A Dallas-based technical school wants to help the HVAC industry solve its labor shortage by helping those who need someone to take a chance on them. ForgeNow trains recent military veterans, first-generation immigrants, and people getting out of prison in HVAC and electrical repair.
The school’s eight-week boot-camp-style program is approved by the Texas State Workforce Commission. It’s designed for individuals who thrive in a structured environment, said Marvin Key, CEO of ForgeNow. The course consists of 353 hours of training, half of which is lecture and half of which is hands-on experience. Key describes it as an immersive program, similar to those used to teach languages.
Key and his business partner Rob Holmes decided to start the school after seeing numerous reports about the shortage of skilled trade workers. He cites a statistic that the need for HVAC and electrical technicians will grow by more than 4% in coming years while a large portion of the existing workforce starts to retire. ForgeNow worked with HVAC contractors to design a course that produces entry-level technicians with the proper knowledge. That’s the main driver of the school’s success, Key said.
“We believe strongly that placement drives enrollment,” he said. “If we can place a graduate in a compelling, credentialed career, then we have an excellent chance of driving more enrollments down the road.”
The ForgeNow tuition includes a polo shirt to wear on job interviews. Students also receive work boots, two pairs of pants, and five t-shirts to wear to class so they feel the part while gaining the education. They get a logoed button-down shirt to wear to graduation and leave with $1,000 worth of tools.
Key is seeing growth for the school. ForgeNow will move into a new building shortly that will allow the school to enroll more students. The program will remain focused on HVAC and electrical repair but will add classes on the commercial side of those trades.
Paying for the Program
Part of the growth is driven by a new partnership with Meritize, a non-traditional education finance company. This provides an option for students who don’t qualify for funding through the Texas State Workforce Commission or other programs.
Chris Keaveney, CEO of Meritize, said many of the people ForgeNow serves either have a spotty credit history or have problems that prevent them from getting financed by a traditional source. Meritize looks at other criteria, such as an applicant’s prior educational experience. For example, if someone obtained a GED or took other classes while incarcerated, this makes that person a better candidate for Meritize financing.
“It tells us a lot about the person and what they are trying to do,” Keaveney said.
HVAC is a good field for the type of people ForgeNow focused on, he said, because it’s a skill-based trade rather than one that depends on a personal history. Keaveney said many people are shut out of fields such as commercial driving because of their backgrounds. HVAC just requires the right aptitude, a good work ethic, and an employer willing to take a chance,
“There are lots of people for who getting that second chance is all they need to change the trajectory of their lives and their families’ lives.” Keaveney said.
Some people do stumble, Key said. They have had to remove a few students from the program either because they fell back into old habits or lacked the needed discipline. But he focuses more on the successes.
“I tell everyone during graduation that my personal greatest enjoyment of what we’re doing is seeing the contrast from day one and eight weeks later on graduation day,” he said. “It is momentous, the difference in confidence and outlook and demeanor and swagger.”