College Aims to Change Perceptions, Fill Industry Void

September 8, 2000
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Many people have a preconceived notion of service technicians. They always have dirt under their nails, they wear bibbed overalls, and the extent of his or her job is tightening some bolts. These images, for the most part, are false. But are these stereotypes hurting the industry?

Stark State College of Tech-nology in Canton, OH seems to think so.

In the Canton and Akron areas of Ohio, contractors are feeling the effects of the technician shortage the same as everyone else. Contractors in the area blame a lack of hvacr education and a negative portrayal of technicians. To help with these concerns, Stark State has implemented several ideas, including a new associate’s degree program in Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Technology. The degree courses are being marketed as an opportunity for individuals to take part in a technologically advanced field with great financial possibilities and solid career opportunities.



Working Together

To solve the area tech shortage, Stark State partnered with an advisory committee. The committee oversaw the development of the associate’s degree program by establishing a curriculum and collecting lab equipment donations.

The advisory committee is made up of several members, including manufacturers, contractors, and managers from the Canton and Akron areas. The committee has not only been busy approving the college’s degree program, but promoting the hvac industry in the region. Part of the promotion is dispelling the myths about the industry and proving that it can be rewarding and intellectually demanding.

Ed Radigan, advisory committee member and part of Refrig-eration Sales Corporation, says that he has seen how people turn their noses up at the industry. This past spring, Radigan and several others took part in a job fair to promote their industry. According to Radigan, he saw parents pull their children away from the hvac table. Radigan blames the many industry misconceptions, including the belief that technicians lack education and future opportunity.

Because of this perception, Radigan says that too many parents are pushing their children into traditional colleges, even when 60% of students at traditional colleges drop out in the first two years.

“We need to melt some sacred cows,” Radigan said.

To do this, the advisory committee has been visiting high schools and even grade schools to promote the industry. Committee members also appeal to parents to show what the industry has to offer and how it has changed. But more importantly, members are banking on Stark State’s associate’s degree to pull people in.

According to Brad Kurtz, Stark State hvac instructor, an associate’s degree in hvac is hard to find. This is surprising, says Kurtz, since an associate degree is very marketable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring associate’s degrees are expected to grow by 33% through 2005, and currently more than 70% of American jobs do not require a four-year college degree. Also, statistics show that a two-year college education helps individuals earn $250,000 more than a high school education in a lifetime.

Kurtz says this degree is also going to benefit individuals already in the industry. The program is set up with working adults in mind. Classes are held primarily at night to accommodate working individuals. Also, the program is getting help from the Akron-Canton Area Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA); the organization is offering scholarships to anyone interested in taking the degree courses at the college.

Several of Kurtz’s students have taken advantage of the ACCA scholarship.

“There are a lot of people with house payments and car payments who can’t afford a tuition expense,” Kurtz said. “This scholarship has solidified 12 students for us.”



How it Will Help

With the proper promotion, the Stark State can get more individuals into the hvac program, in turn filling the void for service technicians. The idea is to paint a proper picture of the hvac industry in order to increase interest.

“These guys are not just some backyard mechanic,” said Mike Foraker, member of the advisory committee and general manger for Jennings Heating & Cooling.

Foraker says that this class will highlight recent advances in hvac, and will show that the industry is high tech and mentally demanding.

“We want to show that this is a highly skilled profession,” Foraker said. “By tying in with Stark State we can show that hvac is a career that will lead to something down the road.”

Kurtz and Foraker both point out that today’s technicians must be proficient in several areas and able to grasp new technology. With this in mind, the degree at Stark State requires classes in business, technical math, and computer engineering applications.

The next step is to appeal to the students and parents by proving that the service tech industry is a challenging and rewarding career.

Kurtz says that the hvac industry is not the blue-collar profession it used to be.

“We have techs carrying PCs,” Kurtz said. “We are in the 21st century and it’s okay for kids to do this.”



Sidebar: Degrees of Change

Maybe a traditional college is not the answer. A changing labor market reveals an increasing demand for jobs that require an associate’s degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

:

  • Starting salary for an hvacr technician is between $20,000 and $40,000.
  • More than 70% of current jobs in the U.S. do not require a four-year degree.
  • A two-year college education will help you earn $250,000 more than a high school education over a lifetime.
  • Jobs requiring an associate’s degree are expected to grow by 33% through 2005 — a growth rate higher than that for jobs requiring a bachelor’s (20.9%) or master’s degree (22.4%).
  • 45% of jobs paying more than $50,000 are held by workers who do not have a four-year degree.
  • Publication date: 09/11/2000

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