HVAC/R, or heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, generally refers to systems that manage and maintain healthy and comfortable indoor environments in residential homes, commercial and institutional buildings, and industrial facilities.
Career Clusters in HVAC/R
HVAC/R includes many opportunities to work on different aspects of HVAC/R systems—from sizing, designing, and selling systems to installing and maintaining them. Workers can be categorized into three career specializations.
Construction, installation, maintenance, and repair workers tend to do hands-on work at jobsites setting up HVAC/R systems and ensuring they operate well.
Design and engineering teams determine the ideal HVAC/R system sizing and configuration to meet clients’ needs, considering factors such as building type and energy usage.
Sales, marketing, and customer service staff engage in customer outreach, promote and sell HVAC/R products, and interact with customers to answer questions and provide product or service information.
With the right combination of education, skills, and experience, workers have many opportunities to advance within each area of HVAC/R work or transition across the three areas.
Job Prospects in HVAC/R
Most of the occupations included in this career map show secure employment opportunities in New York State. As the current HVAC/R workforce ages and retires, there is a need for new workers to avoid a shortage. The New York State Department of Labor’s employment projections expects most HVAC/R occupations to grow and have “favorable” or “very favorable” employment prospects between 2018 and 2028. With career guidance, ambitious and motivated workers, who explore varied aspects of HVAC/R and continue with education and training on the latest industry innovations, will have excellent advancement opportunities in an HVAC/R career.
Emerging Trends in HVAC/R
Developments in society and technology are driving the field toward safer, smarter, and more efficient HVAC/R systems. Particularly, the COVID pandemic, regulations, and technology advancements are among the top factors.
The pandemic has shown the need for ventilation systems to provide better indoor air quality while preventing or reducing COVID transmission. As a result, the HVAC/R field is focusing on ventilation systems that increase outdoor air flow and incorporate the use of improved filtration. The persistence of the virus in communities will likely influence whether these will be short-term changes to the HVAC/R field, or if they will endure over time.
Conversely, sustainability has been a core concept in the HVAC/R field for decades, as HVAC/R is a major area of building energy use. Driven both by regulatory changes to address climate change and the development of energy efficient technologies, the HVAC/R industry continues to promote efficiency and carbon reduction in buildings. For example, innovation in cold climate heat pump technology has made clean energy systems viable across all of New York State. While older heat pump technology did not efficiently heat buildings in cold-weather climates, current systems work well in sub-freezing temperatures.
The federal government and some state and local governments have regulations in place to use cleaner energy sources. As more electricity comes from renewable energy like wind, solar, and hydropower, high-efficiency, electric-powered HVAC systems that use heat pump technology are a key to reducing carbon emissions. Several recent regulatory changes support this shift to decarbonization and building electrification, which will mean workers who are experts in these technologies are in high demand. The Federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 includes provisions that incentivize homeowners to adopt energy-saving measures. In New York State, legislation enacted in July 2022 created the Utility Thermal Energy Network and Jobs Act, which will allow utilities to develop geothermal networks at the community level. Property owners would then be able to connect building heat pumps to the network. These projects will require local workers who will improve buildings in their community and make a positive environmental impact.
Advancements in information technology (IT) are changing every industry, HVAC/R included. The HVAC/R field uses advanced technology through the Internet of Things to increase sustainability and efficiency. Smart HVAC/R designs and equipment allow for automated, centralized monitoring and control of building systems. Customers have access to their weekly or monthly energy usage data, so they can make informed decisions to minimize energy consumption. Smart HVAC/R systems provide technicians with real-time performance data on air quality and equipment status, so they can predict when equipment needs maintenance before problems begin.
Workforce Trends in HVAC/R
Workers in the HVAC/R field need a solid understanding of HVAC/R systems and equipment. The trends listed above require workers who quickly adapt and learn to stay on top of new technologies and industry changes. Heat pump systems are more complex than fossil fuel-based HVAC/R systems to optimize efficiency and performance. Workers will need training to understand different types of heat pumps (e.g., ducted air source, ductless air source, ground source) and be able to appropriately size, design, and select products to best meet the heating and cooling needs of various building types. With the integration of sustainable energy sources and IT into HVAC/R systems, there is a growing need for knowledge and credentials in energy efficiency (e.g., LEED certification), renewable energy, energy modeling, and IT skills, which are not a traditional area of strength for HVAC/R workers. This includes mastering basic computer skills such as installing and operating direct digital control systems and performing associated data analytics.
Additionally, non-technical skills are essential for workers’ success. Each day may bring a different challenge, and workers must have the critical thinking skills necessary to trouble-shoot problems and develop solutions. Being customer-service oriented, an active listener, and a skilled communicator will help develop positive relationships with both clients and other team members.