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Contractors join in on HRAI product section meetings


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April 22, 2015

The social dynamic for HRAI’s product section meetings was a bit different this year. Of the 89 attendees at the event held April 16 in Mississauga, ON, 17 were contractors. In past years, the meetings have been targeted at manufacturers and wholesalers.

Brain trainer and educator Brian Thwaits opened the event, explaining how an understanding of educational psychology can strengthen a business’s communications strategy. Lou Ulbinas, president of Langton Mechanical Systems and Services, attended the meeting due in large part to Thwaits’s appearance.

“I get my bulletins through the HRAI because I’m a member and definitely recognized Brian Thwaits’s name and recognize he’s a great speaker. That’s why I raced down here to see him,” said the contractor, whose company is based in Hamilton, ON.

Robert Hogue, an economist with RBC, next offered perspective on the direction of the Canadian economy. He touched on construction starts and completions and declining gas prices, while noting that he sees the Canadian dollar continuing to hover around in the 75- to 85-cent range.

“The potential losses to Alberta will be more than made up,” he said, suggesting that things will balance out with potential gains in Ontario during 2015-16.

Still, while he does not foresee a crash, Hogue outlined a few general risks that the public should continue to be mindful of, including a prolonged decline of oil prices, rising interest rates, household debt, slumps in the housing market and government deficits.

HRAI president Warren Heeley opened the floor for feedback in in the general session, during which the challenge of attracting, training and retaining apprentices garnered much of the focus.

“The average age of an apprentice nowadays is 28. The average age of a mechanic is 50,” said Mike Martino, of Martino Contractors Ltd in Concord, ON. “We have to go back to grassroots. We make a point to bring a couple of apprentices in each year.”

On the aspect of attracting talented apprentices, Bruce Passmore of Emco Corporation, suggested that industry members need to celebrate their work to give it value in the eyes of young people and attract them to HVAC/R and plumbing.

“One of the biggest detractors is referring to ‘trades.’ It has a negative connotation,” said Heeley. “This was feedback from someone outside the industry.”

Improving the brand and utilizing focus groups were among the other suggestions from attendees. “We have to find the right ingredients to ensure we get the message out,” added Heeley.

Raising the bar in terms of skill level and capability in the field is becoming more critical.  “As we come to the maximum equipment efficiency, regulators, utilities are looking to the installation to achieve greater efficiency,” said Heeley. “Utilities are looking at reducing load…installation as a condition for incentives.”

The implementation of a quality installation program, enforcement of standards and the phasing down of HFC consumption were also discussed before attendees split up into their respective product section meetings for heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, indoor air quality and geothermal energy.

Attendees at the refrigeration product section meeting were all in agreement that the phase out of HCFCs will create significant service and maintenance issues for suppliers and technicians, and their customers.

“The big thing is that the alternate refrigerants are high pressure or flammable,” said refrigeration product section chair Dennis Kozina of Emerson Climate Technologies Canada.

Jim Flowers, HRAI chairman and manager of market development with Linde Canada agreed. “The mechanic will have to be trained to handle all these different products.” (Click here for more information on next generation refrigerants and their impact on the industry.)

Also of concern, particularly to manufacturers, are proposed new regulations for ODSs and halocarbon alternatives as presented in Canada Gazette, Part 1 on March 12, 2015. The changes to Ozone-depleting Substances and Halocarbon Alternatives Regulations are to reflect commitments made at the 19th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in September 2007 to accelerate the phase-out of the consumption of HCFCs and to introduce controls on the production of HCFCs.

Heeley noted that the comment period is 75 days. A backgrounder, the proposed regulation and information regarding the comment process can be seen at: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2015/2015-03-21/html/reg1-eng.php.

At the concurrent geothermal meeting, participants in that sector agreed that it was time for a national organization to be formed.

“We’ll be putting together an agenda and calling a meeting … to form a direction,” said Tom Boutette, president and CEO of B&B Trade Distribution Centre.

HRAI director of programs and relations Martin Luymes added that the long-term goal is to create an organization so that discussion can be more about developments affecting the industry instead of deciding what said organization would look like.

“We have to do that now (figure out the structure), but where we’d like to end up is like the other subsections of HRAI,” he said, pointing to the discussion of HFC regulations and other topics in the refrigeration product section meeting.




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