A program in Charlotte, North Carolina, is providing opportunities for the unemployed and workers for the HVAC industry by providing free training. Trane Technologies partnered with the city’s economic development department and the Urban League of Central Carolinas to support 17 students in the latest class.
The Urban League started the HVAC training program a decade ago. In the fall of 2020, additional money became available through a combination of the federal CARES Act and funding from the city’s energy action plan. This led to the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Workforce (RENEW) program.
The acronym brings a double meaning, as it’s also aimed at renewing the city’s residents along with creating a greener infrastructure. Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. At the same time, it is ranked as one of the worst cities in terms of upward mobility. The HVAC training program addresses both the need for workers and the need for better paying jobs. The RENEW program also specifically targeted workers who became displaced by the pandemic.
Maliek Carrington, owner of Affordable Maintenance Services, put together the curriculum for the RENEW program. Carrington teaches classes in both North and South Carolina in addition to running his own HVAC contracting firm. He’s been involved with the Urban League’s HVAC training since it started. Carrington focuses on the core principals someone needs to understand in order to work in the field.
HVAC Industry Needs More Diversity to Stay Relevant
Carrington said working in HVAC provides a path out of poverty. He said his greatest feeling of accomplishment is when he’s driving his work van and stops next to one of his former students driving another one. Many former students call him looking for people to hire.
“In order to be successful, someone just needs the opportunity,” Carrington said.
RENEW provides that opportunity to a group of people who often don’t get it. The class included more women and more people of color than usually found at an HVAC firm. Deidra Parrish Williams, Trane’s leader of global corporate citizenship, said attracting more diverse employees is crucial for the long-term viability of the HVAC business.
“The industry needs diverse perspectives and talent,” Williams said. “We are fully aware that our industry lacks a level of diversity that helps to keep an industry vibrant, relatable, and relevant.”
Interview Skills Along With Technical Training
In addition to training, the RENEW program offered students a $15/hour stipend during the 15 weeks of the course so students can focus on learning. In addition to financial resources, Trane helped the students actually get a job after the program. This included bringing Trane dealers to the RENEW job fair and preparing students for their interviews.
“These are folks coming from all walks of life,” Williams said. “They may or may not have been in interview settings. They may or may not have been in an interview setting recently. They may not have interviewed virtually.
“So we wanted to make sure we were removing as many barriers as possible.”
About half of the graduates found jobs at the end of the program. Emily Cantrell, Charlotte’s senior manager of economic development operations, said some of the contractors ended up hiring program graduates for their soft skills, such as sales. They wouldn’t have found these people without the RENEW program.
There were more than 100 applicants for the 30 spots announced last fall. The latest class began on June 2. Cantrell said HVAC contractors in other cities should look for opportunities to work with their local governments and civic organizations to create similar programs.
“This is how we’re going to bridge this equitable divide in jobs: through partnership with industry and economic development and workforce development programs that create a full-circle of support,” Cantrell said. “We could not successfully do this program without industry input.”