“The skill labs help build the next generation by introducing them to potential career paths they may not have considered before.”
- Melissa Hazelwood
director of social impact
Ferguson Enterprises

The Explore The Trades Skills Lab, Built by Ferguson grant program is continuing its mission of building the next generation of HVAC and plumbing technicians.

Following a successful launch last year, which saw three new training labs open thanks to its grants, the program this year is offering the resources to help open four additional labs and refurbish nine others. Eligibility has been expanded to include programs that serve middle-school students as well as high schoolers.

“For many schools, I believe the passion is there to begin a plumbing or HVAC class to best serve the students, but when obstacles are present, the path is tough,” said Kate Cinnamo, executive director of Explore The Trades (ETT). “We — the trades industry together with education — must make these classes more viable and accessible for students.”

ETT is a nonprofit resource for information about careers in the plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical trades. The grant program, a partnership between ETT and Ferguson Enterprises, one of the nation’s largest distributors of plumbing and HVAC equipment, outfitted three training labs last year, giving high school students opportunities for hands-on learning.

“The skills labs boast state-of-the-art equipment that allows the students to learn new skills in real-world plumbing and HVAC environments,” said Melissa Hazelwood, director of social impact at Ferguson. “Instructors provide one-on-one guidance and mentorship while students explore their options within the skilled trades industry.”

ETT was formed in response to a shortage of workers in the trades. According to the National Comfort Institute, there were approximately 80,000 unfilled HVAC technician jobs last year, and about 8% of the work force, or some 23,000 people, leave the industry every year.

The grant program is aimed at helping the industry overcome that labor shortage.

“By providing these educational opportunities, the skill labs help build the next generation by introducing them to potential career paths they may not have considered before,” Hazelwood said.

Cinnamo said grant eligibility was expanded because ETT has been getting requests for information from educators who teach younger students.

“Also, our team has had direct conversations with these same professionals who acknowledge that students need to be aware of these careers at a younger age,” she said.

Grants to upgrade existing labs were begun, she said, because “in an effort to keep students engaged and educated on the latest technology, we wanted to provide a way for schools to keep these classes successful.” Some existing labs had older equipment, she said.

This year’s four grants to outfit new HVAC or plumbing labs are worth up to $25,000 each, and the grants to refurbish nine other labs with new equipment and supplies are worth $10,000 each. Schools that teach students in grades six through 12 are eligible to apply.

Schools receiving grants will not be getting checks, but will be receiving their chosen HVAC or plumbing equipment directly from the nearest Ferguson outlet.

Grant applications are being accepted through March. The deadline for grant recipients to order equipment is July 31, and labs funded through the grants must be up and running by the beginning of the 2023-24 school year.

For more information on the Explore The Trades Skills Lab, Built by Ferguson grant program, email Cinnamo at katec@explorethetrades.org or call her at 651-789-8518, or email ETT project coordinator Mandy Sorenson at maddys@explorethetrades.org or call her at 651-314-3856.