Twenty-five years ago, representatives of the HVACR industry gathered in Chicago to create a new organization that would be dedicated solely to improving the technical competence of the HVACR industry through validation of the technical education process — HVAC Excellence. To celebrate the anniversary, The NEWS talked with Howard Weiss, executive vice president, about the state of the organization as well as the state of the HVAC industry.
NEWS: Congrats on 25 years of HVAC Excellence. Explain to our readers what the organization does.
Weiss: HVAC Excellence was established to improve the technical competency of the HVACR industry. We accomplish this through validation of the technical education process.
HVAC Excellence validates that HVACR educational programs meet national standards through programmatic accreditation, instructors have mastered the competencies of their curriculum through educator credentialing exams, and that students have the retained knowledge necessary for employment through employment-ready certifications. Additionally, we offer progressive levels of certification to students, technicians, and instructors. So, no matter what stage a person is at in their career, HVAC Excellence has the tools to help them identify if they need additional training or are ready to move on to the next level.
NEWS: What need in the HVAC industry did HVAC Excellence see 25 years ago that made the organization want to enter the market?
Weiss: For many years, one would learn how to be an HVACR technician on the job from someone else who had also learned the trade on the job. Electromechanical controls and other system elements allowed clever service technicians to rely on creativity to troubleshoot HVACR system failures. The age of simple, electromechanical controls and devices passed, and in its place entered the age of digital controls, components, and devices. As a result, the age of being clever and figuring things out passed.
HVAC Excellence understood that the depth of knowledge one obtains determines whether [he/she] becomes a master technician, troubleshooter, or parts changer. With no national standards or assessment tools in place, HVAC Excellence was created to establish standards and the tools necessary to improve the technical education process.
NEWS: What has been the biggest change in your area of the industry for the last 25 years?
Weiss: Over the years, technology continues to advance; however, the time allowed to teach the trade has been reduced. The average number of school days in the U.S. is between 175 and 180, just as it was right after World War II. Meaning, in order to bring new technologies into the classroom, everything else must be taught in a shorter period. HVACR educational programs in the early 1990s were often conducted over two years and consisted of 2,800 contact hours. Today, these same programs are conducted in less than a year, typically in 850 to 1,200 contact hours, with far more to teach than in years past.
NEWS: How does the industry solve the workforce development problem?
Weiss: If anyone truly had an answer to this question, we would not have a workforce shortage.
When asking a group of contractors whose job it is to recruit technicians, an overwhelming response is it is the job of the HVACR instructor at a nearby school. That means when instructors are not busy teaching, developing lesson plans, seeking grants for funding, maintaining regulatory compliance, learning new technologies, ordering supplies, etc. — they have the sole responsibility of visiting the 37,000 high schools in the United States to recruit technicians.
For the industry to truly address the workforce shortage, we need everyone helping to recruit the next generation of technicians. The best way to collaborate on this is for technicians, contractors, wholesalers, and other industry stakeholders to attend an HVACR program advisory meeting at a trade school or community college. This is an opportunity for everyone to gather and discuss how to get the local community excited about opportunities in the HVACR industry.
NEWS: I know it is not just a workforce problem, but there is an issue finding instructors — any solutions there?
Weiss: There are roughly 7 million job openings in the United States currently — more openings than there are unemployed persons to fill them. Added to this dilemma are the requirements to be an effective HVACR instructor. One needs to have a deep understanding of the physics and theories, combined with years of experience in the field, to be an effective instructor.
The HVACR industry has master technicians, troubleshooters, and parts changers. While schools seek to help master technicians transition from the field into the classroom, the salaries offered are only comparable to parts changers’ salaries. One solution is to start targeting a different type of instructor, one interested in teaching for outcome, not just the income. The industry has many highly educated retirees, many of whom have pensions larger than the salary being offered to instructors. These veterans in HVACR have lots of knowledge to share and can become highly effective instructors.
NEWS: What do instructors need to make their job easier?
Weiss: Regardless of one’s role in the HVACR industry, we are all dependent upon the success of the HVACR instructors in our community. To support these instructors, we need to unite the industry around education. In order to teach more material in less time, these instructors need help.
This help can come in the form of offering time to be a guest presenter, technical support for new products and technologies, donation of equipment, attending a program advisory committee meeting, or helping them get the resources to participate in the professional development that they need to be a more effective instructor. To help foster this process, HVAC Excellence is launching the HVACR Education Resource Network, H.E.R.N.
NEWS: Talk about the conference you guys have coming up.
Weiss: Great HVACR training programs need equipment, tools, test instruments, etc. However, at the end of the day, the most important asset is the person in front of the classroom. For HVACR educators, trainers, and technicians to keep current and relevant, they need continuing education.
The HVAC Excellence Conference allows attendees to participate in 70 lecture and hands-on sessions conducted by industry-leading manufacturers and subject matter experts. While the conference is called the National HVACR Educators and Trainers Conference, it is open to anyone in the industry. Some of the tracks covered include inverter technologies, improving student outcomes, regulatory changes, refrigerants, teaching techniques, recruitment and retention, placement, and much more. Whatever reason one may choose to attend, they can be assured all of the sessions were created exclusively for the HVACR industry. In addition to all the technical sessions offered, the conference allows attendees to meet directly with organizations that can help them with equipment, trainers, tools, supplies, curriculum, assessments, and other HVACR resources.
The conference will be held March 3-5, 2019, at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas. To register, visit www.escogroup.org.
Publication date: 2/25/2019