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Voice of the customer

Entry-Level HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical Hires: What do Employers Value Most?

April 07, 2021

Last Updated: April 07, 2021

by Troy Latuff

Online trade schools. Well-written resumes. Certifications. Recommendations. Passion. What are employers really looking for when they hire for entry-level apprentice and tech jobs?

Uniting Employers and Job Seekers

Every day, I ask home service business owners what personality traits and job skills they value most in their entry-level hires. It’s a natural part of the conversations I have in my role as president and founder of The Blue Collar Recruiter and The Blue Collar Virtual Trade School.

Employers have the answers; there’s no one better to ask. After all, when owners hire an entry-level tech they have to live with the impact their hiring decision has on the business, on other employees and on customers. There’s a lot at stake.

On the flip side, people looking to enter the trades are naturally curious about employers. Will their training creds match up with owner hiring criteria? How do employers view online training compared to brick and mortar schools? Is there a preference for new hires with two-year degrees?

I answer questions like that every day when I talk with prospective students about Interplay Learning’s online and VR training curriculum in my role as an Affiliate Marketing Partner.

The reality is, people have a difficult time navigating their trade school options. Even basic questions about the length of time to graduate and tuition cost can be confusing.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do that proves my point. Google ‘online trade schools’ and you’re likely to find close to 500 million results. Rule out every school that takes more than three months to graduate and you’ll whittle the options down to around 107 million. Search on deferred tuition and the numbers go back up.

To decide what type of trade school is best for a student, I think it's helpful to start with some basic definitions.

Is Vocational School the Same as Trade School?

Yes. Vocational and trade schools give learners the same educational opportunities, despite the difference in name. Many offer online vocational certificates and diplomas. Some schools refer to the latter as degrees.

Are Online Trade Schools Accredited?

Not all trade schools have traditional accreditation, however, they are regulated at the state level as post-secondary education institutions.

Do Employers Care About Accreditation?

Some do, some don’t. All skilled trade employers need new hires to have the required trade certifications. HVAC techs, for example, are required to have their EPA 608 certification, whether they are doing residential or commercial work.

How Long Does it Take to Graduate?

Program lengths vary, but typically they can range anywhere from four months to two years. Unlike a four-year college, you don't graduate from a trade school with a bachelor's degree. Usually, upon completion of the program, you'll receive a diploma or trade certificate acknowledging you successfully completed the coursework.

Some online programs are self-paced, while others deliver scheduled classes. Self-paced study can be a great benefit if you are the type of person who doesn’t like to wait for other people in the class to catch up.

What Processes do Online Schools Use to Teach Trade Skills?

Some schools have live, online classes and a combination of webinars. Some also include virtual reality and 3D simulation training. Employers place more value on schools with instructors who have strong credentials in the trades and are industry professionals.

Is Trade School Worth the Time and Money?

The perceived value of learning a trade has increased in today's economy. In the last year, people have seen that jobs in essential industries are more stable. Job cutbacks are not likely in the HVAC, plumbing and electrical fields, especially on the residential service side. All things being equal, trade school offers personal fulfillment, high salary potential and job stability.

How Much Does Trade School Cost?

Tuition varies by school and by program. It pays to compare costs because the differences add up to thousands of dollars. HVAC programs, for example, can be $4,000 at one school and under $2,000 at another.

Is Deferred Tuition Available and How Does it Work?

Deferred tuition is a method of paying for trade school where you pay no tuition — or only a small amount — up front. After you graduate and get a job, your tuition is paid at a set rate each month through paycheck deductions.

Is Online Trade School Worth it?

Of course, entering a trade is a choice based on an individual’s skill set and life goals. People who enter the trades often tell me they made the best choice for their life goals. Many had no idea how many career options would be available to them in the trades, including management, in-home sales and even business ownership.

How Much Can You Make in the Trades?

You know, the sky’s really the limit with how most companies are run now. One employer recently told me their average experienced tech is making anywhere between $80k - $90k each year. Top employees are hitting $200k and those right behind them making $120k - $130k.

From an Employers Perspective

So, what criteria should students and people in career transitions use to pick a trade school that meets their budget and their dreams? My advice is to look at it from the employer’s perspective.

One very successful employer I know, who hires for all three trades — HVAC, plumbing and electrical — put it this way.

“In many respects a good online trade school gives you the same education as the standard vocational schools. As far as online vs in-person, I think COVID has taught us that we can do as much, actually even more, online.

If I were just starting out today, I’d go online instead of in-classroom. You can learn as fast as you want to and virtual learning (VR) gives you an experience that makes you feel like you just fixed something. I was blown away at how real VR is. You hear the equipment running in the background and see the meter in front of you. You finish the class and you really feel like you just fixed something!”

The Bottom Line

When employers make entry-level hires they have a good understanding of the basic training a candidate should have done. They’re not looking at the length of time someone spent in school, or which school they went to. Certifications are a given. Employers cannot legally operate if their people don’t have the state-required certifications and licenses.

Character, passion and the drive a candidate has is a decisive factor in who gets the job. When I ask employers what personality traits are ‘must-haves’ for them in entry-level job hires they almost all tell me, “Integrity, honesty and a passion for the trade.”

Troy Latuff

Troy Latuff

President, The Blue Collar Recruiter

Troy Latuff is the President of The Blue Collar Recruiter and The Blue Collar Virtual Trade School. A proven skilled trades leader in the home service industry, Troy started out as an in-home salesperson, working his way to GM, and then Co-Owner of a successful HVAC, plumbing and electrical service business. Today, he finds top talent for business owners and new careers for people interested in the skilled trades.