Contractors know how wonderful a career the HVAC industry is. The advantages are countless, including competitive salaries, a low barrier to entry (no need to pay for a costly college degree), and the potential for growth and promotions. But even with these advantages, the industry is not immune from the widening skilled trades labor gap, which makes snagging every potential recruit a must.
Sometimes, though, a person pursuing a career in HVAC might be delayed because of financial obstacles. This is where scholarships, like those offered by the Rees Scholarship Foundation, step up to the plate. The foundation is a charitable organization that works to provide scholarships to qualified students pursuing careers in HVACR and water heating, as well as serving as the educational foundation of AHRI.
“Part of the problem is students and parents lack awareness of the opportunities that are available in our industry,” said John Lanier, chief operating officer of AHRI. “We also know that the qualified workforce is shrinking, that many entering the technician ranks have little if any experience. The [Rees Scholarship Foundation] exists to mitigate some of this.”
The organization assists with the education, recruitment, and competency of future technicians by awarding scholarships to the brightest students in accredited schools.
Benefits Of Scholarships
The Rees Scholarship Foundation has a number of students who can testify to the program’s role in their education and embracing of HVAC.
Angel Resto III, a 2020 Rees Recipient, became interested in HVAC during a session at his community college. He liked how many skills the program taught: HVAC, refrigeration, plumbing, and electricity, for example.
“When I found out that I was awarded the Rees Scholarship, I felt like I just climbed the highest mountain in the world,” he said. “And I was overjoyed. This scholarship has helped me financially by covering my bills for this my last year. I plan to graduate this May with the HVAC certificate program from Monroe Community College.” Resto III plans to work in the commercial/industrial side of HVAC, and the scholarship allowed him to complete his education significantly faster than he otherwise would have.
Jonnell Bailey, from Georgia Piedmont Technical College, received a Rees scholarship in 2019. Bailey discovered her interest when a technician came to her home to fix a blower, and she decided on HVAC because of the widespread demand for conditioned spaces in homes and business. She used the scholarship for tuition and other school-related items, and the funds allowed her to complete her education much faster than she could have without it.
Lee Taylor, from Bevill State Community College, received a Rees scholarship in 2020. He is a retired law enforcement officer, but his interest in HVAC began in high school, when he was trained in automotive mechanics.
“The next step for me is to work in the HVAC field part-time while I still attend my training program,” Taylor said. “Once the program is completed, I intent to work full-time in that field, and my long-term goal is to open my own business.”
Sue Perez, program coordinator for the Rees Scholarship Foundation, workforce development, said that there are a few keys to increasing awareness of the HVAC industry and boosting the amount of employees in the skilled trades. The industry must work with students and parents to show them the benefits of the HVAC industry. The industry is also male-dominated, meaning that offering opportunities to underrepresented groups — such as women, minorities, or those struggling financially — can bring additional people into the workforce.
“We can also support newcomers,” said Perez. “We should support entry-level workers by providing them with opportunities, such as job shadowing and ridealongs. This way they can advance their skills and be more prepared for the work that they need to do.”
Scholarships can also help with this by reaching out to people who are looking for an affordable career without being weighed down by student debt.
The Rees Scholarship Foundation has awarded more than $1 million to over 640 deserving students since 2003. Each year, the foundation awards scholarships of up to $2,000 each to qualified students. Those interested in applying for the scholarship can do so here.