How do we address the HVAC&R skills shortage?

Gordon Food Service, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based foodservice distributor, believes that investing heavily in technicians is one step forward.

Gordon Food Service delivery truck in Mich. Credit: Dwight Burdette

By Elise Herron

The technician shortage in the HVAC&R industry is well known. That’s why Gordon Food Service, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based foodservice distributor, is investing heavily in its technicians.

The value of this approach is reflected in a story about the professional growth of a technician shared by Jim Reid, Gordon’s maintenance manager, at the Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association (RETA) conference in Hershey, Pa. (that took place from Sep 26–29 2017).

In a whitepaper titled, “Grow, Support & Retain Your Refrigeration Operators: Including Workload Planning,” Reid wrote that the young maintenance technician, who was new to the field and did not have much formal training, didn’t know he wanted to be a refrigeration technician, but excelled at his job and was looking to expand his knowledge.

“A person who is just allowed to take readings on the system might just be the next superstar if they are encouraged and allowed to train and develop with a more experienced and trained operator.
Jim Reid, Gordon’s maintenance manager

“This led him to train with our RETA CIRO-level refrigeration technician and he again started to excel,” Reid wrote. “He continued training while also fulfilling his maintenance technician responsibilities, got involved with some of our action teams and completed some electrical training courses provided by our company. Once the opportunity to become a full-time refrigeration technician presented itself, he jumped at the chance and we further supported his development by enrolling him in an ammonia refrigeration school”.

This technician has since accepted a position as a second-shift refrigeration operator, trains with others to continue to advance his knowledge and has initiated a few valuable energy-saving ideas for the company’s refrigeration systems.

Reid used the story of this young technician to exemplify the many ways in which managers can support and retain their technicians.

Gordon Food Service’s maintenance manager explains why investing in technicians is the best way to attract and retain them

“This support can come in many forms, and with the proper planning can be a vital way to ultimately retain your technicians”.

He advised “knowing your team members and understanding what challenges, motivates, and excites them. Once you figure out these key components, then you can start laying the groundwork to move the relationship forward”.

One avenue is to allow team members to participate in action teams such as a hazmat, safety, emergency response, or energy management. A place on a team can allow a technician to help with the direction of the team. “By allowing them to participate on these teams they can also grow their knowledge base,” he said.

Growth can also happen through peer- and cross-training. “A person who is just allowed to take readings on the system might just be the next superstar if they are encouraged and allowed to train and develop with a more experienced and trained operator,” he said.

For the full story check out the January 2018 edition of Accelerate America here: