According to HVAC Learning Solutions, the HVAC industry is 20,000 technicians short today, and that number is projected to rise to 80,000 in 2018. Sheet metal and air conditioning education remains an essential part of resolving this technician shortage, but, as technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed, many institutions are reporting difficulties keeping up with emerging technologies and software options.

Cost Prohibitive

Staying current with each iteration of the latest training software can prove cost prohibitive. After all, training centers have paid as much as $4,500 per seat or license for software titles in the past.

An agreement between 153 unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry schools and Autodesk Inc., a company that specializes in 3-D design and engineering software, has broken this mold. Through the agreement, participating schools may now purchase 25 licenses of Autodesk’s popular AutoCAD, Revit, or Navisworks software titles at just $1,000 annually.

“The ITI [International Training Institute], the educational branch of the unionized sheet metal industry, has made it a goal to provide our training centers (JATC) with cutting-edge technology, and our partnership with Autodesk is another big step in achieving that goal,” said James M. Boone, president and CEO of New England Sheet Metal Works Inc. “[Prior to this agreement] The software upgrades placed a large financial burden on our local training centers and a lot of them could not afford to purchase the upgrades; therefore, our apprentices and journeymen were not keeping up with the current technology. This will help provide some financial relief.”

Saving Time and Money

“This agreement is obviously cheaper, and that is huge, but the time aspect is really important as well,” said Keith Dias, training director at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 104’s training centers in San Francisco, San Mateo, and North Bay counties in California.

“Whereas upgrades were sporadic and took forever before, now they are done quickly,” said Dias. He estimates $8,000-$10,000 will be saved at each of his training centers from the start. “That’s $25,000-$30,000 we’ll be able to save, and we will be able to upgrade the software every year,” said Dias.

According to Dias, there are more than 100 sheet metal and air conditioning training centers in the U.S. teaching at least one title in the Autodesk library. This agreement will give them greater financial flexibility and the freedom to diversify their respective portfolios and teach a wider range of programs if they want, he said.

“What this agreement really does is allows them [training centers] to stay ahead of the curve,” said Michael Keane, director of building information modeling technologies for ITI. “More of them have wanted to teach Revit and Navisworks but couldn’t afford it,” said Keane. “It’s a pretty big deal.”

Keane was the man tasked with educating Autodesk executives about the labor trades and why this agreement made sense for all involved. “It was a long process, educating executives, but it was apparent to Autodesk that they needed to engage people in the field,” said Keane.

“At a college or a university, those people who are training in that software won’t necessarily all use the software in their careers. We’re training people for real work. If they’re excluding the people who are doing the work, they’re missing out,” Keane said. “I think they’re in a great situation with us. It awoke them to what we’re doing and how serious we are about the industry.”

Bringing in More Students

There are currently more than 15,000 apprentices registered at the 153 training facilities in the U.S. and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART — formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

“Our agreement will certainly let the younger generation know that the partnership between SMACNA and SMART is committed to being the leader in providing cutting-edge technology that is needed to be successful in our industry,” said Boone.

And the pool of apprentices is in a strong position to increase with this deal in place. “This agreement definitely can draw in more students, and it already is doing so,” said Dias.

Dias is waiting to install numerous titles in 16 computer labs in each school. “We have to be able to train with the latest and greatest software,” said Dias. “If we weren’t, we’d be falling behind on the job site and in training. Now that we’ll get [the software] for $1,000 [per seat/license], it’s huge. I have brand new computers to load it on, and I have members calling, wanting to train here. So, we’re ready to go.”

Publication date: 9/22/2014

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!