Luring Students Toward Oil Heat Service

December 9, 2004
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The annual NAOHSM trade show features a burner contest, and students compete for various prizes.
EAST PETERSBURG, Pa. - The HVACR industry in general has a hard time getting students interested in entering the service profession, and the oil heating industry in particular might have the hardest task when it comes to recruiting due to misconceptions of it being dirty, unskilled, dead-end work.

The National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) is fighting back with a number of weapons, including a CD presentation designed to encourage high school and junior high vocational students to consider training to become an oil heat technician, a scholarship program, trade show events designed specifically for students, career days, and equipment labs.

According to NAOHSM Executive Administrator Judy Garber, the association's past president, Scott Hinkley (R.E. Hinkley Co. Inc., Claremont, N.H.), led the way when he actively campaigned for renewed emphasis on technical training during his leadership tenure a few years ago.

Hinkley "recognized that in order for us to develop new technicians for our industry, we needed to support local technical high schools," she said. "He challenged our chapters to reach out and work with local schools.

"Today, most of our 30 chapters have done that. We support schools with our time, career days, getting instructors the products they need to have up-to-date labs, support materials, and more."

Future technicians pose for a photograph as they prepare to tour the floor at the NAOHSM trade show.

The Image Gap

There are many misconceptions about the oil heating service profession, Garber continued. "The main misconception is that it's a low-paying job, on a level with McDonald's."

Some people also look at it as a dead-end job that doesn't require training. According to Garber, nothing could be further from the truth.

"We're hoping to do something for students at our next convention [in Hershey, Pa. May 22-26], a panel discussion for students." Students themselves will be encouraged to introduce what they do in their work and how they got into it.

Panelists are expected to include a manufacturer, contractor, salesperson, college-level instructor, and wholesale staff person. The information they present will include what to expect at a job interview, how to prepare for it, and what a typical workday is like.

Garber said the association also is trying to get more information into the hands of parents, many of whom tend to try to guide their children toward four-year colleges to prepare them for white-collar office work. Information probably will be given directly to parents at events such as career days.

"A lot of the time you find that parents get concerned about the direction their kids are going and they have a lot of questions," Garber said. "We can explain to them that [oil heat service] is not a dead-end job. Career days are a great place for that.

"I'm always amazed," she said; "if you get them at a function, the ones who care ask the right questions."

She pointed out that some kids do go into four-year degree heating and cooling programs, but they tend to go into engineering. "We need them, too."

Students are encouraged to attend NAOHSM events. Competitions such as the burner contest are designed to pique their interest.

A Living Legacy

On Oct. 3, 1998, the oil heating industry "lost a good friend and a leader in technical education": Dave Nelsen of Kurz Oil Co. and education chairman for NAOHSM. To honor his memory, the association formed the Dave Nelsen Scholarship.

This year NAOSHM is awarding seven scholarships of $2,000 each to students planning to continue their education in the oil heating industry.

Candidate students must write a 500-word essay answering, "What are your goals and why do you wish to better yourself within the oil heating industry?" The essay and an application must be submitted to the national office no later than March 25, 2005. A panel of independent judges reviews the applications; winners are then notified.

So far, 23 scholarship recipients have shared $43,000. The 2004 winners included:

  • Shane Bond, Milford, Maine; during his junior and senior year, he attended the United Technology Center in Bangor to study plumbing and heating.

  • Larry Iazzetti, Yonkers, N.Y.; in his essay, Iazzetti quoted his father as saying, "Find something you like to do and make a living out of it." He said that someday he would like to own his own business.

  • Chad Simone, Carmel, N.Y., is currently enrolled at the State University of New York at Delhi. His family has been in the oil heating business for two generations, and he said he plans to continue the family tradition.

  • Brian Yurek, Deerfield, N.H., attends New Hampshire Community Technical College, Manchester, N.H., and made the President's List with a 3.74 grade point average (GPA).

  • Joseph Albani, Wakefield, Mass., graduated from the Northeast Vocational High School in Wakefield with a specialty in the repair and maintenance of vehicles. The oil heating industry has become a second career for him.

  • Brian Bitner, Greencastle, Pa., has been in the heating and air conditioning field for nearly six years. He currently works for a residential heating and A/C business while attending the Pennsylvania College of Technology. In his junior year, Bitner maintained a 3.96 GPA. He also said he plans to start his own business someday.

    Multimedia Tool

    The eight-minute "Introduction to Oilheat" CD describes the nature and benefits of oil heating and emphasizes today's training and employment opportunities. It includes voice narration of actual essays of students who have received NAOHSM scholarships and are attending technical colleges.

    The CD was distributed to NAOHSM members and issued to more than 9,000 retail oil heat companies that participate in the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA). NORA's Education and Training Committee adopted the NAOHSM CD effort as one of its first initiatives on behalf of oil heat training, Garber explained.

    The CD has multiple applications. It can function:

  • As an educational tool for junior high and high school career days, guidance offices, etc.

  • As an entry-level presentation for new and existing employees at oil heat companies.

  • As a basic entry presentation to realtors and other interested parties.

    The CD provides the opportunity for viewers to link to the school page of NAOHSM's Web site (www.naohsm.org), where they can inquire about the location of oil heat and HVAC training in their region, and/or contact a service manager via the group's message relay network. The CD also includes marketing materials and a brochure that discusses careers, salaries, and training.

    It has been well received, according to Garber. "It had to be reissued, and we're almost out of that batch." It is particularly useful as a presentation aid on career days, where its upbeat style helps deliver the message. "That's one of the things you've got to do to get young people," she said.

    For more information on NAOHSM's education/recruitment programs, contact Judy Garber at 888-552-0900; 717-625-3077 (fax); info@naohsm.org.

    Publication date: 12/13/2004

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