Instructor Workshop Raises The Bar

April 30, 2003
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Bob Feathers, instructor from RETS Tech Center in Centerville, Ohio, speaks to the audience about PAHRA accreditation.
ARLINGTON, Va. — For a number of HVACR educators across the country, the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute’s (ARI’s) annual instructor workshop is an event that cannot be missed.

This year’s workshop marked the seventh year for the program and brought together over 150 HVACR instructors from a variety of educational institutions, including secondary and post-secondary schools, as well as manufacturer and distributor training courses.

A number of issues were raised during the two days in an effort to educate the educators on how to improve their programs and better prepare their students for the industry.

An optional workshop day that preceded the event included a meeting for members of the Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE) and team leader training for the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

Bennie Barnes, a distributor trainer for Habegger Corporation, was one of the 150 instructors to attend this year’s ARI workshop. For Barnes, the yearly event offers a number of opportunities for instructors to stay on top of their game in an industry that continues to evolve.

“We’re always looking for change and new ways to do things,” said Barnes. “As instructors, we are always looking to improve.”

Barnes said that the program allows him to find out about events going on within CARE and to keep up to date on several technical topics.

“If it weren’t for Leslie, none of this would happen,” Barnes said, referring to Leslie Sandler, education director for ARI.

Sandler coordinates the event each year and schedules a number of speakers to present seminars on a wide array of topics.

“Instructors are so motivated about the workshop that many have called to suggest speakers for next year,” said Sandler. “As it is a workshop for instructors, the suggestions are acted upon.”

Some of the presenters this year discussed new technologies as well as technical applications.

Ken Fonstad, training manager from Danfoss, presented the instructors with information on drives for fans and pumps for the HVAC system. Jerry Wander, general manager for the service tools business of Inficon Inc., informed instructors on the technologies available for leak detection, while Bede Wellford of AirExchange Inc. spoke on the topic of energy recovery devices.

According to Wellford, energy recovery is one of the fastest growing technologies because of its ability to save energy, increase efficiency, and promote better indoor air quality.

Roger Raffaelo, instructor from the Advanced Technology Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., said that all of the presentations were informative, but Wellford’s presentation was especially helpful.

“Energy conservation is going to be a critical issue,” he said.

Instructors also learned more about refrigerant technologies. Mark Spatz, manager of refrigerant tech services for Honeywell, conducted a presentation on R-410A. Sherri Wilkerson, former training manager for Copeland and current senior analyst and product support engineer for Carrier Corp., answered questions on refrigerant technology, compressor operation, and other topics.

Leslie Sandler (right) facilitates a group discussion among the participating instructors.

What The Industry Wants

Wilkerson also took the time to provide the instructors with a manufacturer’s point of view on education and the relationship manufacturers and educational institutions need to have.

“Manufacturers and instructors need to work together,” she said. “You need a manufacturer represented on your advisory board.”

According to Wilkerson, manufacturers can benefit from supporting instructors and providing them with the tools they need to create qualified technicians. Wilkerson believes one of the major benefits for the manufacturer is a reduction in failure warranties.

By supporting instructors and up-and-coming technicians, manufacturers can guarantee that their products are being installed properly.

Wilkerson asserted that instructors need to teach more common installation and repair practices, including recovery, evacuation, charging, and brazing. She also said that technicians need to learn about basic concepts such as dry bulb, wet bulb, and airflow.

“If you stress the importance of these applications in the classroom, chances are better that they’ll do it in the field,” Wilkerson said. “It takes all of us to make this industry work.”

Part of making the industry work, according to Wilkerson, is PAHRA accreditation. She said that PAHRA helps to guarantee that all educational programs are on the same page.

Contractors also had the opportunity to address the instructors about what they need from students and future technicians. The five contractors present at the workshop were all members of the National Capital Chapter of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).

Carl Godwin, Northstar Heating & Air Conditioning, Newington, Va., said he would like to see students better prepared when they interview for a job. Godwin said that too many young people show up for their interview with a poor appearance.

“This is an excellent trade and on day one we need to tell [students] this is a professional trade,” he said. “I expect them to be dressed appropriately with a resume in hand.”

Godwin also said that he will give prospective employees a quiz to find out what they know from a technical standpoint.

Tom Hackshaw from Dynatemp Inc., Silver Springs, Md., said that he has seen too many technicians coming out of trade school without an understanding of the basic applications. For example, Hackshaw stressed that instructors need to drive home basic subjects such as electricity, heat, and the refrigeration cycle.

Dan Foley of Foley Mechanical, Alexandria, Va., agrees that some students are not mastering the fundamental skills needed to work in the field. He suggested that some students can ace a test, but when it comes to performing the application in the field, students are sometimes lost.

Foley also believes that more schools need to teach communication skills, as well as offer the Industry Competency Exam (ICE). Besides ICE, Foley believes that school programs should be aiming for PAHRA accreditation.

“Students need to come out of school with accreditations,” stressed Jess Gordon from Cropp-Metcalfe Air Conditioning & Heating, Fairfax, Va. “This provides something as a point of reference.”

David Kyle from Trademasters Corp., also in Newington, not only took the time to make suggestions on improving education, but he made sure that he thanked the instructors for the work they have done. According to Kyle, if it had not been for a caring HVACR instructor, he would not be where he is today.

“I look for people who have pride and enthusiasm in what they do,” said Kyle. “We need people who care and want the freedom that comes with knowing the trade.”

Educational Success

For many instructors, the workshop is an occasion to appreciate the progress that has been made in HVACR education.

Pat Murphy, director of technical development for North American Technician Excellence (NATE), told the audience that the testing organization has administered a record number of exams. He noted that the passing rate for the NATE test is between 66 percent and 68 percent, which Murphy says proves that the test is tough but fair.

Tim Lawrence, executive director for SkillsUSA/Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA), gave instructors an update on the student organization and its current success. Lawrence presented several stories of SkillsUSA members who have gone on to succeed within their chosen career paths. He also announced that Craig Dort, an HVACR student from Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri, was chosen to represent the United States at the international skills competition in Switzerland.

Wilkerson encouraged the instructors to continue their support of SkillsUSA. For those who are not involved, she and Lawrence said that instructors should find a way to create a local chapter or support the current chapter in their area.

Instructors were given the chance to take the ICE and NATE exams free of charge.

All of these opportunities and seminars were designed to provide instructors with information that can help them in the classroom, but for some instructors, the real learning came outside of the presentations.

Jacky Skelton, instructor at Cotton Boll Technical Institute in Burdette, Ark., has attended the event for several years.

“In what we do it is easy to get discouraged,” the instructor said. “The workshop is like having a best friend that knows what you are talking about.”

Sandler agrees. “The overwhelming positive response from HVACR educators is the reason we have the workshop every year,” she said. “Instructors tell me that the workshop is the finest forum for instructors wishing to network with other instructors, as well as being partners with the industry to raise the professionalism of HVACR.”

Publication date: 05/05/2003

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