INDEPENDENCE, Va. — The future need for qualified HVACR techs is outpacing the demand for other skilled trades. According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for skilled HVACR technicians is projected to grow 13 percent from 2018 to 2028. While this is a big concern for the industry, the good news is that many school districts are seeking to help fill this gap by providing hands-on vocational learning for their students.

One such school district lies in Grayson County, Virginia, in the southwestern part of the state. A small community surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Grayson County High School has an enrollment of 466 students in its high school. The school district provides a traditional academic curriculum, but also offers a variety of project-based learning programs through its Career & Technical Education (CATE) Center.

From 1969 until 1980, the high school had offered an air conditioning and refrigeration class, but had not had technical instructions in these fields since then. The Grayson County CATE Center hired Chris Crooke, a HVACR professional with more than 20 years of trade industry experience, and he began a new program to introduce students to these fields. He started teaching 11 students in the fall of 2019, using online training for curriculum.

Crooke, who had owned and operated a heating and air conditioning business for more than 10 years, believed that technical education could make a big difference in the lives of Grayson County students.

“My goal is to equip these kids with the knowledge they need to get more than just a job,” Crooke said. “I want to provide them with a ladder of opportunity to climb into a life long career.” 

He knew the best preparation for employment is hands-on experience with current technology, so he and the school developed a new 2,500-square foot space that included four workstations specially created to provide the needed training.  Unfortunately, the school district did not have budget for tools, equipment, and consumables.

“We are in rural Appalachia, and there is not a lot of school money available for materials for this type of program,” said Crooke. “I developed relationships with local HVAC companies in order to acquire some basic used tools and equipment. The only tools that I purchased initially were basic electrical hand tools for service tool bags.”

Local distributors suggested to Crooke that a manufacturer might offer direct discounts to schools, so he contacted the Harris Products Group. Harris Products serves the HVACR and plumbing markets.

Harris responded immediately to Crooke’s request with a donation of portable torch kits, air fuel torches, gloves, goggles, and brazing and soldering alloys. In November 2019, Timothy Reading, Harris Products Group district manager, traveled to Grayson County to set up the equipment and gave them demonstrations for using the products.

“Harris Products Group understands the critical need to train students so they have brazing and soldering skills to meet employer needs and for our country to remain globally competitive,” said Reading. “There’s a lot for these students to learn about brazing and soldering – including how to set up the best flame, how to choose which alloys to use, how to make sure the alloys and metal of the pipe fuse together properly so no leaks. We’re happy to help them to develop these skills so they can use them properly and safely.”

Reading and Crooke agree that providing students with the proper resources and hands-on experience is invaluable to prepare them for good paying jobs and can have far-reaching benefits.

“We are very grateful to Harris for giving our students a head start in developing the skills that are very much in demand,” said Crooke. “Their donations are an investment in our school and our community that will have long-term positive results on future generations as they serve HVACR industries.” 

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