HRAI Tackling Persistent Workforce Development Issues


In the last several months there has been some important progress in the workforce development area for the HVACR sector and HRAI’s ability to address the enormous challenges facing the industry.  Not least of these developments was the hiring of Andrew Ferguson as HRAI’s Manager of Workforce Development.  Andrew’s focus will initially be on overseeing HRAI’s involvement in the Skills Ontario Competitions at CMPX in March and at the Skills Ontario events in May.  At the same time, efforts will be directed to re-launching HRAI’s Career Ambassador Program, with an initial focus on the Atlantic region.  

HRAI’s advocacy efforts will also be greatly aided by the launch of a report by BuildForce Canada this month, and by prospective approvals for several projects that have long awaited funding from the federal government and the Government of Ontario.  What follows is an update on activities in this area. 


Early in February, HRAI received a draft version of BuildForce Canada’s report Building a Greener Future: Estimating the Impact on Construction Labour Demands from Transitioning Buildings in Canada away from Fossil Fuels.  Commissioned by NRCan and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), “the primary aim of this study is to estimate labour market impacts from converting existing buildings from fossil-fuel or inefficient heating and cooling systems to equipment that runs on renewable energy sources.”  HRAI was advised more than a year ago by NRCan that, while the government was convinced that addressing labour force needs should be a priority for policy, they remained unclear on the magnitude of the problem.  The assignment for BuildForce was to quantify the problem. 

The findings of the report are quite dramatic and will most definitely aid in HRAI’s ongoing advocacy efforts by underlining that the industry’s needs – even just over the next decade, let alone all the way to 2050, are substantial and, in many ways, unique.  Some excerpts from the (still unreleased) report are shared here to illustrate. 

Figure 1 illustrates the investment requirements to transition from fossil-fuel-powered heating equipment to cold-climate air-source heat pumps and energy-efficiency retrofits required to improve home-heating efficiency and minimize future draws on the electrical grid.  

Green buildings activity, including fuel-switching and energy-efficiency retrofits, will produce direct and indirect impacts on the province’s residential construction sector. The direct impacts pertain to the new employment creation to retrofit and build greener homes, while indirect impacts will result from increased economic growth which should lead to rising disposable incomes. 

Across Canada, the work outlined in this report will be far-reaching and should drive significant demands for tradespeople and others working in the residential sector. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from residential buildings is estimated to require an additional 56,900 workers who will be directly involved in this work.   


A graph of energy efficiency

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Source: BuildForce Canada 

Employment created in residential construction 

New employment directly related to green-building activities, 2023–2032 

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Figure 2 shows the direct new employment created for the top 20 trades and occupations across the 2023–2032 scenario forecast and broken out by green building activity.  Driven primarily by energy-efficiency retrofits, trade helpers and labourers stand out with a staggering creation of 9,000 direct new jobs. This is because the trade is usually involved in most residential construction projects.  

Of more significance to our sector, a staggering number of direct new employment opportunities for refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics – close to 8,100 – are expected to be created through the scenario period. These demands stem from fuel-switching in both existing and new homes. These will create significant labour market challenges as the direct new employment created are nearly four times (387%) the size of the 2022 workforce for this trade. 


A graph of a number of people

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Source: BuildForce Canada 

Table 1 shows the expected change in residential employment for Canada over the 2023–2032 forecast period by trades and occupations under the scenario.  


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Source: BuildForce Canada 

The BuildForce report also notes that, as homes transition to heating equipment powered by electricity, demand for gas fitters will decline, but this will present an opportunity:  

The reduced demands for gas fitters may be an opportunity for the industry to support these workers to obtain their heating, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics certificates. With acute skilled trades shortages already impacting the construction sector, the industry simply cannot afford to lose these valuable workers from the residential workforce as a result of the transition to electrification. While gas fitters working in commercial and institutional buildings already possess the skills and credentials to undertake this work, residential gas fitters are more likely to require additional training and credentialing. If the industry is able to train gas fitters, through credential upgrading, to install heat pumps, it would reduce requirements for heating, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics and narrow the gap by about 17%. 

This last observation plays nicely into a project that HRAI has been proposing to do that would define as much as possible what the re-skilling of gas technicians should look like if they are to become successful heat pump installers and service technicians. 


Since late 2022, HRAI has sought funding from various sources to conduct a “gap assessment” that would identify and address the skills requirements for technicians to install air source heat pumps safely and competently by: 

  1. evaluating existing industry curriculum and apprenticeship training standards (specifically the residential HVAC trade in Ontario as the benchmark reflected in the 313D license) against what the industry will need going forward; and 

  1. assessing the capabilities of existing, licensed, gas technicians who provide residential HVAC services, again relative to what the industry will need from competent heat pump installers.  

This proposed assessment would identify the extent to which additional training development is needed and what specific upskilling is required for those already working in the HVAC industry.  Once those gaps are known and documented, HRAI will be in a better position to engage with key trades training organizations to develop and deliver the needed training.   

Funding for this project was recently approved by NRCan, and it is expected that the project will begin in the late spring. 


As noted above, since coming on board in January, Andrew Ferguson has, and will continue (for the first six to twelve months) to focus on three key areas.  

  1. Ontario Skills Competitions  

As it has for the past 20 years, HRAI, led by a committee of dedicated volunteers, will participate in the Ontario Skills Competition events, including secondary school and post-secondary school competitions in the Heating Systems Technician and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Mechanic trades.  Because it is a CMPX year, the committee has planned for separate competitions and related events both at the trade show in March and at the Ontario Skills event in May. 

Because planning was already well underway before his arrival, Andrew is observing an learning from these events and will identify and implement strategic opportunities for improvement and expansion (if and as appropriate) in 2025. 

  1. HVACR Career Ambassador Program 

Building on the work previously done by the Career Promotion Committee, this initiative will install a team of industry volunteers across the country (eventually) to take the message out to career events, job fairs, secondary schools and the like, to speak on the opportunities and benefits of a career in HVACR.  HRAI’s support includes: a kit with key talking points, collateral materials and other supports as needed; initial and periodic training as needed; documentation of events, scheduling of volunteers and liaison before and after events with event organizers. 

Andrew will lead this initiative, starting with an initial focus in the Atlantic region, because of the already-established need for attracting more refrigeration apprentices to meet the exploding demand for residential heat pumps. 

  1. Refresh and Update HRAI’s HVACR Career Connections Website 

The existing HRAI Careers website and supporting material ( has not been updated since 2018 and is due to be refreshed.  Career events now rely on digital content more than printed collateral materials (though these are also needed) and anyone with an interest in a career in HVACR should be directed to a website that is not only fresh, informative and interesting, but also useful –directing serious candidates to existing training pathways (which vary from province to province and from one industry profession to the next).  In addition, this material needs to be promoted aggressively to build interest related to career opportunities in the industry.  This will be a priority tied to the build-up of the Ambassador program. 


  1. Pre-Budget Submission 2024 

In the most recent pre-budget submission, HRAI leveraged the findings of the BuildForce Canada report to make a request for $100,000,000 over 10 years to “subsidize the costs of re-skilling workers in the HVACR sector.”  As HRAI has stated on many occasions before in discussions with the federal government, the industry and the training community across Canada can and will rise to meet these challenges in due course. However, to facilitate the upskilling and retraining that will be needed to meet the timeframes associated with national carbon reduction goals will require a great deal of targeted assistance. The federal government is not in the business of trades training, but it can deploy funds to assist workers and employers in managing the costs of retraining through tuition subsidies.  Because the need is so urgent and the benefits will accrue to the people of Canada, the full cost of retraining and up-skilling should not be borne exclusively by skilled workers and their employers. 

Just last week, federal Minister of   Boissonnault announced the creation of the Sustainable Jobs Training Program, which will include up to $100,000,000 in funding to support, among other things: 

projects that help train a workforce to build and retrofit homes and buildings to reduce energy consumption and achieve low-carbon performance, [including] installing low-carbon heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, (including heat pumps), energy efficient components, or renewable energy systems. 

HRAI will be exploring this opportunity very carefully in the next few weeks. 

  1. Engage with the HVACR Training Community to Spur Innovation 

Building on the findings of the Gap Analysis, which will document the re-training needs of existing workers, there will be a need to engage actively with training centers in all parts of the country, as well as with their governing bodies (the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship and Colleges and Institutes Canada and the United Association) to ensure trades training and other HVACR training programs are fully aligned to the shifting needs of the HVACR industry and marketplace.  In addition to spelling out the industry’s specific training content needs, a case will be made for more flexible delivery options, more “a la carte” upgrade training or possibly “micro-credentialing” for existing tradespersons.  

  1. Establishing More Favourable Immigration Rules for Skilled Trades 

The federal government has promised to “increase immigration in the coming years to reach 500,000 immigrants in 2025—the majority of whom will be skilled workers who will help to address persistent labour shortages, including… the building trades.”  To draw more people into the HVACR trades from outside Canada, HRAI has lobbied the federal government (and provinces) to amend existing rules concerning the weighting of credentials for immigrants, to provide more emphasis on the skilled trades.  HRAI has some of this independently but also ties into larger initiatives being spearheaded by aligned trades and business groups (e.g. the National Trade Contractors Coalition of Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce) to create a more powerful message.  

  1. Pushing for a Program of Supports for Residential Contractors Seeking Apprentices 

HRAI has learned over time that one of the primary barriers to taking on new apprentices among small to medium sized contracting businesses is their lack of familiarity with, or comfort with, the apprenticeship registration and processing system, which can be quite bureaucratic.  Unionized shops have a partner in their unions to manage this process, whereas non-unionized contractors often just have to “figure it out.”  Some time ago HRAI developed a very useful guide to the system for employers.  Though well-received, it did not result in significant action.  In partnership with Support Ontario Youth (SOY) and ClimateCare Canada, HRAI has submitted a proposal to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) Skills Development Fund for funding to set up a support and mentoring system for small to medium member companies in need of assistance, with an initial focus on Ontario but a view to expand the service nationally.  

For more information, contact Martin Luymes at 1-800-267-2231 ext. 235 or email or Andrew Ferguson at 1-800-267-2231 ext. 248 or email 

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