With the baby boomer generation retiring in droves, HVACR educators are working hard to recruit and train the next generation of technicians. Yet, despite the U.S. Department of Labor predicting the industry will 86,000 new jobs by 2018, many instructors are still battling the misconception that career and technical education begets less career success than a four-year college degree.

Add to that the fact that federal regulatory agencies are churning out new standards at breakneck speed and thrusting technology forward faster than ever before, and it is clear HVACR educators face an uphill battle in supplying the industry with the next generation of competent workers.

These issues, and more, took center stage at the recent 2015 HVACR & Mechanical Conference for Education Professionals, where industry educators attended three days of seminars, classes, and networking events designed to foster collaboration within the industry.

Supporting Educators

The 2015 conference began on a positive note with a salute to educators from Dave Kyle, ACCA immediate past chairman of the board and owner of Trademasters Service Corp., Lorton, Virginia. Among several startling statistics, Kyle pointed out only 27 percent of college graduates have found careers closely related to their degrees while 90 percent of those who finish an apprenticeship program get a job in their field. Career and technical education, he said, provides an opportunity to succeed.

“We need highly skilled technical professionals to keep up with new technologies — we are desperate for these people,” Kyle said. “Educators, every day, give the power of opportunity by giving an education and showing them where they can go and how they can get there. It really does make a difference.”

John Foster, president and CEO, National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI), also emphasized the important role HVACR educators play in the industry. “We know our nation needs a strong technical workforce, and we know you folks deliver that competence,” Foster said, during his presentation on NOCTI’s digital SkillBadges™, which display and verify technical competence earned through projects, programs, courses, assessments, and other activities.

Tim Lawrence, executive director of SkillsUSA, also thanked educators for being “champions” for the industry. “Thank you for being instructors who make a difference for these [SkillsUSA] students in the red jackets and beyond. This industry supports you in an amazing way, and I hope you know that. Take the knowledge you’ve gained here and pay it forward.”

The conference also gave an opportunity for instructors to connect with training and certifying entities. Dan Ramirez, director of strategic marketing and development, National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), said reaching out to instructors is a critical goal for NC3 for two reasons.

“One, technology is changing constantly — more rapidly than ever probably in the history of mankind — and if you’ve been out of the field like many of our instructors, you really have to refresh almost every year,” he said. “The second is building a network for instructors. There are 1,250 community colleges around the country, and every one of them tends to operate independently. When you can bring them together as a network … it provides a wonderful support mechanism that allows each of the schools to ladder up on each other.”

“Part of our goal is to engage with instructors across the country and tell them about the network of NC3, how it reaches out to existing instructors and new instructors, and how we can help them in their industry certifications,” said Roger Tadajewski, executive director, NC3.

EPA Update

Following Kyle’s salute to educators, Drusilla Hufford, director, Stratospheric Protection Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), provided an update and answered audience members’ questions about recent regulatory actions the EPA has taken on industry refrigerants in order to ensure industry educators are aware of the changes.

“There’s been an explosion, really, of many of the technologies that have made our life so comfortable in the U.S., and that is driving a really rapid uptake of some of these compounds,” Hufford explained. “What the president’s Climate Action Plan asked us to do in my small part of the EPA is to use a couple of tools that were given to us by Congress many years ago as part of the effort to protect the ozone layer and continue to apply them in ways that will, ultimately, protect the climate.”

One of those tools, she said, is the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program.

“For the last 20 years, the SNAP Program has been adding to a list of the eight major industrial sectors — one of the most important to us being refrigeration and air conditioning. We’ve approved more than 400 substitutes that are safer than what they replaced in eight major industrial sectors.”

The EPA has also recently taken action to phase down hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. “For the last several years, the U.S. has been partnering with Canada and Mexico to propose, under the Montreal Protocol, basically the same kinds of controls on HFCs,” Hufford said. “What we’re proposing there is a phasedown, not a phaseout, so it’s a graduated step-down approach.”

Hufford encouraged educators to stay on top of the latest changes and regulations at www.epa.gov.

Call to Action

Steve DeWitt, deputy executive director at the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), also delivered a legislative update on some of the issues affecting HVACR education, during which he emphasized how instructors can promote the trades.

“This is the time to really be talking to your members of Congress,” DeWitt said. “Ask them to your school and let them see your programs, because I’ve seen opinions change on a dime when a member of Congress or their staff gets into a career or tech program and sees what’s really happening. It can and will make a difference if you can get them into your school.”

Kari Arfstrom, executive director of the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, also implored industry educators to take a proactive approach when it comes to promoting their programs — especially to legislators at the local, state, and national levels.

“Invite members of Congress to see your program. This is key. At the school, they’ll have a chance to interact with your students, see your equipment, and see what your program visually looks like. Most of them still think about classrooms where the chairs are lined up in rows and there’s a chalkboard in front of the room; we have to break that mold.”

The HVACR Workforce Development Foundation is also working on a comprehensive study analyzing the supply of and demand for new technicians in the U.S. and Canada, Arfstrom said. The NEWS will cover the results of the survey later this year.

The 2015 HVACR & Mechanical Conference for Education Professionals is free to attend, thanks to the financial support of numerous industry sponsors like Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI); ACCA; the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation; Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI); the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE); the Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE); Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC); RSES; and many others.

For more information on the HVACR & Mechanical Workshop for Education Professionals, please visit http://bit.ly/InstructorWorkshop.

Publication date: 4/6/2015

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