Dealing With ‘Dateline’ By Changing Industry Image

December 5, 2001
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MILWAUKEE, WI — What do you do when “Dateline” tries to do you in?

When television shows target unscrupulous contractors and technicians, the rest of the industry is affected and has to find ways to change negative impressions. Those were the comments of Keith Coursin, president of Desert-Aire of Milwaukee, WI, to attendees at the 64th Annual Educational Con-ference of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) here.

Technicians “ripping off end users is just not the image that this industry needs,” he said. “This industry has a small perception problem. It is a lack of trust by the end user in what our technicians are doing.”

Coursin noted this negatively affects the ability “to bring new recruits into the industry” — an industry which, he said, needs 20,000 new people each year for the next several years.

The challenge, he said, is to have an industry of honest and qualified technicians, two aspects that can work together.

The issue of qualification frustrates those from within and outside the industry, he said. He noted that 50% of products returned to manufacturers by technicians do not have defects. “What does that say about knowledge?” he asked.

Beyond the industry, he said, there are those that question the intelligence of those within — until they realize the skills needed. He told the story about a prison requesting hvacr training materials to provide vocational training. One look at the materials caused the officials to decide to offer options in roofing work instead.

“A lack of knowledge will not get you into the industry and keep you in it,” he said.

High school guidance counselors sometimes don’t help much, he said, when they use lines like, “You’re not stupid enough to go into hvacr.” Yet, he said, “high school is where we have to get our next generation of students.”

The next wave of technicians will have to be even more computer literate, he said. “When you have a problem, do you call and ask the manufacturer that instructions be sent via FedEx? Or do you go online and download that information?” And, he said, consider how much equipment is microprocessor controlled and, in effect, calling technicians when there is a problem.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

Coursin pointed to a number of possible sources for the upgrading of skills and image improvement.

He cited the ICE exam, “which raises the bar and creates a new measure of academia. If we are entrusting other people to train, isn’t it nice to know that they are training the way we want them to be trained?” He noted that 300 of 1,300 schools recognize the ICE exam. “So we still have a long way to go,” he said.

He also pointed to the NATE (North American Technician Excellence) testing program, “which is in the business of doing the test to know that people have the knowledge to do the job required by the consumer.” Thus far, he said more than 10,000 technicians have gone through the NATE program.

Coursin also noted PARA (Partnership for Air Condi-tioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation), “which wraps up all the academia in knowing that the schools meet the minimum areas. It creates standards for the students, the teachers, the curriculum, and the facilities, which are validated by a wide business group.” Thus far, he said, 15 schools have signed on to the PARA program.

He also noted the variety of education programs offered by RSES.



RECRUITING

Coursin called for increased efforts in recruiting potential technicians from the high schools. He noted in Milwaukee the creation of an hvacr lab in a high school. A number of officials within the industry met with school officials in the city and spent 18 months putting together a plan to create the lab.

“There are expectations for these students to pass the residential side of the ICE exam,” he said. “If a student wants to go for additional training, they leave with credits earned.”

Another effort in Wisconsin, he said, involves working with 19- to 35-year-olds, who use the same lab. This program aims for persons in low-paying jobs to obtain “life changing skills” through hvacr training. An emphasis here, he said, involves teaching responsibility and commitment.

“The future is in the people coming up. Expand your knowledge. Expand your leadership. Expand your mentoring,” he said.



CEREMONIES

During the conference, Irv Moeller, a retired educator from Wahpeton, ND, was elected international president for a one-year term. Long-time member Ernest Murphy of Augusta, GA, was selected Member of the Year. Les Guilfoye, a teacher and trainer for Invensys, was named Speaker of the Year.

Paul Schwarz, recently retired from Henry Technologies, was given the Herman Goldberg Award for lifelong achievements in the industry.

Sidebar: RSES Looks To Expand Training Programs

MILWAUKEE, WI — The Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) has one of the largest grassroots organizations in the industry, with hundreds of chapters throughout the United States and Canada. It also has at its headquarters in Des Plaines, IL, a large inventory of training materials.

As noted RSES executive vice president Robb Isaacs, “We have the educational material on the shelf. But that’s the problem. It’s on the shelf.”

The challenge is to find ways for that material to get into the hands of members in the chapters, Isaacs told attendees at the 64th Annual RSES Educational Conference here.

“People join RSES for the education. Yet only 68 of the 428 chapters offered training in the past year.”

He called upon members to do a better job in bringing the training programs to the chapters. Those courses run the gamut of hvacr technologies.

Further, Isaacs said, RSES International will step up its seminar programs from 10 in 2001 to between 25 and 30 in 2002, “with at least one within driving distance of every member.”

While the primary purpose of the push is to upgrade the knowledge of those working in the industry, Isaacs said the effort should also help in increasing RSES membership.

The society took another membership hit in the past year. During the society’s annual business meeting, it was reported that as of Sept. 30, 2001 the society had 17,141 members, a drop of about 1,700 from totals reported at the business meeting a year earlier.

While the fiscal year 2001 closed out in the red, Isaacs described the society’s finances as in a “safe condition” despite stock fluctuations.

He told conference attendees that the organization has hired a marketing director to better put the RSES name before the general public.

Isaacs noted additional efforts in working with sister organizations. For example, he said, “Contractor associations don’t compete with us. Our people (technicians) work for them. They have to rely on us to train their people.”

Publication date: 12/10/2001

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