While sometimes not given the respect they deserve, HVAC instructors are an important part of the industry. They are at least partially responsible for who enters the workforce and how much those people know about HVAC when they do begin their careers.
Like with most jobs, HVAC instructors are being asked to do more with less. In talking with numerous instructors, The NEWS has come up with the top 10 challenges they are currently facing. It is important to point out that every instructor agreed that these items were challenges — not complaints — and that they were working hard to overcome them.
The HVAC field has become a lot more complex as more disciplines have come into the industry — solar, geothermal, ductless, etc. Despite this fact, many of the schools are being asked to reduce the amount of training hours offered. So instructors need to figure out how to stay current and satisfy all the needs of the students’ future employers. It stands to reason that if hours remain the same, every time a new technology is introduced, it is taking hours away from something that was previously in the curriculum. Instructors need to have the time not to just dispense the information, but rather present it in such a way that it will be retained and usable when the student graduates from school.
This does not even take into consideration the time the instructor needs to learn about the new technologies themselves.
The challenge here can often be in who makes up the enrollment. Unlike most colleges, where the majority of students are in the 18 to 24 years age range, HVAC instructors at trade schools can have a strong mix of ages in one classroom. Different generations may learn differently, so it is a challenge for the instructor when these mixed generations are in the same classroom. The younger generation tends to learn with technology in the form of smartphones and tablets. The older generation sometimes needs to see it in person rather than on a screen. Sometimes, an instructor might need to repeat a concept two or three times in a slightly different way to make sure people have an understanding of it.
Schools that run open enrollment have an even bigger challenge. This is when students can join anytime during the course, so they can maximize their number of students. So two weeks into a class, additional students can join. The teacher then needs to get those individuals up to speed without sacrificing the learning of the students who have been there the entire time.
In education, along with a lot of other businesses, everyone is competing for funds. When talking about a technical college that might have 30 to 40 programs, all the departments are trying to get a piece of the budget. One of the biggest challenges for HVAC instructors is simply not having enough funding. With the cost of getting equipment for the students to learn with, it is hard sometimes to get an administrator to approve the funds needed.
Contractors are continuously looking to the schools for quality candidates, and the schools simply do not have enough to provide. The recruitment of students is oftentimes left up to the instructor. Getting into the high schools to showcase what they have to offer is tough for instructors.
Again, time becomes an issue. The challenge is for everyone who is a stakeholder in the industry to be pulling in the same direction in regard to recruitment.
This is a challenge for individuals coming right out of the HVAC field and into teaching. There is a need to build a curriculum from basic to complex for students. This is an issue when there is a new technology and teachers have to decide where that fits into their curriculum. Organizations like HVAC Excellence provide help in this area.
6. ADVISORY COMMITTEES
Advisory committees are an essential and vital part of every school. In order to receive federal funding, instructors are required to have an advisory committee. The hard part is making sure they have a good one.
An advisory committee reviews the program in its entirety — the content, the adequacy of the equipment in the shop, the books, etc. A good committee should include manufacturers, distributors, contractors, former students, and perhaps a person from the utility company. However, it is difficult to find people who are willing to give up their time. Instructors must explain the value that being closely associated with the program provides.
7. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Instructors are busy keeping up with every new technology in the HVAC industry. But equally important is keeping up on new teaching techniques and learning general professional development. Oftentimes, with the strain on funds and time, this is an item that falls through the cracks.
It is important that instructors are given the opportunities to improve themselves as teachers. This is especially important as the new batch of students learn differently than others have in the past.
8. ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT
All the other challenges lead to this one because, while an administrator cannot make the previous challenges go away, they can certainly help lessen their effect. The instructor’s desire is to have a bigger say in the decisions that affect their courses. Sometimes, administrator talk and instructor talk can seem like two different languages. In order to create a productive classroom, instructors need to have a good relationship with a supportive administration.
9. MANUFACTURER AND DISTRIBUTOR SUPPORT
The first item that comes to mind here is the donation of equipment. And that, no doubt, is important. However, HVAC instructors often hope for additional support from both manufacturers and distributors.
They would like to see these sectors of the industry be a part of the school’s advisory committee. Instructors would also like to see manufacturers open up their product specific training programs that they are having at their local distributors to the instructors in the area — free of charge. This would also allow instructors to meet more contractors and would open up further dialogue.
10. Grants and other Funding
Often, finding and filling out paperwork for grants and funding falls to the instructors. And since not many HVAC instructors also double as lawyers, this can be a challenge. In addition to developing that skill set and finding the time, a lot of the information requested is not information to which they have access.
Publication date: 8/27/2018