ORLANDO, Fla. — Teaching the next generation of HVAC technicians is an ever-evolving task. New products with advanced features are constantly released, classroom instruction methods are developed, student behavior changes, and no two students learn at the same pace.

However difficult the task may seem, HVAC Excellence is poised to lead the charge via its 2017 National HVAC Educators and Trainers Conference.  

Hundreds of industry professionals gathered March 27-29 in Orlando, Florida, and were treated to numerous presentations, exhibitions, and educational sessions designed to help them advance their instruction and hopefully learn some new skills they weren’t previously familiar with.

Howard Weiss, executive vice president, ESCO Group, said this annual conference continues to be successful year after year because of the incredible presenters and informative sessions that make it all happen. This year, more than 60 sessions were featured, and 60 exhibiting manufacturers showcased their latest and greatest product innovations.

On stage during the proceedings, more than 30 programs were recognized for earning HVACR programmatic accreditation by HVAC Excellence.

The annual Teachers-N-Trainers (TnT) Competition gave participants the chance to compete in a series of time-based tasks, arranged into elimination stages. Leon Charnetski, HVACR instructor, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Green Bay, Wisconsin, took home the top honors for 2017.  

In one of the largest presentations at the show, Jeremy Arling, lead environment protection specialist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discussed changes being phased into EPA Section 608 Refrigerant Management Program regulations and modernization of the Section 608 EPA Certification Exam.

The smaller sessions covered a wide range of topics, including technological changes in floating head pressure controls, CO2 refrigeration, fault diagnostic detection protocols, the future of refrigerants, and ductless technologies.


One of the most intriguing sessions, titled “Game On! Using Games to Engage and Educate,” was presented by Matt Lucas, sales account manager, C3 Softworks. Lucas detailed how trainers can use games in the classroom to engage, motivate, and energize trainees.

Everyone in attendance was given a keypad and invited to participate in games throughout Lucas’ presentation, which added a hands-on element to help illustrate the points he was making.

“One of the biggest benefits of games is that they tap into emotions,” said Lucas. “Everyone gets involved and players reach a state of flow. The involvement increases retention, understanding, and comprehension of information. Plus, games provide immediate feedback while creating a safe environment to fail because answers are submitted anonymously.”

Audience engagement in the session was certainly high, as participants enjoyed the general trivia game that Lucas presented.

“The use of audio, video, and interactive slides allows for greater engagement for an audience than simple PowerPoint slides,” said Lucas. “No matter what someone’s preferred learning style is, whether it is visual, oral, or kinesthetic, they can benefit from using these games.”

The games themselves are also evolving, as students can use wireless keypads, mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices to input answers.


One issue that was addressed at length during the conference was how instructors can connect with the millennial generation that makes up such a large part of most HVAC classrooms today. Richard Benkowski, training specialist, United Association, said it is perhaps most important for instructors to realize they are not in competition with each other but rather other industries that are drawing from the same talent pool.

“Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, being a service technician was a great career and it kind of sold itself, said Benkowski. “Now, it is considered an old-person job. Few millennials are looking at the trades as a long-term career option. We need to fix that.”

The session highlighted how to use virtual reality (VR), interactive games, simulators, and other tools to engage millennials.

“VR and simulators allow for a way to troubleshoot equipment with no physical risk or risk of damage and repair costs,” said Benkowski. “They are great tools and will only get more popular.”

These tools intrigued most attendees, and a great conversation unfolded about how to find a proper balance between catering to the desires and interests of a younger generation while also staying true to the methodology that has worked for older workers.

“The reality is that the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to have a big impact on our industry. This is where students are going,” said Benkowski. “It’s everywhere. HVAC technicians are in the IT business now. They may not have signed up for it, but they must be able to address IT-related issues because homes are becoming smarter and more connected.”


While classroom instruction was proven to be vitally important time and time again during the conference, Carter Stanfield, author of the “Fundamentals of HVAC/R” textbook’s standing-room only session on the importance of lab exams brought practical, hand-on learning to the forefront.

He detailed ways to administer hands-on exams in the lab, award defensible grades for lab projects, and properly document the results.

“Shop exams are more like field work than any paper exam could ever be,” said Stanfield. “Students have to pay attention and there are raised expectations. Grades are given based on demonstrated skills.”

Stanfield discussed how most students and schools operate on a sort of compliance mode, where, “You tell me what to do, and I do it.” However, lab exams encourage competence mode. “Competence requires practice and ensures that students need to understand how to do things,” said Stanfield.

The session broke down the different types of lab exams that can be presented, the benefits of each, and when they are most appropriate to use.

Rubrics provide greater detail than simple pass/fail systems of grading, and Stanfield believes they are better for students and teachers alike.

 “Administrators love rubrics,” said Stanfield. “They add objectivity to something that is inherently subjective and provide a framework to determine grades and reduce grade discrepancies between instructors.”

While discussing this year’s conference, and sessions like the one Stanfield offered, Weiss noted how proud he was of the work everyone put in to make it a success, but was already eager for what’s to come next year when the conference shifts to Las Vegas, March 26-28, 2018.

“I’m already looking forward to next year,” said Weiss. “It’s always a great time at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, and everyone will have access to great information to take back home with them and share with their students.”

Publication date: 4/28/2017