Aer Teale from Lineage Logistics presented on HVAC&R technician shortages at ATMO America 2023.
Aer Teale from Lineage Logistics presented on HVAC&R technician shortages at ATMO America 2023.

ATMO America: HVAC&R Technician Shortage Having ‘Real Business Impact’ says Lineage Logistics

Gaps in the skilled workforce are resulting in increased costs, equipment downtime and risk of losing customers, according to Lineage’s Director of Engineering.

The HVAC&R sector’s current technician shortage is having a “real business impact,” according to Aer Teale, Director of Engineering at U.S.-based Lineage Logistics, one of the world’s largest temperature-controlled logistics companies.

Gaps in the skilled workforce are resulting in increased costs, equipment downtime and risk of losing customers, explained Teale.

Technician shortages in the industry are likely to be exacerbated by trends like building decarbonization, but there are several actions HVAC&R stakeholders can take to start addressing these issues, Teale added.

Teale delivered these remarks during an end user keynote presentation at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2023 on natural refrigerants. The conference took place June 12–13 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of Ammonia21.com.

Diverse workforce needed

Lineage operates an international network of refrigerated transportation and cold storage facilities for the food cold chain, with more than 440 facilities in 20 countries.

Across the business, Lineage employs a staff of about 25,000, more than 1,000 of whom work in the business’s engineering and maintenance team, explained Teale. In North America alone, Lineage’s engineering and maintenance team has 148 positions open, and vacancies within the HVAC&R sector are projected to increase by 15% by 2026.

One key issue facing the HVAC&R technician trade is a lack of diversity in the workforce.

“When one group of people dominates [a sector], we only get their viewpoint on how to solve a problem,” said Teale. “We’re missing experiences from a whole range of other people. We have to provide equitable opportunities for people.”

“When one group of people dominates [a sector], we only get their viewpoint on how to solve a problem. We’re missing experiences from a whole range of other people. We have to provide equitable opportunities for people.”

Aer Teale, Lineage Logistics

Other issues that need to be addressed, according to Teale’s presentation, include society’s opinions on skilled trades, a lack of mentoring and coaching and the inaccessibility of training programs and apprenticeships.

Organizations like the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association (RETA) Training Institute, the Natural Refrigeration Foundation and the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC) are working in several areas to stimulate workforce development in the U.S., including training, scholarships and outreach.

“My challenge to us is that the industry comes together [to ensure] careers in refrigeration are a career pathway of choice,” said Teale.

Net-zero by 2040

During the presentation, Teale also discussed Lineage’s efforts to reach net-zero by 2040, with a focus on energy efficiency and a transition to refrigerants with a low GWP and low environmental impact.

Lineage currently uses 10 different refrigerants across all of its refrigeration equipment and systems. Around 90% (3 million lbs/1.4 million kg) of its inventory is made up of natural refrigerants, with ammonia (R717) representing the majority. The remaining 10% (300,000lbs/136,000kg) is R22, R134a and other F-gases.

High-GWP refrigerants are still used at 85 of Lineage’s locations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, so it is a global issue for the company.

In an effort to reduce its Scope 1 (direct) greenhouse gas emissions, Lineage is working to transition more climate-friendly refrigerants. According to Teale’s presentation, fugitive refrigerant emissions account for roughly 11% of the company’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 (indirect – energy) emissions.

“We know that roughly 10% of our refrigerant inventory is high GWP, and we know that we need to replace them with refrigerants that have a low GWP and low environmental impact,” Teale added.

As Lineage works to phase out high-GWP refrigerants, it needs to first define what “low GWP” and “low environmental impact” mean. Throughout the process, all relevant stakeholders must be engaged, from its operations and human resources teams to company executives and external partners.

It is also vital to ask the hard questions, said Teale; for example, what happens to the -fgases once they’re removed from Lineage’s inventory? After being recovered, are they reclaimed, recycled or destroyed?

“Refrigerants with low GWP and low environmental impact [will be] key to achieving climate positive while keeping people safe, food and medicine safe, and to increasing global economic development,” concluded Teale.

Lineage’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 (indirect from energy) emissions will be detailed in its upcoming inaugural Carbon and Sustainability Report.

“Refrigerants with low GWP and low environmental impact [will be] key to achieving climate positive while keeping people safe, food and medicine safe, and to increasing global economic development.”

Aer Teale, Lineage Logistics

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