Manufacturer Drives Solutions to HVAC Learning

June 11, 2007
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Rick Kincel, HVAC Learning Solutions, gives pointers to maintenance technician Ahmed Elawasy of Fras Air, Manville, N.J.

Learning the HVAC trade is a process, not just a quick study of textbooks and some lab work - and not something that can be done overnight. That’s the logic behind Lennox Industries’ “Build-A-Tech” (BAT) program, which is available to service technicians who want to include continuous education in their careers.

“The idea was based on the notion that if you are going to eat an elephant, it needs to happen one bite at a time,” said Rick Kincel, Lennox/HVAC Learning Solutions technical instructor/developer.

“We decided that if we taught specific processes that techs need to know, they could go back to their centers and begin to be productive right away. After gaining much-needed field experience, they could come back for one-week courses throughout their career to build on the basic skills they were originally taught, making them able to run service calls.”



FOCUS ON SERVICE

The BAT program was originally developed two years ago. The initial classes were run in Phoenix on a trial basis by Kincel and later by Frank Granville, who is now the instructor in the Phoenix location.

The program has evolved beyond the original format, which included basic installation techniques. “The installation part of the program was dropped as we found very few techs we sent back to the centers ever did any installations upon their return,” said Kincel.

“The program now focuses on maintenance tune-ups on gas heat, heat pump, electric heat, split system, and package a/c units.

“The program also covers brazing, pumpdown recovery, evacuation, CO testing in the flue, superheat and subcooling, external static pressures, total Btuh transfer, cfm [cubic feet per minute] calculations, IAQ, EPA Type I and II certification, and much more.”



Maintenance technicians Lauralei Haines of SEI of Ocala, Ocala, Fla., and Jason Woodworth, of Cook Heating, Elkhart, Ind., get a lot of hands-on training through tips from HVAC Learning Solutions.

ONGOING PROCESS

Once students go back to their contracting employers, Kincel said the learning process has only just begun. The entire educational experience involves a lot of theory, hands-on, and feedback from business owners.

“This is an intense program that requires technicians to work in class and lab, but also requires many hours of homework, typically four hours nightly,” said Kincel. “If a student is not fully committed to a career, this program will quickly indicate an unwillingness to provide the work it takes to succeed in this industry.

“We contact the owners and general managers of our students every Friday to keep them updated on their student’s progress and weaknesses and adjust slightly the focus of training based on the owner’s specific needs.” For example, a student may have problems understanding combustion and venting; but living in south Florida, he may concentrate more on air conditioning “than trying to completely understand the gas heat maintenance procedures.”



Jim Abernathy (left), assistant instructor from Donelsons of Nashville, goes over troubleshooting tips with maintenance technicians Dan Masi (center) of Sunset Heating and Cooling, Gloversville, N.Y., and Seth Marsh, General Conditioning, Branchburg, N.J.

CONTRACTORS SENDING TECHS

HVAC contractors are throwing their support behind this type of training. “Contractors have supported us with students, but not just locally,” Kincel said. “Students attend the Phoenix, Nashville (Tenn.), or Orlando (Fla.) locations and have traveled from Alaska, California, New York, Texas, and most states in between.

“Contractors have also provided products removed from the field that are still operable or could be of significance as a learning tool, such as a condenser (compressor) with split valves, pitted contactors with slight voltage drops - real-life things that techs encounter in the field. Seeing it here first takes away a lot of the mystery.”

The program also draws support from Lennox and North American Technician Excellence (NATE). “Lennox has recognized the product as a market-changing tool that will benefit the dealer’s need to put techs into the field quickly and economically,” said Kincel.

“Their territory managers are offering the course as a means of helping dealers attract and retain new personnel in the industry. Other manufacturers have toured the facility to see how they can adapt a program like BAT in their areas.”

BAT curriculum was developed around the NATE Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise (KATE). It is approved by them. Students receive training that is in alignment with NATE’s KATE information that was developed by industry experts on what technicians need to know.

“We give the NATE Core and a/c service exam during this course to gauge the effectiveness of course content,” said Kincel. “This is not a requirement for passing the course. We currently achieve approximately 50 percent NATE certification on our students, many of them never having previously turned a wrench in this industry before our class.”



HEART OF THE SOLUTION

Kincel said he believes BAT is an excellent program because it goes right to the bottom line: profitability. Well-trained workers meet customers’ needs.

“Having owned and run an HVAC business in south Louisiana for 25 years, I understand the needs of contractors to get techs up to speed quickly and efficiently to fill their customers’ needs,” he said. “It is a program that works. It is time tested and proven.

“Not all of the students pass this course,” he added. “We stay in contact with the owners during the entire process and give our educated recommendations. The owner is in this every step of the way, formulating whatever decisions they need to make.

“In the last five months, I have had students that have had from 0 months to 25 years in the business and without exception, the response has been very positive about how the course takes away the magic of the system and breaks it down to a way they can explain the components to their customers. Educating customers on the box that makes them warm or cool helps to tie the customer to the company for immediate and future revenue.”

Kincel cited a testimonial from Jacob Dunn of Allbritten Plumbing & HVAC, Clovis, Calif., as one of the best reasons to get into the BAT program. Dunn is a former student of Kincel’s. Dunn’s current supervisor said the return on investment for Dunn’s training had been realized in one month.

Kincel also mentioned that Dunn had achieved his NATE certification with a higher score than most service technicians he had proctored over the last six years.

“I am writing this to thank you for the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and opportunity for career advancement that you have provided,” states Dunn’s testimonial. “My employer sent me to your month-long course in Nashville under the direction of Rick Kincel. I started out in this industry with only a good knowledge of dc electrical current and absolutely nothing else.

“After having no background in this industry, and spending three weeks in this class, I was able to get my EPA certification and pass. I found my first week back that I was teaching guys with 20-30 years of experience, and others that had been through 18-month college courses, things they didn’t know.

“As a technician I feel confident that I can go to any customer’s home and earn their trust, thanks to the tech communication course. And with the theory and codes I learned, I can maintain or repair their unit, and build confidence in the company with the customer, while maintaining a long, loyal customer base.”

Publication date: 06/11/2007

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