For years, Jonathan Davis has helped contractors restructure their businesses and train technicians and servicemen. And, regardless of size, one common thread linked them all — a lack of quality service technicians.
“Contractors were refusing to hire students out of traditional trade schools because they couldn’t answer basic technical questions,” said Davis, the founder and CEO, Retail Ready Career Center, Garland, Texas. “Some guys were being hired out of sheer desperation, but there were things they should have known and simply didn’t. It would take two or three months to untrain them.”
A lack of service technicians is a nationwide issue for the HVAC industry, with “nearly two-thirds of field technicians in the HVAC industry expected to retire in the next 10 years,” per Modern Distribution Management.
CREATING A NEW PROGRAM
The solution Davis created was born out of a desire to speed up the training process.
“I asked contractors what specific skills they needed, and if there was a short-term program that cut out the fluff of traditional programs,” said Davis. “They couldn’t come up with one. So, I went hunting for such a program for six months and found it didn’t exist. We [at the Retail Ready Career Center] put together a curriculum in working with contractors, so they felt like they had a hand in it. The course offers foundational skills of performing residential heating and cooling tuneups, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] certification, and NATE [North American Technician Excellence] certification.”
The Retail Ready Career Center has 4,160 square feet of space dedicated to four live HVAC labs and approximately 5,200 square feet of classroom space. The 10-hours-a-day five-days-a-week six-week program is very intensive and is meant as a crash course for those entering the HVAC industry.
“Our team of instructors has more than 82 years of industry-related sales, technical, and management experience between them,” said Ralph Black, director of public relations. “Our curriculum is constantly under review and adjusted to the needs of the contracting community. Changes in technology, training methods, and standards are constantly considered, and the requisite changes to our curriculum follow.”
Davis also noted the core foundation of the curriculum hasn’t changed. It’s the delivery method, spurred on by advances in technology, that will always evolve.
According to Black, the live labs are equipped with a range of old and new HVAC units. Students spend 75-80 percent of their six weeks of training in the lab.
The newest of those labs is the ‘Operation Red Wings’ lab, which is equipped with multiple HVAC equipment brands ranging from 15-year-old single-stage units to high-efficiency two-stage condensing units.
“We have pieces of equipment that give the full range, from standing pilot to fully modulating,” said Kenneth Vanderwiel, lead HVAC instructor. “Students get to work on a variety of equipment, and they get to do a total cooling. Furnace cleaning and checks have their hands literally moving from one piece of equipment to the next and quickly learning the difference in efficiencies. The fact that we have equipment that is new, somewhat old, and ancient gives them a full variety. Seeing the whole process of HVAC work is truly essential.”
All instructors at the Retail Ready Career Center have spent time working in the field, and, while Black said they have 82 years of combined experience, Vanderwiel said it’s equally important to have instructors from a variety of locations.
“We have instructors from Washington, Texas, and Chicago, among others,” said Vanderwiel. “Students get a great and necessary variety of instruction because they’re not all going to find work in the same pocket of the country. We have teachers who can train them on the HVAC differences between different parts of the U.S.”
TALKING TO CUSTOMERS AND EMPLOYERS
Communication skills are also an important facet of the training at the center. Students are taught how to properly approach and interact with customers and they’re also taught how to go into a job interview and impress hiring contractors.
“One of the big things we ask is ‘What is a service manager?’” said Vanderwiel. “The main thing our industry has always lacked is the soft skills. How do you talk to the customer, how do you knock on the door, and do you back up 3 feet before the homeowner answers the door? We want students to be knowledgeable and comfortable from the start. We prepare them for all situations.”
Davis said they begin gathering background information on our students’ résumés before they ever walk through the door of our facility. “Our placement coordinators reach out to them and immediately get their job history, military background, etc. A résumé is created for them upon arrival, and we record a job interview with them so contractors can get a feel for them and what they look and sound like. We put those videos up on our website and send them to potential contractors so they can understand students. All of this takes place four weeks before graduation.”
The video résumé simplifies the hiring process for contractors,” continued Davis. “It allows them to learn about students and shields students from rejection if they aren’t the right fit for a contractor.”
Those at the career center also plan to closely follow the work of graduates as they leave the program. Davis said they’re planning on establishing round tables of service managers who hire graduates in an attempt to receive constant feedback and establish a strong relationship with the contracting community.
As for the future of the career center, “an expansion of our program is definitely in the works,” said Davis. “I see us growing exponentially over the next two to three years, and demand will dictate that. We also hope to provide assistance to other HVAC programs across the country and help bring them into the 21st century.”
Black said that growth will come from places outside of traditional marketing.
“Our approach is more attraction than promotion,” said Black. “We want to get involved with communities that have the need over a broad marketing campaign. A certain person with good qualities makes a good technician.”
Publication date: 8/10/2015