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Confessions of a Former High School Teacher

August 30, 2010
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Angela D. Harris

I confess … before I started working for The NEWS I would never have suggested that someone enter the trades as a profession. My job as a former high school teacher was to prepare a white collar workforce and trade schools and community colleges weren’t exactly where we were aiming students. Now before you stop reading and start sending me nasty letters, I have another confession to make. In retrospect, I was ignorant. As a white collar indoctrinated college graduate, I had no other experience or knowledge base to teach from except that those who could cut it went to state colleges to be doctors and lawyers; and those who couldn’t figured out what they were going to do with the rest of their lives in a two year trade school. Having been in the industry for five years now, I realize how wrong I was.

Why share this revelation now? I share this with you, the HVACR professionals of this industry; because I am concerned that the programs created to reach a new generation of technicians, although good and well run, don’t reach far enough.

How will a high school student know to choose HVACR in college if he/she doesn’t hear about it in school? If we don’t take a proactive approach to change the stigma that accompanies the trades, when you do get applicants to a trade program, what caliber of individual are they going to be? With approaching technician shortages and the overall HVACR workforce in mind, these issues could profoundly affect the technician workforce in the next 10 to 20 years.

BLUE COLLAR EDUCATION

Changing the way people think about the trades and the HVACR industry is going to take a multi-faceted educational effort. The public in general needs a new definition of blue collar work. High school teachers need to instruct students that there is a future in HVACR, especially with the energy-efficiency mandates and initiatives on which the nation is currently focusing. High school students need to realize that choosing the HVACR industry doesn’t make them a failure or a subclass student. Parents must support their student’s decision to choose the HVACR industry and understand that this choice doesn’t immediately qualify them for a one way ticket to the Island of Misfit Toys.

There are still a few jobs out there that don’t require a higher level of education, but HVACR jobs are not included on this list. An aspiring tech may not need advanced creative writing and Shakespeare classes, but a solid knowledge of math, science, circuitry, and a number of other technical topics are imperative for those looking to be long term successes in the HVACR industry.

Curriculum is currently being developed and implemented to train and educate K-12 students about green concepts and jobs, some of which don’t even exist yet. With this in mind, I would venture to say that putting together a new blue collar education program for the HVACR industry and other trades could be a positive step in migrating a reactive collecting program to a proactive recruiting machine. Not everyone can work in a cube, and not everyone wants to. Instead of HVACR and the trades being something a student settles for - through proper education and mindset - the industry could make HVACR and the trades something a student strives for.

OVERCOMING UNPOPULAR OPINION

The military knew it had some tough obstacles to overcome as signing up to serve this country wasn’t ideal in the minds of many parents. When public opinion of the beef industry shifted, it launched its “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” campaign. The dairy industry influenced its public opinion when it launched its “Got Milk?” campaign.

Overcoming unpopular public opinion is not a new problem, how the HVACR industry is going to change its public perception, however, is the challenge. Send me your ideas for a national Blue Collar Education program via e-mail at angelaharris@achrnews.com or post your comments at www.facebook.com/achrnews.

Publication date: 08/30/2010
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