Higher learning institutions and educational/workforce programs focusing on HVACR offer extensive hands-on training and lab applications alike for students looking to get started on a career in the industry and/or gain further certifications. Advancements in online learning have also been realized that take core competency material applicable to industry certifications such as NATE (North American Technician Excellence), and present the information in an electronic format.
Whether a seasoned industry vet, or a fresh high-school graduate, the educational offerings available in both classroom/laboratory settings as well as over the Internet present great options for furthering an individual’s involvement with today’s HVACR sector.
BRINGING AN HVACR BACHELOR'S DEGREE ONLINEMike Feutz, LEED AP, chair of the HVAC department at Ferris State University, said that Ferris State offers two degrees in HVACR; an associate’s and bachelor’s. “The associate focuses on the residential and light commercial side, with focuses on design, service and maintenance,” Feutz said. “The four year focuses on large commercial/industrial system design, control and energy - our HVACR bachelor’s degree is one of only two in the country.” The bachelor’s degree is offered on campus and online.
The Online Bachelor of Science in HVACR Engineering Technology degree program consists of the same curriculum as the on-campus program but with a different delivery method, the university reports. Ferris State offers the seven upper-level HVACR Engineering Technology courses online. Classes total 30 credit hours, and an additional 31 credit hours of general education courses must also be completed.
According to the university, “the online program was designed for working adults who have several years of experience in the HVAC industry, and was set up for students to take the HVAC courses through Ferris and the general education classes at a local institution. Most of the general education courses are also available online through Ferris State University.”
Feutz said that the department “recruits students from a variety of walks.” The programs are “accessible to anybody and everybody - nontraditional - some who are displaced and coming to school on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deal,” he said.
“For folks that hold an associate’s degree and want to know more, they can get a bachelor’s degree online. This includes light commercial/residential owners who are trying to squeeze dollars out of equipment,” Feutz said.
According to the Ferris State HVACR department’s admission and overall performance criteria, admission requirements for HVACR programs for the associate’s degree stipulate that enrollees must be high school graduates with a 2.5 GPA and an ACT composite of 17 with a math subscore of 19. For the four-year bachelor’s degree, an AAS HVACR degree with a 2.5 GPA and intermediate algebra and trigonometry is required.
And as par for the course in most higher-learning facilities, graduation requires a minimum 2.0 GPA in core classes, the major, and overall.
FOCUSING ON THE FUNDAMENTALS OF HVACRThe Refrigeration School Inc. was established in 1965 in Phoenix, by Edwin Loney Sr. and his wife, Ola Lee, after Loney became frustrated with “not being able to find any well-trained HVAC technicians after relocating from Dallas to Tucson, Ariz.,” the story goes. RSI, which was originally known as the Modern School of Refrigeration, changed its name to RSI in 1970 and was accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology in 1973.
The school is a family owned business - Elizabeth Loney-Cline and Jon Cline Sr. solely own and operate it - and aside from a change in management style, not much else has changed regarding the family ownership dynamics.
According to Cline, vice president and director of Training and Industry, and Shelly Short, public relations and marketing, there are currently 445 students who are daily attendants. The programs offered are generally six to eight months, although they can be as short as three months, and as long as 13 months, Short said.
The classes run five days a week/five hours a day, and there are night sessions that run four days a week/four hours a session. According to Cline and Short, all HVACR instructors at RSI are NATE (North American Technician Excellence)-certified, have more than 300 hours of professional instructional training, and are engaged in ongoing professional and technical development.
While RSI’s curriculum is fairly entry-level, many graduates go on to further placement in the HVACR industry. Thirty-five to 40 percent of attendees are referred to the school by a graduate or a company, and the school provides a standing offer to its students: “Those who are in good standing can come back and ‘refresh’ plus utilize as a continuing education resource,” said Cline. “The goal is to be a benefit to that graduate and as an example to that employer.”
RSI graduates more than 500 students in a year’s time, Short said. The class sizes are structured so that the student-teacher ratio provides students with adequate individual attention, with theory and shop/laboratory classes capped at 38 students. “The luxury of being a smaller school is getting to know students more personally,” Cline said.
RSI offers an Associate of Occupational Studies degree in Mechanical Maintenance Engineering, and diplomas in Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating Technologies, Electrical Technologies, and Electro-Mechanical Technologies.
The educational advisory committee is fairly adamant that RSI continue to focus on the traditional basic HVAC program, and not fall prey to adding too much extraneous coursework, Cline said.
“They [advisory committee] have been pretty set on keeping it a fundamental HVAC program,” Cline said, and notes that the fundamentals of HVAC make up the core competency. The program is applicable to both the commercial and residential sector, and even industrial refrigeration.
Since RSI is nationally accredited, and “outcome oriented,” according to Cline, the school must report and qualify how many students that start go on to graduate, and after that, what kinds of positions they filled.
Short said that RSI attracts students through trade shows, career fairs, and even through local TV ads. “Referrals account for 20 percent of our students,” Short said, and “nearly 50 percent come through the Website.”
Short says that Career Development Director Rick Rusch is responsible for career placement assistance. “Rick is very high-tech and very successful,” Short said.
She also points out that Marriott Corp. is using the RSI pool of graduates to staff their properties across the country.
COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION AND TRAINING PROGRAMSAs both the company Website and Marc A. Trichon, WorkForce Upgrade.net and HireBetterNow.com tell it, the www.WorkForce Upgrade.net program is the result of combining the strengths and talents of two companies; HVACReducation.net and HireBetterNow.com. “Each company brings years of experience and success to the betterment of the HVAC Industry,” Trichon said.
Trichon, described the process utilized by HireBetterNow.com as a “step-by-step, controlled, systematic way to find, hire and train certified technicians.”
Trichon said that the search begins by looking for people displaying the following attributes:
• Innate mechanical ability;
• Honest and hard-working - an innate understanding of the task at hand; someone who is going to be agreeable with customers, co-workers, and the boss; and,
• Overall “good people,” Trichon said.
The groundwork for WorkforceUpgrade.net was laid about four years ago when Charlie Brand, an attorney and accountant from New Jersey who developed the HireBetterNow.com program, and Chris Compton, lead faculty, project director, and content development manager of the online effort called HVACReducation.net, met. The WorkforceUpgrade.net platform was launched in winter 2009.
“The focus of the platforms is online education, which can be a real time-saver/opportunity for a working contractor,” Trichon said.
“With the online programs [HVACReducation.net], we continue to strive to qualify ourselves as a leading education unit,” Compton said. “The most recent escapade was to submit the program to Quality Matters, which is run by the University of Maryland.”
“Quality Matters’ stamp is now on the front page of our Website,” Compton said. “This symbolizes recognition of quality online education by a third-party.”
“We received an 85 out of 85,” Compton said, and notes that “the program is constantly in review.”
“We have 30 faculty/leading educators,” Trichon said, and “adjunct faculty, some who were teaching a program in the United States or Canada. All are senior instructors with 20-plus years experience teaching or directing learning centers.”
“The majority are educators,” Trichon said, with more than 25 years of experience in the industry, on average.
Hirebetternow.com and WorkForceUpgrade.net facilitate enrollment into service core programs and can focus educational tracks to target different types of equipment by region, Trichon said.
“We can customize new hires by region - after they go through the service core program, we can tailor-make the employee to match the region,” Trichon said.
There are 35 individual courses offered - all recognized by NATE and Building Performance Institute.
“[The classes are] typically recognized for 18 hours by these organizations,” Trichon said.
Trichon says that in addition to finding new technicians, with WorforceUpgrade.net, employers are also able to take present employees and assess what they know at this point by administering a technical core assessment.
This allows for determining the base of employee knowledge and quantifying it. This, in turn, facilitates finding the right educational course for that employee and getting them enrolled, thereby advancing both them and the company, Trichon said.
The second part entails eight weeks of educational modality - half of the day on computer - didactic/online training, and in the afternoon, going into the field and putting into practice what has been learned.
“We are creating a situation to assess what a company has, and then the ability to upgrade through coursework and training toward NATE certification. [We are] bringing a higher caliber of employee through the selection process,” Trichon said, “in effect changing the tenor of the organization.”
For more information, visit www.ferris.edu/hvacr/ or www.refrigerationschool.com.