We all need a good environment around us to make us comfortable, effective, more productive etc. Just 100 – 150 years ago, workplaces were simple structures, with maybe 3 – 4 stories at the maximum and the management of the environment within the spaces was easy – if it was hot, have people use manual fans and if it was too cold, put on a fire. With the advent of the elevator in a 5-story departmental store in New York in 1857, everything changed and now work-spaces could be built not horizontally but vertically as well. This is where the modern skyscrapers originated, and work-spaces have never been the same ever since.
Occurs, one could not put a fire inside a room in a 20-story building to heat the work-space, nor could the windows be opinioned at that height. This is where the HVAC industry came in and solved a very critical problem – how to keep the work-spaces in these high-rise buildings comfortable for the occupants to work safely and effectively in. Thus, the growth of the modern work-spaces has gone hand in hand, or one may even say has been due to the advancements in the HVAC sector. It would thus not be out of place to say that HVAC is an important industry or sector in our modern world and there are correspondingly many opportunities for people to make careers in this sector. This article gives an overview of the various career options that students entering the workforce have in this industry.
What is the HVAC Industry?
Almost every sector of the economy needs HVAC – process industries, manufacturing, automobiles, the building sector, hospitality, hospitals – the list is endless. Air conditioning is essentially about providing air at the right temperature and humidity and flow rate for a requirement. There are many ways to provide the desired air qualities – it could be natural ventilation, or it could be by use of air conditioners like we have at our homes. Refrigeration is another branch of HVAC and this industry is as large as the air conditioning sector itself covering cold storage facilities, process refrigeration, food storage systems etc.
The HVAC industry is a large industry too – its size globally is approximately USD 108 billion as on date, with projections to reach nearly USD 157 billion. The Indian HVAC market is relatively small, about USD 2 billion which will expand to nearly double to USD 4 billion by 2024. The average growth of the industry is between 7 – 8 per cent. The industry employs a wide variety of people, both in the informal and formal sector and with the growing demand for air conditioning, the number of people that the HVAC industry employs will only keep on increasing.
Careers in the HVAC Industry
The HVAC sector traditionally has students from the mechanical engineering stream joining the industry as air conditioning is a core subject in the curriculum. However, with advances in technology and the changing face of the industry, students from other streams to have the opportunity to be part of the HVAC industry. The key roles that students interested in the HVAC sector can look at exploring are shown in figure 1.
Design & Manufacturing:
This sector is where the industry cycle really begins. All the large HVAC companies have manufacturing in India as this is a growing market. In addition, since this is a highly competitive market, these companies invest heavily in Research and Development (R&D) and there are thus careers in core HVAC design that students can take up. Since the HVAC systems cover a range of subsystems such as the main chiller, the pumping systems, cooling towers, controls, air handling units, ducting etc., there are many areas that one can get into.
Sales & Marketing:
Since HVAC is a highly technical area, the sales and marketing of the equipment and systems are usually handled by technically qualified sales staff, unlike many industries where a general underrating of the sector is sufficient to run the sales. Typically, companies hire students for core manufacturing and system design roles and then once they have understood the technicalities of the industry sector they work in, they move to a sales role. The same is the case in marketing roles where it is essential to have a deep understanding of the technology and then develop the solutions.
Operations & Maintenance:
When one walks into a mall or a hotel, the air conditioning is taken for granted and the customers do not even notice that the indoor air is at the temperature that is best suited for their comfort. This is possible because there is a dedicated and capable team that is operating as well as maintaining the air conditioning system of the mall or hotel. With multiple components like pumps, chillers, cooling towers etc, the HVAC system is a complex one and needs trained staff to operate it at the optimal design points. HVAC systems are also the largest consumers of energy in a building and hence, the staff who run these systems can contribute to the bottom-line as well as top line of the organisation. The O&M sector employs a large number of people across the range of roles and is only growing due to the larger penetration of HVAC systems across the country.
Service & Repair:
Since there are a large number of components and systems in an HVAC installation, there will be chances of breakdowns and malfunctioning of systems. Typically, organisations that buy the HVAC products enter into Annual Maintenance Contracts (AMC) with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for repairs as well as regular service to the system. These OEMs employ engineers and technicians in their service teams to service the AMCs as well as attend to breakdowns.
Consulting, Project Management & Contracting:
There are a large number of firms that carry out the design of the HVAC system for a particular requirement such as a mall, building, school, hospital, airport etc. These firms are specialised consulting firms and hire engineering graduates to help them manage the design workload. There are also many firms that specialize in the execution of the design and these firms employ HVAC engineers to oversee the installation, commission and testing of the HVAC systems and components.
The HVAC industry is growing at a good pace in India as there is a large amount of untapped potential and a very large market. This sector is also witnessing new technology interventions that are changing the whole landscape of HVAC. The industry has always tapped into the engineering base of the country and there will thus be many more career opportunities for students coming out of the colleges in the times to come. While the industry typically takes in mechanical engineers, the modern HVAC systems need engineers from all streams of engineering – electrical, electronics, instrumentation, AI etc. and hence, there are many opportunities for the young engineering graduates in this industry.