An HVAC mechanic checks the filter on an a/c unit (image courtesy of KOMUnews)
When deciding on a trade, most experts advise students to consider three key factors: is the trade in demand where you live? Is there a growing need for trained professionals in the field? Are there opportunities to advance, develop a specialty, or take on different roles within the trade?
An HVAC career satisfies all three criteria. From residential systems to huge-scale industrial solutions, we rely on heating and cooling technology more than ever. And with the emergence of new, energy efficient models and approaches, HVAC contractors and technicians have even more opportunity to expand their skills and service offerings.
In this post, we break down what it takes to work in HVAC, some of the pros and cons of the trade, and the latest labour market news for HVAC professionals in Ontario. We hope you find this information helpful when mapping out your training path and career goals.
Role and Skillset of the HVAC Technician
The world of HVAC includes a wide range of systems, appliances, and accessories related to heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration. This domain spans everything from boilers, furnaces and heat pumps, to walk-in coolers, cooling towers, and air filtration systems.
HVAC technicians/mechanics know how to install, repair, and overhaul many different HVAC systems, but may choose to specialize in a select few within the residential, commercial, or industrial sectors.
Daniel Robbins, a veteran HVAC professional with over 22 years of experience, highlights the breadth of knowledge technicians should aim to develop:
“A seasoned HVAC technician/installer is truly a ‘jack of all trades’ and will have a good understanding of other areas such as electrical, plumbing, and framing as well. They will know how to use literally hundreds of tools ranging from your everyday screwdriver to a refrigeration recovery unit and everything in between.”
Robbins adds that knowing how to interpret blueprints and schematics, understand relevant building codes, and HVAC safety protocols is also crucial for this field. Professionals working in Ontario will also need Gas 3 certification and ODP training—and the importance of excellent communication and customer service skills must never be underestimated.
All of the above skills are typically taught in quality pre-apprenticeship HVAC training, honed during an apprenticeship, and continually improved during the course of an HVAC career.
Challenges & Rewards of Working in HVAC
One of the biggest challenges facing the HVAC industry as a whole is the lack of qualified HVAC professionals. This problem spans Canada and the US, where labour shortages in this trade have caused big headaches for HVAC contractors and company owners.
From the HVAC technician perspective, the most commonly reported work-related challenges include:
- working at heights and in confined spaces, such as roofs, attics and crawlspaces
- at times working under very hot and very cold conditions
- dealing with seasonal highs and lows (particularly with the installation side of HVAC, where the level of construction activity can impact demand for services)
- working “on call” and some weekends
- knowing how to deal diplomatically and professionally with upset customers (when the a/c or heating system breaks down, clients can become very distressed)
On the other hand, the most-often reported advantages to working in HVAC include:
- a lot of variety: no two days are alike
- truly grateful customers (an effectively repaired or replaced heating/cooling system is considered a life-saver by many)
- wages are competitive (according to Statistics Canada, the median wage for HVAC mechanics in the Toronto area is $30/hr, and $45/hr at the high end of the spectrum)
- opportunity for advancement (for example, from HVAC technician to field manager to operation manager to distribution manager)
- opportunity to start your own HVAC business
HVAC Career Forecast for Ontario
The latest data from the Stats Canada Labour Market Survey highlights a very positive career outlook for HVAC mechanics in Ontario. This profession gets a 3/3 star rating for demand across the entire province—a trend that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. What’s driving growth in the field of HVAC? The labour market report emphasizes several key factors, including:
- relatively high levels of construction across the province, leading to demand for heating and ventilation systems (these are required by law for commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings)
- increased demand for refrigerated systems (installation and servicing) from non-residential operations, such as ice rinks, supermarkets, restaurants, and processing plants
- Ontario’s food processing sector is among the largest manufacturing operations in the province, and is very reliant on cooling systems for food safety
- expansion in the food processing sector (including meat processors) is driving up demand for HVAC mechanics at production facilities, warehouses, and transportation systems dealing in perishable products
- 6 out of 10 households in the province currently have central air systems, maintaining a steady demand for residential HVAC services
The labour report also highlights the growing market for more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable heating and cooling systems—like air-source heat pumps and geothermal systems. HVAC technicians can expect some demand to come from the installation and servicing of these new alternatives.
Interested in learning more about starting an HVAC career, or where to complete pre-apprenticeship training?
Take a look at the Pre-apprenticeship Training (PAT) Institute’s Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanics (HVAC) program, delivered at both the Toronto and Cambridge campuses.
Visit the program page for a complete list of HVAC courses, career information, admission requirements—or to chat live with a knowledgeable advisor. We’re here to help!