The HVAC industry is one that is consistently shifting and changing, with new products, strategies, and companies finding niches in the marketplace. And, in an effort to keep up, contractors are constantly looking for new and efficient ways to keep their technicians up-to-date on all the latest tools and tricks.
While online training may have initially been scoffed at by seasoned technicians, it’s now becoming a quality complement to community colleges, tech schools, and apprenticeship programs. And, as more and more options present themselves, HVACRedu.net remains a reputable place for contractors to turn for online education.
CONTRACTORS DIVING IN
“In the past, if technicians wanted training, they had to physically travel to a community college or technical school where training was occurring,” said James Mylett, senior vice president of service, Comfort Systems USA. “Technology’s changed dramatically in recent years, and I’m not sure our industry has kept up in regards to learning. For those of us who have kids in college, high school, or even elementary school, we’ve seen that they are learning online. The program we’ve developed isn’t a direct replacement for traditional learning, but this is a huge alternative aid.”
Mylett said the first thing Comfort Systems USA did was get a group of presidents and service managers representing numerous companies together to ask them what they wanted to get out of an online program. They said they wanted to know how to upgrade a technician’s skillset.
“That upgrade can be moving a C-level tech to a B-level, or turning an inexperienced green residential technician into a commercial technician. All contractors, some to a greater degree than others, are feeling pain in regards to getting new technicians, and this can help.”
ABM Industries Inc. also jumped into online education as its representatives saw the needs of younger technicians changing.
“ABM partnered with HVACRedu.net several years ago when we were building our online university, Linc University,” said Kelli Daley, vice president of franchise support. “Linc University offers job-specific training in different formats [online, webinars, and classroom] to all employees in a Linc Service franchise. Knowing that it’s difficult to pull technicians out of the field for training, online education made the most sense, and partnering with HVACRedu.net was a natural fit.”
Rob Minnick, CEO and president of Minnick’s Inc. in Laurel, Maryland, said his company first got involved around 2000. “Technology was starting to ramp up and we wanted training that was forward-thinking. Online training is comprehensive and gives technicians some real learning options you can’t get from simply reading a book. Then, we also do hands-on training within the company. Technicians get an education that we aren’t able to provide throughout the year. I also use HVACRedu.net to fine-tine my apprenticeship training program. Our program is state-certified, and technicians go through a four-year apprenticeship program via the website, depending on the state they are in.”
THE TECHNICIAN GAP
Online education is also becoming a means by which to help address the growing technician skills gap in the industry. A recent report from HVACR Workforce Development stated, “Due to increased growth in the sector and the ongoing retirement of baby boomers, HVACR programs in technical and community colleges are not filling the seats needed to meet the current and anticipated demand. Almost half of all mechanics and installers will retire in the next decade, according to the new research. HVACR employers are having a difficult time filling positions, especially for refrigeration and HVAC technicians — 44 and 36 days longer, respectively, than the national average of 29 days for similar positions.”
Many contractors see online education as a connection between those retiring baby boomers and a potential resurgence in the HVAC workforce.
“Online education is sort of a bridge to get people into the industry,” said Roger Rinker, vice president of talent management, Comfort Systems USA. “What we’ve learned from industry leaders, and what we expected to find, was anyone under 30 would be comfortable with computers. The somewhat surprising component of our research was that we also found out that more experienced technicians have lost some skills in the last 15 years. As they saw how effective online learning can be, they became attracted to it. There is apprehension by some technicians, of course. For our technicians who are 10-15 years into their careers, they may not need or want online education. There are no mandates for them. We’re really targeting folks who have less than five years experience in the field.”
Mylett said the company is focused on meeting future growth projections. “We will need more technicians tomorrow than we did yesterday,” he said. “Comfort Systems USA may not solve the technician gap on its own, but we can create a lighthouse to attract current technicians to the workforce. Better training is what technicians are looking for. We were on the lookout for the best way to provide training, and online education became a great solution.”
PROS AND CONS
Online education does inherently have some pitfalls that must be taken into account when deciding to develop a program. Outside of the fact that some technicians may not have interest in taking online training, there is also the difference between the interaction that takes place in a physical classroom and that which takes place in front of a computer screen.
“It really goes both ways,” said Minnick. “Students receive virtual assignments and send emails but don’t have the ability to ask a teacher an immediate question, which can be challenging. Sometimes they get aggravated, but I try to help them and push them through. On the other hand, you’re in your living room or your bedroom, and it’s convenient. You don’t have to travel or fight traffic. The biggest plus is the convenience.”
Daley also said convenience is a huge asset to the online learning environment, and investing in employees and providing both training and education to those employees is priceless.
“Our employees like the fact that online training is predicated around their schedules and moves along at their own pace,” said Daley. “We’re all busy with work and family activities and that is no different for our technicians. They appreciate the flexibility the self-paced courses provide.”
Publication date: 12/14/2015