The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) has taken a well-regarded, instructive approach to preparing HVAC apprentices for long-term careers in the industry. The organization has an annual HVAC skills competition (alongside a similar competition for plumbing apprentices), where apprentices from around the country test their trade proficiencies and skills in a series of competitive events.

For example, the 2016 edition of the contest, which took place Oct. 19-20, 2016, during PHCC’s annual CONNECT conference and tradeshow in San Antonio, included brazing, wiring, troubleshooting, air testing, recovery and charging methodologies, and a written test.

With 12 apprentices competing, prizes were awarded to the top three finishers, and sponsors from throughout the industry donated materials, supplies, and support.

Finding ways to ensure America’s next generation of workers develop interest in the skilled trades and want to make careers out of the work is in the best interest of all who are part of HVAC, and this contest from PHCC showcases some of the ingenuity that is possible.


Thomasena Philen, education partnership administrator, Daikin North America, has been involved in judging the contest for three years and, more recently, has been a member of the sub-committee that plans the event.

“The success of the contest is dependent on the support of participating industry leaders,” said Philen. “Since I have been involved, I have observed more and more involvement from the industry — not only supporting but actively participating in the planning and deployment. This has had an amazing, positive impact on the energy and dedication of the contestants.”

The annual contest celebrated its fourth anniversary in 2016, and, in those four short years, the contest has evolved significantly.

The apprentices are judged by the PHCC Educational Foundation’s HVAC Apprentice and Journeyman Training Committee, with events held both on the CONNECT trade show floor and off-site. For the 2016 contest, assistance was provided by UA Local 142, also in San Antonio. According to PHCC, each year, the educational foundation counts on industry representatives to coordinate, setup, supervise, and judge the contest.

“As judges, we are given specific criteria that are developed by the HVAC apprentice contest subcommittee in order to grade contestants on for each event,” said Philen. “We are provided a scorecard that lists each task within an event with a specific amount of points assigned. The events are timed, as well.”

In 2016, Aaron Barcus, an apprentice at the UA Local 597 Training Center in Chicago, was one of three prize winners. He said one of his biggest takeaways from the contest was a sense of just how large the PHCC organization is and how many people with shared interests and goals come together to better an industry and create growth and a better quality of living not only for those working in the field but for end users, as well.


Coming together for a shared interest is certainly one benefit of the contest and the overall trade show it is a part of, but it’s also essential for the contest to help competitors become better and more skilled at the trade itself. Luckily, both Barcus and Philen believe it easily clears that hurdle.

“Every contest is different, just like every service call is different,” said Barcus. “Talking to judges and seeing different ways to present a problem or issue, or seeing how another contestant might approach a problem, will always help with the next service call. We always have to keep learning and moving forward.”

He also noted that while all aspects of the contest are designed to test the knowledge that is gained during an internship or apprenticeship, it is important to remember that a contest cannot possibly test everything.

“There is so much knowledge gained from field experience, classroom work, talking with other technicians, and personal research that it would be impossible to test on,” said Barcus. “The contest provided a very good representation of general knowledge without getting bogged down with specifics.”

Philen believes all skills contests help technicians up their games and fully supports apprenticeship contests. “As technicians in the field, especially for those learning on the job, it is very difficult to identify knowledge gaps,” she said. “I like to say, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ Participating in contests raises the bar for technical excellence and helps technicians identify the skills they could sharpen.

“The planning for the next year usually starts soon after the contest takes place, and the sub-committee has already held its first meeting,” Philen said.

Barcus said he would absolutely recommend the contest to anyone who is eligible. “The experience and memories will last a lifetime and hopefully not only make me a better technician, but also allow me to someday provide that kind of knowledge and support to a younger generation of service technicians.”

The fifth annual running of the contest will be held during the CONNECT 2017 trade show in Milwaukee, Oct. 4-6.

For more information on the PHCC’s CONNECT 2017 trade show, visit

Publication date: 2/13/2017

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