In 2013, Lanier Technical College (LTC), Oakwood, Ga., began offering an HVAC learning opportunity with a twist. Its Technical Certificate of Credit (TCC) involved apprenticeship opportunities. Freddie Williams, chair of the air conditioning department at LTC, described TCC as “a series of college-credit occupational courses designed to meet employer demands in a given vocational field, which does not include traditional academic content such as the humanities or social sciences.”

From the Beginning

The Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), which oversees the state of Georgia’s technical colleges and other learning programs, approached Williams to review the NCCER curriculum for the purpose of using it in TCSG colleges, he said.

The NCCER is an Alachua, Fla.-based not-for-profit education foundation offering a standardized training and credentialing program for the industry. The program has evolved into curricula for more than 60 craft areas and a complete series of more than 70 assessments. HVAC is one of the 60 craft areas for which NCCER has curriculum.

While reviewing the NCCER curriculum, Williams suggested that the TCC should be offered in an apprenticeship format with contractors contributing to the training.

TCSG sided with Williams, asking him to write the standards for the program. Once complete, LTC was selected to pilot the program. School administrators surveyed local contractors, gauging their interest in an apprenticeship for their installers. The contractors unanimously gave their support, time, and resources to the project, said Williams.

What It Is

The HVAC apprenticeship certificate from LTC is intended to train HVAC construction workers. Williams stated the program is intended for installers, not techs, and includes residential, commercial, and industrial construction environments.

The coursework includes a construction core course that is compliant with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration-10 (OSHA-10) and six HVAC courses, including NCCER’s apprentice level one through four, Williams said. “The HVAC courses are offered in sequential order, one course each semester (no summer terms), and the core construction course must be completed before the end of the third semester,” he said.

NCCER is a North American Technician Excellence (NATE) association partner and carries the NATE seal on all program materials, said Williams. Students will be listed on NCCER’s national registry, which reflects their progress in the apprenticeship program.

The HVAC apprenticeship certificate is different from the school’s air conditioning technology diploma and other HVAC certificate programs. According to LTC’s website, students in the program are required to have an air conditioning contractor as a sponsor and must be employed in the HVAC industry. In addition, other requirements that must be met include:

• Students must be 18 years or older;

• Students must have a high school diploma or GED;

• Students must have a Georgia-licensed air conditioning contractor as a sponsor that verifies student hours and reports students’ progress on the job site; and

• Students must meet minimum work hours every semester of enrollment (525).

Making Apprentices Out of Employees

Knepper Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Dahlonega, Ga., and Conditioned Air Systems Inc., Gainesville, Ga., are two of the HVAC contracting companies who have employees enrolled in LTC’s HVAC apprenticeship program.

Knepper’s first became involved in LTC’s apprenticeship program because the brother of Chris Knepper, president of Knepper Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., who is a journeyman electrician in Virginia, was surprised that Georgia didn’t require an apprenticeship for HVAC workers. Knepper said, “Georgia didn’t require much formal training for HVAC technicians and installers in the past, and to call yourself a heating and air technician, all you had to do was work for a licensed contractor and get an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification.” He said that doesn’t mean they have the knowledge and experience to perform HVAC installation and service correctly and safely, however. “In my opinion, this lack of standardization in training has led our HVAC labor pool to vary so widely in skill and training that it is very difficult to hire a new technician and have any expectation that they will know enough about the fundamentals of HVAC to perform at their best. I believe this apprenticeship program will help us move toward standardization of training and will in turn help not only the technicians but the employers and our customer base as well.”

Andy Kalinauskas, vice president of service, Conditioned Air Systems Inc., said his company will benefit because the certificate will be recognized nationwide. He added that the NCCER curriculum will give the company a way to evaluate the experience of applicants who come from outside of Georgia. In addition, the company expects that more people will be drawn to the HVAC industry because they can learn and earn money at the same time, and it will “decrease the time frame that is needed for the workforce to become self-sufficient in the HVAC industry.”

Knepper Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., which specializes in residential and light commercial service, installations, engineering, and new construction, has two employees enrolled in the program. One of them is a lead installer. Knepper described him as someone who takes great pride in his work and constantly wants to learn more, but lacks formal HVAC schooling. The other employee is one who is new to the HVAC industry. Knepper is confident the program will help motivate both employees to further their careers and to motivate the employees to stay with the contractor as they are being trained.

Conditioned Air Systems Inc. provides commercial and residential HVAC installations and service. Kalinauskas said the company plans to have at least six people in the LTC apprenticeship program going forward. “The individuals we enroll will be current employees who we feel show a drive and determination of making the HVAC field their career. This will range from recent high school graduates to retail salesmen and managers,” he said.

Neither contracting company has any unions at their shops, but both anticipate the benefits of what the apprenticeship program offers: a combination of coursework and real-world work experience over a long timeframe.

Kalinauskas said the company uses the college’s externship program and has students enrolled in the degreed HVAC program. “Although this has helped with the ongoing training process, it is only for a total of 64 hours, which limits their field experience growth. With this apprenticeship program, it will allow us to give them more hands-on experience — 40 hours of work each week — while learning the basics in the seven-class apprenticeship program.”

Knepper agreed that the increased amount of work in the field and schoolwork is better for training students. “Many times, the student can go through an internship that is one day a week for one semester and not really master any of the fundamentals required to be a successful HVAC technician. On the other hand, I have seen technicians work in the field for years and not gain the fundamental knowledge necessary to raise their careers to the highest levels of income that this industry can provide. By providing both the classroom education and in-the-field experience together, I feel we can achieve what’s best for all parties involved — happy, well-educated, and well-paid technicians.”

Publication date: 2/3/2014 

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