The popular notion is that many HVACR programs are slowly heading towards extinction at a number of educational institutions. Many have heard of programs that are either shutting down due to lack of enrollment or struggling to stay afloat and recruit students.
But Vatterott College, with 16 campuses in the Midwest, is starting to see a trend that runs contrary to the idea that HVACR training programs are dropping off the radar screen. In fact, Vatterott’s skilled trades programs have grown by more than 40% within the last year. The college’s computer courses and information technology programs, on the other hand, have seen only a 16% increase during the same time period.
The college points to several factors behind the increase in student enrollments in its skilled trades programs, and asserts that it could be an issue of individuals finally seeing the light.
According to Mel Patton, director of the Vatterott campus in Sunset Hills, MO, the college’s computer-oriented courses have historically been the most popular offering. In fact, Patton says that as of two to three years ago, prospective students would not have a specific program in mind as long as it had something to do with computers.
At the same time, Vatterott’s trade programs were only experiencing average student enrollments. But within the last six months, Patton says that things have flip-flopped. Patton credits the recent changes in the job market for this new outlook on the trades.
“We have seen a dramatic jump in the trades, while the computer programs have had a decline in enrollment,” said Patton. “People are looking at the economy and are seeing how computer companies are going out of business.”
With the upward swing towards trade enrollments, the Sunset Hills campus decided to go forward with the addition of a new building to house the HVACR and trade technology courses. The new 30,000-square-foot building provides an extensive lab space for the HVACR program.
Chris Coreia, head of the HVACR program for the Sunset Hills campus, says that the new lab space provides a variety of equipment and tools. Suppliers, manufacturers, contractors, and trade associations assisted the college by donating a number of heaters, boilers, rooftop units, and controls. Coreia says that the program has the capability of instructing students on several HVACR applications including commercial refrigeration.
The addition of the new HVACR lab further boosted enrollments for the program. According to Patton, the HVACR program had approximately nine students last year. This year, 23 students are enrolled in the program.
He also says that word of mouth has helped to garner more interest in the HVACR program. Previous students are informing friends or family about the opportunities available through Vatterott’s HVACR course.
There are also more concrete issues that are driving up enrollments in the trades at Vatterott.
Patton believes that many individuals are getting involved in the trades after running into dead ends with other career paths.
Patton commented that at the Sunset Hills campus, “80% to 90% of the students enrolled in the HVAC program are nontraditional students.” This means that most of the students enrolled in the program are over 24 years of age.
Most of these nontraditional students are either displaced workers or individuals who found themselves in a job that did not provide the opportunity for upward movement.
Patton says that Vatterott College’s Cleveland, OH, campus is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
Six months ago, Vatterott took over the Westside Institute, which has had an HVACR program for the last 35 years. The timing was perfect for Vatterott. In that time, LTV Steel laid off workers in the Cleveland area.
Bill Radigan, HVAC instructor for the Cleveland campus, says that many of his current students worked for LTV for more than 25 years. These layoffs, according to Radigan, left many individuals without jobs and without the skills that would enable them to move on to another occupation.
The average age for students in Radigan’s program is anywhere from 38 to 42 years old. Radigan says that none of his current students are under the age of 28.
Not only is the Cleveland campus making way for displaced workers, but Radigan says that some of his students are veterans in the field who are coming back to stay current with the changing technology in the industry.
“Some of the students have been in the field, have been around, and now need more skills,” says Radigan.
Radigan says that every 10 weeks, more students enroll in the course, and there seems to no signs of the trend stopping. The phone doesn’t seem to be stop ringing for Radigan, either. He says that area contractors are still calling him looking for new graduates.
The placement rate of the Cleveland campus HVACR program is at 95%, but Radigan says that contractors are still in need of more qualified workers.
So why are individuals coming around to the HVACR industry? Radigan believes that people are starting to see the prolonged benefits of a career in the HVACR field.
“The service industries have always survived,” says Radigan. “People always need service. A/C and heat are no longer a luxury, they’re a must.”
And Radigan says that individuals are beginning to see the availability of HVACR jobs.
“All you have to do is open up the newspaper and see half a dozen to 30 ads for HVAC technicians,” says Radigan.
He explains that this is not just a phenomenon reserved for the Cleveland area or for Vatterott College. He says that the need for HVACR technicians is a national need, and that more and more schools across the country are responding to this need by opening or expanding HVACR programs.
Publication date: 08/19/2002