COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In mid-March, HVACR instructors from around the country gathered at the scenic Cheyenne Mountain Resort for the 17th annual HVACR & Mechanical Workshop for Education Professionals.

For the first time in the workshop’s history, it was held outside of Virginia. The picturesque new location in the Rockies infused a breath of fresh air into the gathering, as did a greater outpouring of industry support for the educators in attendance. More than 200 attendees participated in the event, and 17 industry organizations joined together to sponsor it (for a complete list of sponsors, see the sidebar below).

Industry Support

On the opening day of the conference, representatives from several of the sponsoring industry organizations spoke at a panel discussion about their support for education. Panelists included Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI); Paul Stalknecht, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA); Don Frendberg, chairman of North American Technician Excellence (NATE); Wade Smith, executive director of the Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA); Alan Veeck, executive director of the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA); Warren Heeley, president of the Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI); Gerry Kennedy, executive vice president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC); and Joyce Abrams, group manager of education and certification for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

The keynote speaker for the second day of the conference was Rajan Rajendran, vice president of engineering services and sustainability for Emerson Climate Technologies. Rajendran shared an update on the rapidly changing global outlook on refrigerants. According to him, R-410A is going to come under pressure to change in “10 plus or minus five years,” with more imminent change in the supermarket industry. Rajendran also provided insight into Europe, Australia, and Asia’s current approaches to new refrigerants. He noted that Europe is focused on low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants, and Australia intends to make refrigerants more expensive. China, he said, will “more than likely skip R-410A and go straight to R-32.”

One attendee, Kevin Couch, an HVACR college tech prep teacher at R.G. Drage Career Technical Center in Massillon, Ohio, noted that Rajendran’s presentation was particularly interesting to instructors. “We will need to pay attention on what is coming to better prepare our future technicians on the changes with equipment and refrigerants,” he said.

Couch also added that it was good for educators to hear firsthand about the industry’s commitment to supporting them. “Industry knows that without supporting the schools, their warranty claims will be higher, their costs will rise, and the industry will receive a bad name,” he said. “As for the instructors, it is great to have the support of the trade organizations and industry partners. Without their support of materials, equipment, and training programs, we would be losing more HVACR programs in the schools when we should be adding them.”

Student Engagement

At the general session on the second day of the workshop, a panel of three representatives from industry associations discussed how to get incoming students more involved in the HVACR industry.

Warren Lupson, AHRI director of education, said, “I find students are really not engaged in our industry. We need to make these young people feel like they’re part of an industry as quick as possible.”

ACCA’s Michael Honeycutt agreed, and urged educators to promote the HVACR profession. “We want to instill professionalism [in students] and a sense of pride in their profession,” he said.

Joyce Abrams of ASHRAE spoke about the need for educators to partner with the leaders of their local association chapters. She reported that oftentimes, industry scholarship money is going unclaimed and urged instructors to make their students aware of the association scholarships available to them.

“It is sad to see us in such need of talent and students not even applying for the funding assistance,” said Brian Baker, an instructor at Westech Energy Training Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, after listening to Abrams.

Breakout Sessions

Sessions at the conference were held concurrently and covered a range of technical and informative topics. Technical subjects like variable frequency drives, energy codes, relays and contactors, hydronics, and more, were presented in a variety of sessions designed to aid instructors in teaching these subjects to students.

Don Steeby, an associate professor of HVAC and applied technology at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, said that the most interesting session he attended was hosted by Daikin. “Their discussion on VRF systems was most informative,” he said.

An extremely popular session was taught by John Barba, training manager for Taco. Barba spoke about how to engage students, particularly adult learners. He noted that it can be difficult to work with adults in an educational setting because they fear and resist change. He also provided tips for how to create effective PowerPoint presentations for classroom instruction.

Christopher Esser, an HVACR technician instructor at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Wis., said he particularly appreciated Barba’s session. “I picked up quite a few good tips, and I am trying to bring them into the classroom,” he said.

Another session presented by Scott Naill and Tony Trapp, instructors at the HVACR program at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, Ohio, discussed innovative ways to use social media to recruit and retain students in programs with dwindling enrollment. Their suggestions ranged from how to appropriately interact with students on Facebook to how to set up a Google Voice phone number so students can communicate with their instructors via text messages.

Other sessions also focused on incorporating technology into the classroom. Carter Stanfield of Athens Tech in Georgia presented a session about hybrid instruction. He described how to combine “chalk and talk” plus web instruction to replace some traditional in-class hours.


At the workshop, instructors enjoyed the chance to network with each other. Two nights of the event featured a reception and exhibit. At the close of the second reception, the Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE) held a drawing for attendees who had renewed their membership. Prizes included everything from CARE golf shirts to tools and gift cards provided by exhibitors including Appion, Fluke, and Pearson.

According to Rick Blank, a trainer for Ferguson Heating & Cooling, Maumee, Ohio, the most beneficial aspect of attending the conference is the chance to connect with a diversity of people and make friends. It was his second time attending the conference, he noted, adding, “I like seeing other ways that technical topics are explained.”

Instructors Steeby and Couch also commented on the benefits of networking with other educational professionals at the conference.

“The greatest benefit was in talking with other instructors about their programs and teaching strategies,” Steeby said.

Couch added, “Everyone is so willing to help, share, and support each other. And with the date for next year’s conference announced, we should have a greater attendance next year.”

The workshop will be held at the same location from March 11-13, 2013.

Sidebar: Sponsoring Education

Seventeen industry organizations showed their support for educators by sponsoring the 2012 conference in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sponsors included the following:

• Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI)

• Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)

• Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA)

• Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE)

• American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)

• Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE)

• Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI)

• Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI)

• Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA)

• Institute of Heating & Air Conditioning Industries (IHACI)

• National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA)

• National Air Filtration Association (NAFA)

• North American Technician Excellence (NATE)

• National Association of Oil and Energy Service Professionals (OESP)

• Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)

• Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

• SkillsUSA

Publication date: 05/14/2012