robust economy. It’s about the fact that bringing capable women into the fold just makes sense in a trade with a shortage of qualified workers.
Going for It… Not Just Falling Into It
In the past, most women admitted to sort of “falling into” the field. At one time it wasn’t uncommon to hear of woman starting in an administrative role doing office duties for an HVAC company before going on to become involved in installations and service calls.
But a growing demand for skilled mechanics means more women need to decidedly and confidently enter the HVAC field, not just stumble into it. Here’s why:
The industry is facing a shortage of skilled workers, and it’s only expected to worsen as the baby boomer workforce ages out of the industry. According to the Social Security Administration, about 22 percent of the U.S. workforce is set to retire within the next eight years. Within the HVAC industry, this number is much higher. It is estimated that 53 percent of workers in the skilled trades are over the age of 45, and nearly 19 percent are between 55 and 64.
According to the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation…
The industry will need about 115,000 new workers trained and ready to work by 2022 just to meet the expected demand of this aging industry. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that the industry will grow 14 percent during this time, exceeding the average growth rate for all other occupations. Attracting women into the industry will help fill the need for HVAC professionals.
We Can Do It! Changing Minds and Spreading the Word
But today, the landscape is changing, and more women are entering the field, thanks to advocacy, personal encouragement, and mentoring, and increasing numbers of girls pursuing the STEM fields early on in their academic career. Recruitment efforts within the industry are also gaining steam, thanks to organizations like Women in HVACR, a national organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in the industry.
And companies paving the way for women in the industry are reaping the rewards.
For example, Angie Snow, co-owner and vice president of Western Heating & Air Conditioning a residential/light commercial/maintenance HVAC company based in Orem, Utah, hired her first female technician over five years ago. Snow said hiring her first female technician was a natural fit because “she was willing to learn and fit in with that we were doing.” According to Snow, she had been involved in the other male-dominated industries, so she was used to push back from men. And push back she got.
Snow said that her techs made it hard on her female tech, and she almost had to prove herself that much more. “It takes the right kind of woman to be able to hold her ground with the men, and she did well.” Snow calls her a trailblazer and says now, when she hires women, her male techs are open to it. “It has become an accepted thing in our company.”
Admittedly, Snow says having a female tech was a “little strange” at first, but after word got out that her company had a female tech, people were requesting her—specifically, moms with small children, and older women because they felt more comfortable with a woman in their home.
Snow’s company’s female technician was such a good fit with the company that it was a natural progression to move her into sales. “She’s a great communicator and a great salesperson for us now.”
The success her company has had with women hasn’t gone unnoticed among her competitors. She said HVAC contractors everywhere have asked her, “How do I get a woman to work for me?” She said often it’s simply “getting the message out there – we want women!”
Although having women in her company has been an overwhelming success, Snow says there are still customers—namely older men—who don’t respond well to a female tech showing up at their door. She said her dispatcher must still be selective in some cases regarding sending her female techs to some customers. “It’s challenging for dispatch, but we’ve got a handle on it,” says Snow, with a laugh.
Snow does more than just encourage women to join her team; she remains active in the industry. She is a board member of Women in HVACR, and she also received the Service World Woman if the Year in 2016 at the Service World Expo for Service Industries.
Organizations Making a Difference
The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART) is creating an ad hoc committee of women to implement a mentoring program that will recruit and mentor women. Marc Norberg, assistant to the general president of SMART, decided to bring the issue of a lack of women in the industry after teaching a class the Women Build Nations event and witnessing a turnout of more than 1,500 tradeswomen across North America.
The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s Board of Directors is creating a steering council for women in construction management leadership, which is dedicated to mentoring women who aspire to leadership positions.
Women in HVACR is a national organization dedicated to attracting more women to the industry through networking, scholarships, continuing education, and annual events. Scholarships and events help to build awareness and ultimately attract more women to the industry. This national group is reaching out to high schools, technical schools, and beyond to attract young women to think about HVACR as a profession.
Women in HVACR’s Learning Center provides a list of industry-related training resources, such as webinars, service education and training, and on-site programs. Members are able to participate in workshops and networking events, as well as the annual conference. Women in HVACR held their 13th Annual Conference, “Networking,” in Philadelphia, PA in September 2016.
In 2016, Women in HVACR awarded two $2,000 scholarships. Scholarship A is awarded to women entering a technical college or trade school, while Scholarship B is awarded to females in a bachelor’s degree program in a four-year institution. Both scholarships require applicants to hold a minimum GPA and submit an application and a 500-word essay.