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Training - (The Subliminal Message)

May 15, 2006
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One of the nice things about my job is that I often represent The NEWS at critically important industry events (hang out at cocktail receptions) to discuss major issues or trends of monumental importance (Cleveland Indians are three games out in the Central Division.) One topic that often comes up in conversation is the shortage of skilled workers for our industry (we don't pay enough.)

During such conversations the subject of training and education always comes up. It's a natural connection. Whether it's a conversation with a group of contractors, distributors, or manufacturers (Larry, Moe, or Curley) the conclusion is almost always the same: "If we just had more training available, that would solve our problems."

However, having heralded from a training background in HVAC, I recall conducting several classes where only a few people showed up for the training (lousy trainer.) Once, there were only two people who showed up for a sales training program, so I decided to sit down with them for the entire two-day class - no sense in standing up for only two people (lazy trainer.)

Luckily, industry training has gotten much better in passing years. It is rare that the person teaching the class is a complete idiot. However, some training programs are so hell-bent on driving product content down the students' throats that the benefits are sometimes more difficult to see.

Of course, product training is very important to the success of rookies in the industry, veterans as well. Products evolve. New gadgets are added. (Engineers must have job security.) Staying abreast of new diagnostic skills is critical if an HVAC technician is to stay at the top of his or her game. Where else would one get such training if they don't attend distributor or manufacturer schools? Okay, I stand corrected. Driving product information down somebody's throat is sometimes desirable.

Still, I have found that some of the best training programs are focused on providing relevant skill training that can be applied in any setting, and perhaps in any walk of life. I recently was invited to an Aprilaire training program where a good friend (buys the beer occasionally), Matt Michel, CEO and president of ServiceRoundtable, was putting on one in a series of programs.

Prior to the program I asked Michel how much of the program was about humidifiers and other Aprilaire products. "A little," he replied. And he was right. (No subliminal message here.) The vast majority of the material was something anyone could use in the operation of an HVAC business regardless of brand loyalties. It was very refreshing to witness a good training program in Livonia, Mich., attended by about 50 contractors. That is the way it should be done.

No, the industry isn't a parody of the Three Stooges. However, there is some bumbling around when it comes to training. There are a few classes that are suspect in their quality. However, there are many more good programs with not enough people to populate the classrooms (butts in chairs.) I've met many contractors that regularly complain about a lack of training available and testify that more of it would be like manna falling from heaven. All the problems would be solved. Perhaps. (Not.)

Sure, training and education can be wonderful cures for a variety of ills, but only if people attend the classes. And, then, only if they retain a portion of what they have been taught. Most people will forget 90 percent of what they have learned in a classroom setting if they do not apply it within 30 days. Training is an all-the-time proposition and one that requires commitment from the top down. Getting people to the classes in the first place is the primary hurdle.

Training is a bit like advertising: a lot all at one time can be expensive; an adequate amount spread out consistently is rewarding.

The next time you ask a distributor to throw together a special training package to meet your needs, remember that a one-time shot is not a panacea. Your commitment is what really makes it work.

Can we attract more people to our industry? Will the industry be prepared for the transition to alternative refrigerants in 2010? Is the green building movement one that can sustain itself in HVAC? All of these questions are typical fodder for discussion at important industry events (cocktail receptions). The last meeting (boondoggle) I attended yielded the same questions. The answer heard: "More training."

Yes, more training could help, but it probably won't. (Not enough people attend training when it's offered to them.)

Mike Murphy, Editor-In-Chief, 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), mikemurphy@achrnews.com

Publication date: 05/15/2006

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