It all started as an idea by Dave Chatmon, district manager, Lennox Intl. Inc., long before he was with the company. Chatmon grew tired of his contractors missing work to attend training conferences.
“We would be in the middle of the busy season, and it seemed like every day that one of our guys would say, ‘I can’t do that install, because I am heading to Milwaukee for training classes today. You approved them, remember?’ I remember saying out loud, ‘Why don’t the distributors get their act together and have a one-day training event so that we can train as a team during the slow times to get us ready for the busy season?’”
It wasn’t until years later that the idea came to fruition. Chatmon voiced his idea to the Dealer Advisory Council (DAC) and Vision committee at Lennox, and in 2011, Lennox VisionTECH was born.
Now in its seventh year, the event has blossomed into an event for both technical colleges and Lennox dealers. Day one’s events are dedicated only to HVAC students and military veterans, while day two includes dealers as well.
“This conference demonstrates the ideal interaction between the industry and the technical colleges,” said Ben Nusz, instructor, Mid-State Technical College, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. “We are provided with technical support, equipment, donations, and meaningful interactions with contractors and dealers. It gives us validation for what are doing in the classroom and ensures that we are best meeting our industry’s training and employment needs.”
SPECIFIED FOR STUDENTS AND VETS
Day one kicks off with a general session where students, colleges, and military veterans are greeted by leadership members from Lennox, who provide an overview of what to expect from a career in HVAC.
After the introductory sessions, there is an organization leaders meetings where HVAC instructors meet with the Lennox team to discuss their concerns about the labor shortage and how Lennox can encourage students to enter the trades.
Then, the conference holds college student interviews with Lennox dealers — a fan favorite.
“Students are afforded the opportunity to interview with prospective Lennox dealerships within Wisconsin,” said Doni Bartley, HVAC instructor, Milwaukee Area Technical College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Employment opportunities are available, should all parties agree. In the past, I have had four students secure employment during these interviews. Others have conducted follow-up interviews after the conferences as well. Typically, there are five to 10 dealerships interviewing.”
The benefits of these interviews are two-fold. First, the student and dealer have the potential to make a partnership in employment. And second, students have the ability to test the water, so to speak.
“I have students who just want to practice an interview with a company, and the dealerships have been gracious in their response,” Bartley said. “These interviews really allow the students to see the opportunities that actually exist.”
Dealers also look forward to these interviews because it provides them with a one-on-one opportunity to evaluate, and possibly hire, new technicians entering the field.
In fact, it’s one of the main reasons Tom Schwartz, comfort advisor and residential install manager for Sure-Fire Inc., Horicon, Wisconsin, attends each year.
“We are in a high-demand situation for employees, and any time our business can get in front of these students, it is a win-win situation for all involved,” he said.
After the interview portion, the students attend breakout sessions to learn about what employers are looking for, how to conduct themselves during an interview, and other soft skills, said Bartley.
A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING
Day two is exactly what Chatmon had in mind when he thought up the perfect dealer event.
“I had a vision to have a training event that allowed businesses to work on team building, that trained on all areas of business at the same one-day event, that brought in great speakers and keynote speakers, and that incorporated a competition at the end to help enforce learning and retaining the information,” he said.
The guest speakers set the tone for the conference, said Bartley.
“They invigorate the attendees and force them to look inward to find a spark to better themselves through service in our industry,” he said. “We find ourselves stuck in the daily grind, and these speakers serve as reminders that we have a huge impact on so many lives through what we do.”
Breakout sessions follow, covering four groups of classes, including installation, service, sales, and owners. Within those four categories are 47 breakout classes.
“The breakout sessions are what my team and I look forward to each year,” said Pete Schneider, partner, Paul’s Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Onalaska, Wisconsin. “They cover everything from basic HVAC fundamentals to the more advanced HVAC classes and to the balancing of work life versus home life. They offer a great opportunity for my team and myself to further our knowledge in the HVAC field and our own personal lives.”
And the event wraps up with something that both new and old attendees look forward to every year: TechWarZ.
“TechWarZ is always the highlight of the event for me,” said Schwartz. “It basically is a competition for the dealers and students to compete against each other separately, showing what they have learned throughout the day through a questions and answer Jeopardy-style game. There is one winner from the colleges and one winner among the Lennox dealers.”
There is a first, second, and third place winner, and prizes include a Lennox iComfort E30 thermostat, Lennox gift cards for tools, VisionTECH WarZ champions pullovers, equipment for colleges, tools for the students, and a TechWarZ champion trophy.
“The last two years, we took third and second place, winning several furnaces and air conditioners,” said Nusz. “We are a new HVAC program, and these equipment donations were instrumental in our program development. We are now able to train on brand new, high-efficiency equipment and provide our students with the highest quality education we can deliver.”
David Popelko, service manager, Andy Rasmussen & Sons Plumbing and Heating, Cable, Wisconsin, said being able to win equipment is critical to many HVAC programs in attendance, as it’s expensive for schools to purchase.
“Especially for students and schools, all of which are continually fighting budget constraints, having good tools and a variety of equipment to hone their skills on is invaluable in the educational process,” he said.
While winning equipment and prizes is nice, being awarded the TechWarZ champion trophy is a big deal to attendees, as the winner displays it for one year in their facility, showing that their team was the best in the state at the event.
“The traveling trophy is a badge of honor,” said Bartley. “This year, we were able to regain our trophy and took first place in the competition. My students are extremely happy with winning the whole thing, and I couldn’t be prouder of them and what they have accomplished.
“It is experiences like this [competition], along with seeing my students succeed in the field, that gives me the drive to continue to teach and help mold our future technicians,” he continued.
This year, VisionTECH brought in 516 attendees, but both Lennox leaders and student and dealer attendees hope to see that number grow in the future.
“I believe we should be encouraging more HVAC instructors, and middle school, high school, and technical college students to attend every year because of the wide range of classes VisionTECH offers to assist students in their future HVAC careers,” said Schneider. “As the job outlook for the skilled HVAC trade continues to grow, the industry should be encouraging these students to pursue a career in HVAC.”