First-year STI instructor Paul Tunge helps student Matt Gjernes diagnose and find an electrical problem.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - If there ever was a business-training institution marriage made in heaven then Sioux Falls is the poster child. The relationship between the local Southeast Technical Institute (STI) and the local Sioux Falls HVAC Association has proved beneficial to HVAC contractors and students entering the HVAC trade.

In a time of declining enrollments in HVAC votech programs and an ever-shrinking HVAC workforce across the United States, this story is a bright encouragement.

Paul Tunge, STI HVAC instructor, recently talked withThe NEWSabout his school’s relationship with the association and the future of the HVAC trade in his region.

Second-year STI instructor Tim Hummel helps student Chris Rederick diagnose a bug in a rooftop unit.

“Our students are in their second year as a subchapter of the Sioux Falls HVAC Association,” he said. “The association has been an influential part of the students’ learning. They provide several scholarships each year and also provide industry guest speakers for their meetings.

“Several members of the association have volunteered their time as advisors for the student chapter, which really helped the students get their association off the ground. The association has helped many of our students get certified in a number of different areas (i.e., tracpipe, Rannai boilers, R-410A).”

Tunge added the group also provides input as to what their needs are as employers. When working directly with those who will be doing the hiring and developing a solid relationship with them, STI instructors feel they have a head start over other schools in the area.


Both Sioux Falls’ contractors and STI students have a secure feeling about the relationship.

“We feel our students have the upper hand when it comes to hiring,” said Tunge. “Many of our students have gotten to know their future employers before they are hired. Most of this positive relationship is a direct result of the student’s affiliation with the student chapter.”

Is that enough to keep students in the Sioux Falls area? Tunge thinks so. “The majority of our students come from the Midwest and will stay here,” he said. “We currently have students who have traveled up to 400 miles away to attend STI’s HVAC program. Some students return to where they are from, while others end up calling Sioux Falls home.

“This year we have one planning on transferring to an engineering program with an emphasis on HVAC after graduation, yet another is transferring into a business degree at another university.” Tunge noted STI has several nontraditional students who currently have jobs they are not satisfied with and are looking for a career change. Unfortunately, they still need health benefits and a full-time salary to survive.

“We try to accommodate those students as well by having a somewhat flexible daily schedule,” he said. “We will graduate 15 technicians this May and all are currently employed or have verbally committed to an employer in this field. Of those 15 graduates, all but two will be employed within a 60-mile radius of Sioux Falls.”

Rederick gets some hands-on instruction from Hummel.


The school has had a great deal of success showcasing its program. STI schedules several visitation days during the school year for high school and middle school students to attend. This exposes them to the school, the campus, and what each program has to offer. “I would say our best advertisement tool is the success our graduates have experienced after graduation,” Tunge said.

“Good news travels fast throughout the community and the surrounding area. We have been full (28 starts) for the last 3 years and have had up to 10 on a waiting list. We are currently at maximum capacity for the fall 2007 semester.

He added that some of STI’s success is directly related to the strong support the program receives from its advisory committee. STI has a very solid connection with the industry through the committee members. “The Sioux Falls HVAC Association has really stepped up to the plate with some excellent suggestions and really makes the students feel welcome,” Tunge said.

“We also receive generous donations of damaged, yet salvageable, equipment from our local wholesalers and manufacturers. Without this type of support, it would be very difficult to supply the lab and students with equipment that is representative of what they will experience in the field.”

STI student Nick Brock benefits from a lot of hands-on work during his class.

Does Tunge see a bright future for the HVAC trade in Sioux Falls? Yes.

“The future for HVAC training in our area looks excellent,” he said. “We are currently working with our advisory committee and the Sioux Falls HVAC Association and listening to their concerns while trying to implement new procedures dealing with the higher efficiency equipment and alternative refrigerants.

“If the future is anything like the past, the need for service and installation technicians will only increase. Attracting and keeping more people in the field has been a challenge for us for many years. We have not found any one clear solution. We believe young people need to be exposed to the industry to make them aware of what the HVAC industry is really about and what opportunities are out there in this field.

“How this is done is another question without a clear-cut answer.”

Publication date:05/14/2007