If you’re a technician working in the Northwestern U.S., you’ve likely heard of David Norman. Chances are you may even have his phone number. The 58-year-old instructor has built quite a reputation as the go-to guy for HVACR technical problems in the region.
The industry veteran, who was selected as The NEWS’ 2017 Best Instructor runner-up, cashed in his retirement and started his own trade school, HVAC Institute, seven years ago.
“I cashed in my retirement to build the school, so I’m all-in,” he joked. “It was an incredible amount of work.
“The driving force behind it was my frustration with new legislation that all of a sudden said that guys who had been doing oil furnaces for the last 30 years couldn’t stay in business if they couldn’t pass an electrical test,” he continued. “I wanted to help these guys stay legal and be able to get the knowledge they needed to continue to stay in business.”
Norman’s partner, Shannon Kibblinger, is vice president of the school they started together in Kent, Washington.
Kibblinger previously worked with Norman at a distribution company, and both had encountered technicians who lacked knowledge when calling in for tech support. That, combined with the diminishing workforce, pushed them to create the HVAC Institute.
“Dave is probably the most well-known technical guy in this area,” Kibblinger said. “He’s probably the sharpest technical guy I’ve seen for sure. He gives his cellphone number out to all of his students. The distributors here have their own field service reps who troubleshoot for contractors and things like that — well, when they can’t figure it out, they call Dave. It’s the honest truth. And, most of the time, he can figure things out over the phone. He gets excited if he has to go out to a job for a really tricky problem. That’s just who he is.”
Kibblinger said Norman is a real-world type of instructor.
“You have textbooks and things like that, but he knows these guys get into certain situations, and they need to know how to think on their feet, test a few things, and make things happen out there,” he said. “He’s a technician at heart, so he knows where they’re coming from. He always touches on safety, shows them things that could happen, demonstrates things that have happened, and grabs their attention that way. He goes through the curriculum and touches on things they will run into from time to time and how they’re not going to read this in a book but need to know how to do it anyway.”
Bryce Biles, service manager for AAA Heating & Air Conditioning, Kent, Washington, took his first class with Norman almost eight years ago and continues to take his classes today.
“He’s a great instructor,” Biles said. “Every time I take a class with him, I always learn something new, even if it’s a class I’ve taken in the past. I still continue to learn new tricks and techniques from him. He’s one of the best. He gets out in the lab with technicians, and I guess you could say he adapts to your learning style. If you’re more of a viewer or somebody who likes to see something done, he will do it and demonstrate it for you. If you’re more of a hands-on person, he’ll stand behind you and make sure you’re doing things correctly. If you’re more of a book learner, he adapts to that as well and offers reading materials, instructional videos, and things of that nature.
“He’s a great asset to the HVAC industry,” he continued. “Pretty much every technician in the Northwest has his phone number. He never interrupts class, but every break he has, he’s always calling people back. He’s one of the top guys in our area that people really look up to.”
Norman first began teaching about 25 years ago — he thinks.
“I’ve lost count,” he joked. “I ended up taking on a night class to help a friend of mine whose wife was diagnosed with cancer and really liked it. It’s fun to watch the lightbulbs come on and follow my students’ careers. Many of my students now own their own companies, and we still talk a lot. They send me their new hires now. It’s great to see these guys grow and become competent business owners.”
Norman teaches three days a week at HVAC Institute. The other two days, he works in his other business, CSI HVAC Inc. in Tacoma, Washington, which performs residential and light commercial installs and service.
“Right now, my two businesses are in two different cities, so my goal is to get a bigger facility, so I can have a larger lab and both businesses under one roof,” he said. “I really love teaching, installing, and troubleshooting. Even at my age, I still crawl in crawlspaces and attics, so I can relate to what the students do every day. Hopefully, I’ll continue to teach until I can’t get out of bed anymore.”
Publication date: 9/18/2017