Scholarships play an important role in developing the next generation of talent for nearly every industry. An estimated $46 billion in grants and scholarship money is awarded annually by the U.S. Department of Education and the nation’s colleges and universities, per debt.org. In addition, about $3.3 billion in gift aid is awarded by private sources, such as individuals, foundations, corporations, associations, and many other organizations.
However, scholarship opportunities have a particular importance in the realm of HVAC, especially today, when qualified, skilled work is becoming very hard to find.
Talent in Demand
Michael Cassity, west regional manager, Sid Harvey Industries, said even the most conservative estimates put the current shortage of HVACR technicians at 20,000, and this number says nothing of the shortage of qualified HVACR technicians.
Scholarship opportunities from both manufacturers and industry organizations are helping to bridge this gap.
hilmor’s “Retool Your Future” scholarship contest was established in 2013 in an effort to help the next generation of HVACR technicians.
“While jobs within the industry continue to grow, there’s still a shortage of skilled workers to meet this demand,” said Andrea Halpin, senior manager, brand marketing, hilmor. “This scholarship was implemented as a way to encourage and motivate people to pursue a career in the industry. We wanted to support students enrolled or entering HVACR trade schools.”
Halpin also said the company has received more than 500 entries each year of the scholarship’s existence. To further its reach, hilmor expanded the competition into Canada last year.
While the competition previously awarded three $10,000 scholarship recipients, it now grants six $5,000 scholarships.
Scholarships such as hilmor’s help motivate students, said Halpin.
“For many of the students who submit essays, the opportunity to become an HVACR technician is their second or third career change, and many more have overcome struggles and hardships to enroll in trade school,” she said. “Scholarships like these help to motivate students and grants them a head start in the industry.”
Halpin added those in the industry have a responsibility to encourage careers from within.
“hilmor prides itself on bringing innovative tools to HVACR technicians, and nowhere is that more important then when students are going through their training and preparing to conquer the industry,” she said.
Christopher Burton, global director of brand management, Ridgid, believes scholarship opportunities just make great sense. “It’s all about being a good corporate citizen,” he said.
Ridgid’s scholarship involvement does not come directly through the company, but through sponsorship. Ridgid has been sponsoring the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) Educational Foundation’s scholarship program since 2011.
“At Ridgid, our tagline is ‘We Build Reputations™,’” said Burton. “We feel this starts at an early age, when students decide to enter the professional trades. We know that, today, fewer students are deciding to enter the trades, which is why partnering with the PHCC is so important to us. Together, we can support initiatives that build interest in the professional trades and help support students in their training and education.
“We actually get the most feedback from our customers and distributors each year after the scholarships have been awarded,” continued Burton. “Customers and distributors understand the importance of trades education. Sometimes we get thank you letters from scholarship recipients, and we like to see who received the award and what their future plans are.”
Organizations Prepare the Next Generation
Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute’s (AHRI’s) Rees Scholarship Foundation has awarded nearly $318,000 to 185 students since 2003 through multiple scholarship opportunities. Each year, the foundation awards scholarships of up to $2,000 to qualified students who are enrolled in an HVACR program at an accredited institution.
“It’s so important for us and other companies in relevant industries to support great initiatives like this because it helps nurture and encourage students in the professional trades,” said Cade Clark, vice president, government affairs, AHRI. “We feel that, as manufacturers, the installation of our equipment is extremely important.
“We want to make sure folks in the field are qualified,” he said. “We need a steady supply of workers coming into the field and scholarships are a great way to get those people involved. We set up the Rees Scholarship program to help students get the assistance they need to get started with training.”
The actual process of applying for a Rees scholarship is relatively straightforward.
“We recently made the application process all electronic,” said Clark. “Recommendation letters are necessary, preferably from professors, and students then send in essays. The stronger essays focusing on why an HVAC career is important and what their drive is in regard to HVAC tend to win the scholarships. We want to make sure students have a strong academic background in HVAC courses.”
Clark said AHRI is determined to increase awareness of HVAC scholarships, as well. “Our chairman [Ed Purvis] has what is called the ‘Chairman’s Challenge,’ which encourages our members to visit local schools that offer an HVACR and/or water heating program and educate counselors, administrators, and teachers about the Rees scholarship program. Through that involvement we are raising awareness of scholarships and connecting members to local schools.”
ASHRAE’s scholarship program awards $100,000 annually, with most scholarships nearing $5,000 in value.
“Scholarships help develop our own,” said David Meredith, chair of the ASHRAE scholarship trustees. “ASHRAE is big on funding our own research, and we find that kids exposed to the HVAC industry can easily get hooked on it. However, very few kids from high school say they want to get into HVAC. It’s our job to show them just how great this industry can be.”
Meredith said ASHRAE tends to steer young college students toward mechanical engineering.
“In their later collegiate years, we tend to guide them toward more HVAC-specific ideas. A couple of years ago, we decided we could also include high school kids, so, now, we offer high school scholarships. This year, we are also going to try to have a scholarship that will be evaluated in the summer at the end of a student’s freshman year of college and awarded during the sophomore year.”
While choosing winners can be quite difficult, Meredith said the process is also rewarding.
“Comparing students is difficult, but it’s amazing how close all of the scholarship trustees are when we rate all the candidates,” he said. “We rank them from best to worst based on our evaluations and also look at which scholarship each applicant is eligible for.”
Meredith said ASHRAE strives to make the process as transparent as possible. “Everything scholarship related is posted on the Web. Interested students can find both generic criteria and the very specific criteria that go into the selection process. We offer regional scholarships, institution-specific ones, and chapter ones. All applicants must have a 3.0 GPA and be headed for an HVAC-related degree. An applicant’s drive, effort, involvement in the community, and things beyond the classroom are all factors, as is a demonstrated interest in HVAC.”
While there’s never a bad time to target talent, Meredith said it’s often better to start sooner rather than later.
“The last piece of the puzzle is figuring out the best way to get kids into the industry early,” he said. “We haven’t quite figured out the best way of linking up potential jobs with younger kids, but we are, and will continue, striving to do so.”
Publication date: 3/30/2015