Optimize the Education Environment

June 8, 2009
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Face-to-face training in a classroom environment is still very much a part of the HVACR training environment. (Photo courtesy of Bryant Heating and Cooling.)


Manufacturers want those responsible for installing and maintaining the products as technically proficient as possible.

Technological advancements and new product rollouts are the main impetus for furthering education and training within the HVAC industry. With manufacturers well aware of the age-old axiom that “time is money,” the longer a serviceman/contractor is out of the field and in a classroom will end up costing his/her outfit more money, right? Not necessarily.

“Once HVAC contractors start getting a taste of technology, they realize that training is an ongoing investment. It’s not like paying a light bill,” said Steve Schmitt, director for LG Electronics Commercial Air Conditioning.

Savvy manufacturers continue to devise ways for contractors, technicians, engineers, et al. to get the most out of training by offering a variety of mediums/settings that can be tailored to suit even the most exacting of schedules. While some will find comfort in a traditional classroom experience, others may just as easily opt for an online program held in real time, or even downloadable for the most flexible scheduling imaginable. It’s online, on-demand core competency material presented by some of the biggest names in the HVAC sector.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification hours are sometimes available via these means, and with all the various programs offered, it seems there is a niche for all levels of skill and experience. Following are but some of the myriad industry initiatives available to help further education and training in the HVAC sector.



EARN CEU CREDITS ONLINE

According to Katie Leifeld, senior trade channel marketing specialist with Honeywell, 144 e-Learning Live sessions have been held so far in 2009. Honeywell offers e-Learning Live for distributors and contractors, which is a series of weekly online training webcasts, the company reports. The sessions are led by Honeywell product marketing managers and technical specialists, and cover everything from new product technical training to sales and marketing sessions designed to help raise sales.

With live sessions held twice weekly at different times to meet different customer schedules, if customers aren’t able to join the live sessions, all of them are recorded and available for download anytime. Contractors who attend the live sessions qualify for one hour of NATE continuing education credit for each session they attend. The recorded sessions do not qualify for NATE continuing education credits.

Leifeld said that as product modules are added online, the sessions are updated. “We’re always keeping the learning sessions current with those product releases,” Leifeld said. And with the advent of these online learning platforms, there is more flexibility in scheduling. “We want to give customers different training options. If they’re not able to travel, we still want to reach them via different mediums. By offering these online sessions, the user can really do the exercises whenever convenient for them,” she said.

And, Honeywell Buildings University and Homes University still offer a wide array of physical classroom courses at the Honeywell Training Center. Homes University is NATE-certified; contractors will earn 24 hours of training credit upon completion of the course.



Hands-on learning of the OJT (on the job training) variety is replicated to the greatest extent possible in labs across the nation. (Photo courtesy of LG Electronics Commercial Air Conditioning.)

EXTOLLING THE ADVANTAGES OF HANDS-ON LEARNING

A great argument can still be made - and has been, ad nauseam - regarding the disparities between classroom/hands-on and online learning. In this day and age of high-speed Internet and hectic workdays without nearly enough hours in them to begin with, much can be said for the practicality that courses over the computer afford the user.

Conversely, the tangibility of actual hands-on learning and technical labs present the materials in a way that simply can’t be as exactly replicated, no matter how advanced the software. Steve Schmitt, director for LG Electronics Commercial Air Conditioning, said, “The more complex the training, the more difficult it is to do online.”

Schmitt and Don Fort, national training and quality manager for LG Electronics Commercial Air Conditioning said that their company’s first training center - opened December 2008 in Atlanta - has “more than exceeded expectations.” Since opening, instructors at the center have trained hundreds of contractors, commercial engineers, distributors and salespeople.

Schmitt said that the LG Electronics Commercial Air Conditioning mandates that personnel be trained to install, maintain and service the product. “There is a critical importance of training, not only for contractors, but the whole gamut of industry professionals - design engineers, building owners, etc.

“There seems to be an assumption that many contractor partners take; an ‘I know what to do’ attitude … Sometimes it’s difficult to embrace new technology and uniqueness of products … However, these do require training - in-depth training. Equipment isn’t getting any easier,” he added - “it’s more complex.”



Self-paced learning is growing in popularity. Many manufacturers and distributors offer a tremendous variety of online and CD-based learning tools. (Photo courtesy of Emerson Climate Technologies.)

TIME CRUNCH

Struggles with the time allotted for training by contractors’ busy schedules continues to prove problematic: Manufacturers are constantly challenged by time constraints on the participants’ end. “We’re really caught between a rock and a hard spot,” Fort said. “Contractors demand to be trained, but we’re not given enough time to properly train them. This results in a Catch-22.”

“People want one hour; this material is hard to cram into one day,” Schmitt lamented.

And although the two concede that online learning can sometimes be akin to a one-way street, meaning that the element of interaction is taken away from a live classroom setting, LG Electronics Air Conditioning will be engaging in online training in the near future. Additionally, Schmitt said that given the success of the first facility, LG will be opening a second training facility in Southern California that is planned to be open by end of this year.



FORGING AHEAD WITH EDUCATION AND TRAINING

As with anything, proper training and education will ensure optimal and improved performance. This can come into play regarding specification, maintenance, repair and design, and more. As the next generation of HVAC professionals step into classrooms and learning laboratories - or log into software-enhanced computers - it is up to them as champions of the HVAC industry to follow the paths presented by the instructors, associations, manufacturers and tradesmen that have carried us to this point, and continue to forge ahead.

In these exciting times of technological breakthroughs, HVAC industry advancements, and a focus on energy efficiency and sustainability that is unequaled, traditional learning has meshed with online offerings to provide courses of study that offer options for everyone. Be it the old-school person who may function best in a hands-on, peer-to-peer environment, or the techno-savvy one who cherishes the leisure and relaxed scheduling that online courses can provide, the task at hand is education.

More information on these online initiatives is available at www.forwardthinking.honeywell.com.



Sidebar: More CEU Credits

Emerson Climate Technologies granted authorized provider status from the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). In May 2009, Emerson Climate Technologies announced that its Educational Services Division has become certified by IACET as an Authorized Provider of Continuing Education Units (CEUs). IACET Authorized Providers are the only organizations certified to offer IACET-approved CEUs for all current training programs as well as any created during the time of certification, for the next five years.

“Emerson Climate Technologies is proud of our education programs which train over 2,500 HVACR professionals each year in important technical skills so that our customers stay on the cutting edge,” said Larry Banas, director, Emerson Climate Technologies, Educational Services Division. “Our partnership with IACET is a demonstration of our commitment to lifelong learning and high standards for all of our programs, and we are excited to join such a prestigious association as well as an elite group of organizations which offer excellent continuing education and training programs.”

Also, Emerson Climate Technologies’ instructor-led courses carry IACET CEUs toward a contractor’s required annual hours and NATE credit toward contractor recertification. The company reports that its distance learning programs are in process of being granted the same status.

Publication date: 06/08/2009

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