Could an Art & Design School Hold the Key to Renewed Interest in HVAC as a Career Path?

Photo courtesy of Billyv, Flickr

Photo courtesy of Billyv, Flickr

By Trish Holder

The Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) could find a way to make a paperclip interesting.

A recent tour of this extraordinary campus left me wondering what my own industry could learn from this extraordinary institution – particularly when it comes to attracting bright, young people into the HVAC field. 

SCAD calls itself "The University for Creative Careers," no doubt a bold rebuttal to the idea that art and design students are destined to be well-educated hobbyist rather than gainfully employed professionals.  After a few hours touring the facilities and listening to student guides talk about their own experiences at the school, I was convinced that SCAD has succeeded in blending “exciting and creative” with “practical and profitable.”

These students are going places. They are collaborating with each other and doing amazing things from creating the opening visual for the Super Bowl to a prototype for an urban living space of only 135-sqaure-feet.  Big brand companies are dipping into the school for talent to fuel their film studios, advertising agencies, architectural firms, publishing houses and so much more. This is not a school for future starving artists.  

So if SCAD can make something practical and profitable out of something that is exciting and creative, why can’t the HVAC industry make something exciting and creative out of what is already practical and profitable?

That was the question percolating in my brain as I looked at a SCAD photography exhibit showing unexpected perspectives on buildings. One photo in particular caught my eye.  Most likely taken using a drone, it was of the rooftop of an ordinary urban building.  Other than the perspective, there was nothing special about the image – just the usual rooftop equipment -- a cooling tower, some piping, and the concrete roof.  But from up above it looked cool.  Really cool.

Isn’t It All About Perspective?

It dawned on me how much our reactions to things are based on perspective, including certain careers.  SCAD, as a school, constantly encourages shifting perspectives – both visually and intellectually. That’s what is exciting to the students about the school and I suspect it is also partly to thank for the fountain of creativity that flows from it.

Is it so hard to imagine the HVAC industry, both the design and service areas, might profit from doing the same? 

Maybe--just maybe--it already is. 

A recent article by Mike Murphy of ACHR NEWS points to a few promising signs.  The article, entitled "Labor Shortage Answer Requires Cultural Change" suggests that a “demographic trend” may have already taken root. Murphy cited some of his own observations at a recent Service Nation Inc. meeting, including that of younger contractors in their 30’s and 40’s (young for this industry, anyway) talking less shop and more about changing technologies, such as home automation, home performance, home information, etc.  He also quoted one industry veteran who believes that the key to inspiring a younger generation of techs involves granting them more autonomy to engage with customers and make decisions, basically giving them the perspective of a business owner rather than just a service tech.

It was a good article that seemed to dovetail with some of my own observations at SCAD. 

The article also mentioned a new industry conference for contractors, Service World Expo, Oct. 26-27 in Las Vegas, which has my interest peaked. It’s pretty obvious that this conference is positioned to appeal to a younger generation of contractors. Judging by the clever graphics on the website, I’d say they are off to a good start.

The concept is fun, fresh, and exciting. Very SCAD-like, indeed.