Employee education has presented many challenges to the employer over the years. Cost, access to courses, time, and the possibility of investment loss due to employee attrition are all on a long list of concerns when employers ask themselves, “How do I effectively educate my employees?”

Understanding that education solutions are needed, HARDI has continually evolved its education offering into the current program HARDI’s Education And Training University (HEAT.U).

Troy Meachum, president of ACR Supply Co., Durham, N.C., is a participant in HEAT.U. Together with his administrative staff and Emily Saving, HARDI’s director of education and research foundation, he has integrated HEAT.U into his company’s performance-based pay system.

“One of the ways that people can be promoted inside of our organization is through education,” he explained. “The educational piece for the majority of the positions in the company involves some type of training inside HEAT.U.”

Over in Fort Worth, Texas, Randy Boyd, president of AC Supply Co., is using the HEAT.U program in his company as well. He approaches HEAT.U as an incentive program and offers his employees access and reward for participation in HEAT.U.

“We are committed to spend half of 1 percent of our overall sales on education opportunities for employees,” he said. “We believe that by offering education opportunities, our employees will be more knowledgeable of products and methods in the HVAC industry. In turn, by having smarter employees, it will help increase the overall bottom line for the company.”

HEAT.U 101

The HEAT.U program is an online learning platform that provides a large number of course offerings selected to fulfill the educational and professional development needs of HARDI HVACR wholesale operations, as well as employees within the HARDI supplier, service vendor, and other membership categories.

HEAT.U’s course catalog offers over 4,000 courses that teach HVACR skills. The course offerings include credits for Branch Manager and Counter Specialist certifications (Fig. 1 and 2). There are also many programs approved for RSES, ASHRAE, OSHA, and NATE continuing education credits. Some of the education topics include safety and warehouse, leadership development, customer service, communication and other soft skills, as well as sales.

According to HARDI, the courses are priced by the credit hours spent learning and average between $25 and $50 per credit hour. There is no registration fee to access the system, and participants who purchase credit hours in bulk may be eligible for discounts.

To further help, HARDI has arranged some of HEAT.U’s classes into topic-specific course packages. There are currently 200 e-learning course packages, which are bundled by like topic in order to offer participants cost savings. Some examples of these package topics are Sales Skills, Key Account Selling, Assertive Communication, and Customer Service for Managers. These topic packages can be grouped together into professional skills packages for the counter professional and the sales professional.

Performance Integration

Only three months into the program, Meachum is already seeing benefits of using HEAT.U as the education apparatus of ACR Supply Co.’s performance based pay system. The greatest benefit he describes is the removal of promotion pressure from him.

“I no longer have to decide who gets promoted, who moves forward, or who has earned the next level in pay,” Meachum said. “With this system, I have put the responsibility back into the hands of our employees. If they desire to learn and grow and become more valuable to the company this year then that helps them to move up. Each employee knows exactly what they have to do from additional responsibilities assigned by their leader to participation in HEAT.U to be promoted.”

Meachum explained that implementing the HEAT.U system into the performance-based pay system wasn’t difficult, noting that Saving walked the company through the entire process. According to the ACR Supply Co. administrative staff, setting up accounts, emails, passwords, etc., were all facilitated by HARDI staff. Although only having been in use for three months, the company reports that the new system and education are running smoothly.

As for employee participation there are early adopters rising to the occasion and there are some who are tentatively engaging the system.

“What’s really great about the system is that we are getting updates on a regular basis about where our people are and what progress they are making,” said Meachum. “I think this feedback is a vital part of the program.”

For the foreseeable future, HEAT.U will indefinitely be a part of ACR Supply Co.’s pay model.

“The education is good and very applicable to what we do every day at the branch,” noted Meachum. “We see this being a lifetime partnership.”

Education Incentive

AC Supply is using HEAT.U as part of an incentive program for its employees. The first option it offers is an independent study course bonus program. According to the company, there are 12 courses available to all full time employees after 90 days of hire. Courses are paid up front by AC Supply and once the course is completed and passed in the recommended time frame, the company will reward the employee with a $500 bonus.

The second option is the career certification bonus program. These courses are assigned to employees according to their current position and potential advancement opportunities. AC Supply will pay for this course up front as well. When a total of 10 continuing education hours are completed and passed in the recommended time frame, the company will reward the employees with a bonus of $150.

“We pride ourselves for offering a wide variety of educational opportunities for our employees and customers,” said Boyd. “HEAT.U is a valuable tool that we will continue to use as a resource for our employees.”

Mitigating Investment Loss

By taking advantage of the courses provided in HEAT.U, these two HARDI members have made a commitment to their employees to pursue mutually beneficial educational opportunities. This commitment to education, however, doesn’t come without a cost. Meachum and Boyd are both investing time and money into their current workforces but the question of employees leaving after all that investment is complete is in the back of their minds.

“A lot of people are afraid to invest in their people to help them learn and grow because they are afraid they will leave,” said Meachum. “Taking a page out of the book from John Maxwell, what happens if you don’t educate them and they stay?

“We’ve actually had that happen,” he added. “But that’s OK. We want to help people grow personally and professionally. If they are more valuable to the ACR Supply family this year than last year, then we all win.”

Visit www.hardinet.org and click on the HEAT.U logo for more information.

SIDEBAR: HEAT.U Certification Programs

Fig. 1

Branch Manager
Competency Areas
Sales and service

According to HARDI, “Participants will gain a better perspective on their own performance and how it impacts their branch. They will receive vital knowledge and skill-building tools to help them contribute to overall company performance improvement. Throughout the process they will be supported with coaching and feedback.”

Fig. 2

Counter Specialist
Competency Areas
Customer service and sales
Safety and warehouse knowledge
Wholesaling business knowledge
Product knowledge
An additional customizable focus

Levels of Certification (Lowest to Highest)

HARDI Certified