Rick Downie, the manager of technical education for Bard Mfg. Co. Inc., has won the runner-up honors in the 2017 edition of The NEWS’ Best Trainer competition. High ratings from multiple nominations helped him secure this position, even if he wasn’t sure it was really happening at first.
“When you first notified me of the honor over email, I assumed it couldn’t be real,” said Downie. “I’m just so humbled that people nominated me and that I am being recognized. It really is a great honor.”
Downie was a contractor in the field for a number of years before making the switch to training full time. Even while working in the field, training was always something that interested him.
“I would see problems on job sites and put together training for fellow contractors,” he said. “After doing some contracting business, I became a coach for technicians. I was involved as a technical manager for a [utility company] and developed an HVAC training program for them. When I left that full-time job, I found myself still getting up at 5 a.m. to get work done. That is what led me to the manager of technical education position for Bard, crisscrossing the country and parts of the continent conducting training.”
“Rick has the perfect balance of technical experience and engineering knowledge and wraps the crucial information in a winsome presentation,” said Tod Heath, sales manager, Bard. “He is widely experienced besides his complete understanding of Bard’s own products. He works very hard on being current when so many trainers for HVAC manufacturers are years behind. He has been crucial in controls training as well as in refrigeration and electrical matters.”
Downie works with the engineering, sales, and marketing teams at Bard to develop a training program and different courses. He conducts both live and online training courses.
“I travel around and train reps and then travel to distributors and contractors to train technicians,” he said. “I do a lot of educational training because we sell units for schools as well. There can be up to 60 techs in a class. I’m training on a bunch of different things, including PLC [programmable logic controller]units in Canada for the new, high-efficiency, wall-mounted units because they run on oil fuels up there.”
TAKING ON ALL CHALLENGES
For Downie, the emergence of online training throughout the industry presented him with an opportunity to become a better trainer, and he has embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly.
“Regardless of if I am teaching online or in-person, I ask questions of the class and get people to volunteer and give their feedback,” he said. “I’m constantly trying to get more training online.”
Right now, Downie said he is travelling 60-70 percent of the time, and there is simply a huge demand for training because there is a major gap in skilled technicians.
“As manufacturers, we have a responsibility to bring people into this industry and do everything we can to train them properly,” he said. “I looked at a lot of online courses to see what I liked before beginning my own online training efforts. I found what I could understand and acquired some online resources. One thing I found for doing videos in online training is it doesn’t work if I sit at a desk and am monotone. I always stand up, put on a headset, and go to a screen in front of a room with a pointer. It’s a little thing, but it really helps.”
It’s those “little things” that have endeared Downie to those around him.
“Rick does an excellent job melding dry subject matter and enthusiasm to make the training enjoyable and easier to learn,” said William Smith, national sales manager, Bard. “He developed all the presentation materials, as Bard is a small company. The handouts and graphics he created representing our new equipment are very useful in understanding the material. Rick also encourages questions and discussions.”
Joe Stoltz, independent Bard sales rep, working for JayKay Sales said, “Rick has unselfishly crisscrossed North America to provide the best training for Bard products and HVAC applications in general. He is very knowledgeable and does a great job sharing his experience and industry know-how to support those he is training.”
DOING THE LITTLE THINGS
Because Downie is on the move so much in his role, he rarely has a chance to watch his trainees develop throughout their careers, but he does get to speak frequently with some of the youngest members of the industry and impress upon them the value HVAC can provide.
“I’ve always enjoyed what I do,” he said. “Heating and cooling has provided me with a great living my entire life. I’ve never been without work.”
So, what is the best tip or trick Downie has learned throughout his time as a trainer?
“I have been dealing with people my whole career, and eye contact really matters,” he said. “I keep close eye contact with every person I’m training. It doesn’t matter if there are four or 40 students. I try to break everything down into terms that people can understand. Maybe I’ve gotten a little better at that over the years. I always tell them why and how something works when I am explaining it. Certain things must be done a certain way. If you know why you are doing something, you don’t take shortcuts.”
Downie certainly didn’t take any shortcuts en route to earning the runner-up award in this year’s contest.
Publication date: 9/18/2017