Starting in sixth grade, when most kids were hanging out and getting into mischief, Brian Forbes would walk straight to work after school, where he and his two brothers would help out with the family HVAC business for $1 an hour.
“My dad always said that he didn’t hire help — he raised it,” Forbes said. “I’d be a helper, hold a light, carry the tools, etc. I graduated to helping install compressors in commercial and residential jobs — pretty much anything — and then I got out of high school and went to work. During those 17 years at Arcadia Electric, I advanced from installation to service, then sales and on to co-owner. After that, I needed to move on to better things.”
Now, 25 years later, Forbes is still in HVACR, though he is the one preparing others for a successful career in the industry as an HVACR instructor at Manatee Technical Institute in Bradenton, Florida. Forbes’ tireless commitment to his students’ success, along with his constant effort to continue his own education, helped him become The NEWS 2014 Best Instructor award winner.
Teaching from Experience
After working for his parents’ company, Arcadia Electric Co. in Arcadia, Florida, for a few years after high school, Forbes went to work for another Florida contractor. “Then, I found out that my parents’ business was having a hard time finding employees, and I was tired of the travel, so I went back to work there for 17 years. I’ve always been in air conditioning and electrical, and I like it. I’ve had fun doing it.”
In 2008, Forbes saw an ad for a part-time air conditioning instructor at what is now South Florida State College. He called about the job while on vacation with his wife, Kelly Forbes, and was hired almost immediately. “One of my reasons for taking the job was that I had seen the poor quality of some of the work, the craftsmanship, and I felt I needed to teach people the professional way of doing things,” he said. However, his position there didn’t last long.
“For some reason, they decided to kill the program in 2010,” he explained. “I’d heard about Manatee Technical Institute, and I sent them a random email and said I enjoyed what I’d been doing for two years, and if they ever needed more help to consider me. Two days later, my phone rang. They were just swamped with students.”
That fall, he began working as an HVACR instructor at Manatee Technical Institute. “We have a blast, and we enjoy what we do,” he said.
Making a Difference
Forbes said it’s his mission to make sure his students are prepared for a job in the field by the time they graduate from the program.
“If someone comes into the program, I don’t want them to not make it, and it kills me when, for whatever reason, they don’t,” he said. “I try to tell them the truth about what is the right way, what is the book way, what is the wrong way, and how you get out of a bind. I am a licensed a/c contractor with the state of Florida and have owned Arcadia Air & Heat LLC since 2006, so I know what business owners are looking for. I look at their résumés. I guess I just care, really.”
Forbes makes sure his students are able to work on equipment of all types and has helped coordinate equipment donations to the school. “We still have old-school equipment, and I’m an old-school teacher. If you can handle the old stuff, you can learn the new equipment,” he said. “We have new equipment, too, that was donated by a local company, Air and Energy. We’re in the process of putting more and more of that together.”
Dr. Michael Afanasiev, air conditioning instructor at Manatee Technical Institute, said Forbes is a valuable asset to the program. “Brian is very responsible and attentive to the job he is performing. He has great knowledge as he always improves himself up to today’s level of technology. He gets along with students because he encourages students to learn.”
Timothy Gilchrist, one of Forbes’ current students, said Forbes is able to be both firm and understanding, and he is always willing to spend extra time with students who need help.
“I think that’s one of the nicest things about having Brian as a teacher,” Gilchrist said. “People are going to fall behind — it’s complicated stuff — but it’s a teacher’s ability to reach down and pick them back up and say, ‘Look, why are you not getting this?’ I may ask him a question four or five times, and he may say, ‘Really?’ And then he goes back over it with me until I get it. It works.”
Kyle Walsh, one of Forbes’ former students, said Forbes went above and beyond his expectations as an instructor. “He’s extremely outgoing, but firm,” Walsh said. “He makes every one of his students feel accomplished and smart. He has the patience and knowledge to help bring each student above and beyond his or her personal and school expectations. He loves all his students and is respected by all.”
And, like many committed teachers, Forbes’ job isn’t done when he leaves the school for the day.
“Brian is very passionate about teaching,” Kelly Forbes explained. “He’s always in a textbook, [taking] online courses, or reading about the subject he teaches. He truly cares about the student gaining the knowledge they need to have a career in air conditioning. … His placement rate is [around] 90 percent.”
Though there are “a bunch” of students who’ve made an impression on Forbes over the years, one former student in particular stands out: Randy Wesson, a high school student who was dual-enrolled in the HVAC program at South Florida State College.
“He was there all day long, and he studied and studied,” Forbes said. “I believe he was the only student to complete the entire EPA program from start to finish before graduating high school. He was different. We still talk and text. He’s in air conditioning now, and he’s pondering taking his contractor’s exam. He was a super success story for me. Randy not only passed the universal EPA certification, he was the only high school student to complete the 1,350-hour program from beginning to end in South Florida State College’s air conditioning program history as a dual-enrollment student.”
Coincidentally, Wesson was one of several former students to nominate Forbes for The NEWS’ 2014 Best Instructor Award.
“[He] truly inspired me to do my best when it came down to my career choice as an HVAC technician, in which I have been working at for the past three years,” Wesson said. “He made learning fun and made it not seem like a job. I enjoy my career on a daily basis because I learned from the best. Brian Forbes deserves to be instructor of the year because his teaching philosophy works. I am proof of that.”
Looking to the Future
Teaching the next generation of HVACR technicians is important, Forbes said, and it’s his goal to help students become confident, competent HVACR professionals. For Forbes, making sure he can help his students accomplish those goals means keeping up with the latest HVAC advancements.
“[My goal is] to continue [my] education, to keep up with today’s technology,” he said. “I plan on going to the HVAC Excellence training conference, and I’m thinking about getting credentialed as a certified subject matter educator (CSME) — I haven’t decided if I want to do the air conditioning or the heat pump exam — then eventually become a master instructor, if at all possible.”
Grooming the next generation of successful HVACR technicians is very important work for Forbes. Plus, he added, these are careers that will always be around and cannot be outsourced.
“People don’t understand that someone has to build this country and maintain this country, and you can’t do that from behind a desk,” he said. “Somebody has to do that.”
When asked if he had any advice for other HVACR instructors, Forbes simply said, don’t give up on teaching.
“Don’t let it become just a job,” he said. “People who come here don’t know what you know — that’s what they’re here to find out. I tell my students to be proud of their work, and if they can put their name on it, literally, they have done a good job.”
Publication date: 11/24/2014