The refrigeration industry has been facing a shortage of skilled workers for years, and the problem continues to grow, creating significant challenges, disrupting essential operations, and limiting growth. “At a high level, the workforce shortage creates a bottleneck that threatens the industry’s ability to meet regulatory timelines,” said Danielle Wright, executive director of the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council.

The technician shortage is the biggest limiting factor to the HFC phasedown. “Federal and state regulations are driving the transition away from HFC refrigerants, but there are simply not enough technicians to enable this change, let alone service all the existing systems. Ultimately, this puts the future of food retail at risk,” Wright said.

That is one of the reasons the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council conducted its Workforce Development Assessment Report. “We wanted to understand the drivers of the shortage and develop data-driven, effective solutions to build a sustainable refrigeration workforce,” Wright explained.


While data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 40,100 HVACR job openings each year between 2021- 2031, it doesn’t specify where or how big the shortage is for refrigeration jobs specifically. “A big part of the problem is that we don’t have comprehensive data on the size or location of the workforce gap that is specific to the refrigeration sector,” Wright said. “This lack of data makes it hard for the industry to respond proactively and bridge the gap.”

What’s more, the existing shortage may be causing people to leave due to the negative, reinforcing the technician burnout loop. “This job already requires long grueling hours, which are only exacerbated by the shortage of new technicians entering the field and the number that are exiting or retiring out, creating even more unsustainable schedules that lead to further technician shortages,” Wright said.

Simply put, not enough young people are coming into the industry as Baby Boomers retire. “We were a grey industry 10 years ago and it is even greyer now,” said Don Faust, training manager for Johnson Controls.

Currently, 40% of the 12 million people in the entire skilled trades workforce are over the age of 45, with nearly half of those workers over the age of 55, and less than 9% of workers aged 19-24 are entering the trades, according to an analysis by PeopleReady Skilled Trades.

Limited awareness of opportunities in the trades, including refrigeration, is contributing to the shortage. In many ways, refrigeration technicians fulfill an unseen but essential job that most people don’t know exists. Darrow Soares, Professor Emeritus, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, Mt. San Antonio College, said exposure must begin earlier. “Commercial refrigeration is not a career that young people consider unless one of their parents works in the industry,” he said. “Others, including high school and junior high counselors, associate the career with what they have been exposed to—their domestic kitchen refrigerator.”

Unfortunately, parents and counselors cannot picture a successful and lucrative career with that image in mind, Soares said. To start changing students’ and parents’ thinking, the industry needs to reach out to both groups while students are young. “High school career fairs are too late,” he said.

Wright said a lack of awareness of refrigeration can even occur in tech schools. “Even if they are enrolled in an HVACR program, there’s little emphasis on the ‘R’ side,” she said. “This can be addressed by providing more refrigeration training for the trainers, more resources and equipment to support learning, and more opportunities for students to connect with the refrigeration industry. Overall, we need to build more exposure to the refrigeration career at every step of the career pathway.”


Touting the benefits of working as a refrigeration technician could help attract new entrants. Wright said NASRC’s survey found that techs have a high level of overall job satisfaction. “Over 85 percent of respondents to our survey said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their career,” she said. “Benefits include job security, the fact that it’s recession-proof, low to no educational debt, and geographic flexibility. Most importantly, this job offers very competitive pay with high growth potential.”

Soares said physically fit students, who have a strong sense of responsibility, are curious about technology, and have a willingness to constantly learn will always be successful as refrigeration technicians. He tells students and anyone else considering the career that they will have a consistent job that pays a living wage for the rest of their lives.

“We will always have to provide food and commercial refrigeration makes it available. Plus, it is not easily outsourced through technology,” Soares said. “It takes boots on the ground to install and commission the equipment.”

Troubleshooting mechanical issues can begin remotely, but it takes experienced technicians to show up and put their hands on the equipment, listen to and watch the operation, and physically do the work to restore or maintain the operation, Soares said.

However, technicians can face long and unpredictable hours. “This is a job that can require being on call nights, weekends, and holidays. There’s seasonal inconsistency, long drive times, and its physically challenging work,” Wright said.

Plus, mechanical failures can be more catastrophic than those in comfort cooling. “Not everyone can handle working under high stress, high-pressure situations, where the clock is ticking to fix an issue with a system that could lead to potentially millions of dollars’ worth of revenue loss due to food spoilage,” Wright said.


Solving the technician shortage requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. “There’s something everyone in this industry can do to contribute,” Wright said, adding that many companies are already taking action.

Faust said manufacturers and industry associations, including IIAR, have a critical role to play in making training resources available so people can learn more about the field, different disciplines and needs, and how to be successful. “That comes right down to maximizing online training, both from the IIAR training as well as others,” he said. “You can’t count on just having an apprentice follow someone around for a long time to pick it up.”

Online and virtual training could make training more accessible. “Attending classes where people have to fly across the country and spend a week and a half away from work is difficult,” Faust said. “Making training accessible and having someone take an online course half an hour a day and sip it in rather than getting a fire hose will help people get more familiar with the industry.”

Companies should also consider reaching out to their local community college refrigeration program, adult school, or regional occupational program, Soares said. “Begin with administration and make your intentions known. Insist on joining their advisory committee,” he said. “Come into the advisory with a clear ask— teach these concepts—and then be ready to offer resources in the form of curriculum assistance, adjunct faculty, access to equipment, and employment.” Even still, Wright said this isn’t a problem that can be solved by any one individual company. “We need a coordinated effort across the industry that simultaneously addresses technician recruitment, training, and retention gaps.”

NASRC has formed a workforce development program to provide a platform for coordinated action. “We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead amplify and align existing efforts while filling any gaps,” she said.

The concept is to take the recommendations from the report and implement them at a regional level since many are too large to tackle all at once at a national level. “Initially, we are taking a local, bite-sized approach, testing out solutions to see what works and then scaling up from there,” Wright said.

A good example is the Natural Refrigerant Training Summit NASRC hosted with Southern California Edison earlier this year. The event brought together refrigeration trainers from 12 different organizations, over 250 technicians, and almost 100 students and faculty from local HVACR programs. “For the first time, we were able to combine workforce development, through robust technical training in CO2 and propane technologies, with student recruiting and building relationships with local school faculty,” Wright said.

Initiatives to attract more women and minorities, new outreach programs, and scholarships could also help bring new entrants to the industry. With regulatory requirements increasing and the demand for refrigeration services expected to continue to grow, the refrigeration industry needs to find a way to appeal to workers.

“This career is for anyone who wants to make a direct impact, who would rather be working with their hands than behind a desk, who likes to solve interesting problems and learn new things, who value financial independence, and who wants to work with good people,” Wright said.