Hvacr Instructor Knows How To Start From Scratch

April 12, 2002
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Getting an hvacr program started can be a difficult endeavor. Many instructors can find themselves in the unenviable position of developing a program from the ground up.

As announced in January, The News is set to help establish a secondary hvacr program in Oakland County, MI. As part of the process, we have looked to the examples of some of the educators who have been part of our “Hvacr Instructor of the Year” contest.

A few of our previous winners have started programs with next to no equipment and still went on to develop a successful curriculum. One such instructor is Scott McClure of Vernon College/Skills Training Center, located in Wichita Falls, TX.

Recently, McClure shared his story with The News and explained what individuals can expect when they initiate a training program, whether it is at the high school or college level.

Scott McClure (left) works with one of his students, Gilbert Martinez.

GETTING STARTED

McClure has been in the hvacr industry for 18 years. Thirteen of those years were spent as the owner of a heating and cooling business. McClure will tell you that his many years in the business have been filled with changes, from leaving his business, to starting his business up again, and going on to college to earn his bachelor’s degree in education.

One of the crossroads in McClure’s career came when he was told about a job opening at Vernon College for an hvacr instructor. McClure says at first he had no interest, but after thinking about it for a while, he says that he decided to apply for the job “for the heck of it.”

Vernon College liked what they saw in McClure and hired him in the summer of 1999. McClure’s first class would start in the fall, giving him about two months to obtain equipment and prepare his curriculum.

The instructor says that he was given a good-sized lab to work with and 20 retired refrigeration trainers donated from Sheppard Air Force Base. The college also set McClure up with a budget in order to obtain the rest of the equipment he would need for the program.

With the budget, McClure says he was able to purchase hand tools, two recovery units, two vacuum pumps, oxy/acetylene rigs, turbo torches, and supplies to build a tool cage. This ate up a great deal of McClure’s budget. To obtain the rest of the needed supplies, the instructor looked to the industry for help.

“I was able to get one new heat pump system donated from Custom Supply, where I do most of my business,” said McClure. “Magic Aire donated some things, as did Ferguson Veresh and James Lane AC.”

When McClure took the instructor position, he also kept his heating and air conditioning business. This helped in various ways, including obtaining lab equipment.

McClure explains that he would run into equipment in the field. Some customers would donate their systems to the college if they decided they wanted a new system instead of repairing their old one.

McClure also says that his contractor contacts helped him in obtaining systems in the field.

Once McClure had the equipment he needed, the next step was to develop the curriculum. This aspect, according to McClure, was the most difficult.

McClure says that you have to make sure what you are teaching is relevant and useful for technicians entering the field.

A year after establishing the program, McClure decided to do some research to find out if his curriculum was up to industry standards. This included looking into the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute’s (ARI’s) curriculum guide. McClure also obtained a copy of ARI’s Establishing an Hvacr Program In Your School: A How-To Guide. This is the same guide that The News is using to assist in developing a program in Oakland County.

“I didn’t have anything like that,” McClure said about starting his program. “I would have loved to have this info back then.”

KEEPING THEM INTERESTED

When McClure’s hvacr courses started in the fall, an overwhelming number of students registered for the course. McClure says that each semester starts off with 40 to 50 students, and not one course has had to be cancelled due to lack of enrollment.

But McClure had the job of keeping the current students interested and wanting to continue through the program. To do this, McClure believed that the classes had to offer as much hands-on training as possible.

One of the ways of doing this was with the donated and purchased lab equipment. When McClure obtained the systems needed for the lab, he decided not to install any of it. Instead, he let his incoming students do the work. This allowed McClure to get his lab set up, while giving the students the necessary hands-on training.

“This is good stuff for my students. It gives them some pride, too,” McClure said about the installation.

It also keeps the students interested and lets them learn from a real-world perspective.

“I believe that some programs may focus too much on theory and don’t provide enough hands-on,” he explains. “My students get lots of hands-on. I give them the theory they need, but don’t bog them down with too much math or trivial stuff.”

Part of the training includes maintaining the school’s hvac systems. This includes 12 rooftop units, which range from 3 to 9 tons of cooling with gas heat. Students also get to take field trips to see equipment that the lab may not have, such as chilled water systems or boilers.

Finally, McClure’s students have been active in the Habitat for Humanity program. The students have already participated in installing systems for two Habitat houses, and McClure’s goal is to work on one each semester.

CONTINUED SUCCESS

By next fall, Vernon College is expecting to offer an associate’s degree in heating and air conditioning. Currently, the program offers a 20-hour and a 40-hour certificate course. By taking 20 more hours of core college level courses, students can receive the associate’s degree.

Also, the college is in negotiations on an agreement with Wichita Falls High School for a tech prep program. Students from the high school would be able to enroll in Vernon College’s hvacr courses and apply them to high school credits. In turn, these credits would count towards college credits at Vernon College.

We asked what it takes for a program to be successful, McClure has a simple response.

“I think that the students you get have to leave the program confident,” said McClure.

To do this, students must feel that they are preparing for a career in the industry, McClure believes. This is where the hands-on training is most useful. McClure says that many students do not want to sit in a classroom. Students have to feel that they are learning something and doing something they will use on the job.

“The next goal, and I’m still working on this, is making the a/c companies interested in my graduates,” said McClure. He explains that by creating qualified technicians and providing contractors with what they need, educators can help their programs down the line. If your program has a reputation for developing qualified employees, contractors and local industry will pay more attention and will be more willing to help out, he says.

Finally, McClure says that help is out there if you need it.

“Do not get frustrated,” he says. “Throw pride out the door and ask for help. Don’t think you know it all.”

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