MILWAUKEE, WI — The effort to bring more qualified workers into the field of hvacr has already started at one local high school with the unveiling of an educational program that was made possible by the effort of several individuals, manufacturers, and associations.

In 1999, The Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute’s (ARI’s) Industry Recruitment Task Force was looking to begin a pilot hvacr high school program in order to alleviate the shortage of qualified technicians.

At the same time, Tyrone Dumas, Director of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Technical and Trade Education Division, was trying to find a way to revitalize hvacr in his school system.

Dumas had an idea to send a request for help to the major industry manufacturers. The request came by fax to Tom Mikulina, Trane’s vice president of marketing, and coincidentally, a member of the ARI Task Force. At the exact moment Mikulina was discussing a plan for the program and where to start, Dumas’ request came in.

Dumas said that the process has been an act of fate and faith. And not only will the pilot program benefit the industry, but it will also benefit young people. According to Dumas, his vision was that students could have the option of pursuing a technical career.

The program was initiated at Custer High School, and The News was in attendance for the grand opening on March 29. But just because the ribbon has been cut on Custer’s new hvacr lab does not mean that ARI or MPS is finished with their plans.

Involvement From All Sides

The official opening of Custer High School’s hvacr lab was a celebration of new beginnings and an example of what can be accomplished when many different people and organizations work together for one common goal.

Cheerleaders, music, a ribbon cutting, and a tour of the new facility were only part of the ceremony welcoming those who came out to show their support.

The enthusiasm is understandable. Custer High School has always had an hvacr program, but its resources were minimal. According to Custer’s hvacr instructor, Charles Hill, the lab equipment was in disarray. The program was only capable of teaching students in the ninth and tenth grades. With the new lab and donations, Custer has now developed a four-year hvacr curriculum.

The donations for the lab came from many different manufacturers. Leslie Sandler, ARI’s education director, had the responsibility of requesting the donations.

Representatives from contributing manufacturers were on hand for the lab’s unveiling. Also present were individuals from MPS and from Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

According to Keith Coursin, task force member and president of Desert Aire, MATC will help out with educational assistance. Instructors from the college will be available to teach portions of the course when needed.

Also, MATC will offer college credit to students involved in the hvacr program. The local sheet metal union is also following suit. Not only can students receive credit from MATC, the union will reduce apprenticeship hours for students who complete the course and decide to enter the union apprenticeship program.

Custer’s guidance counselors were also part of the grand opening. They have played an important role in promoting hvacr. Custer guidance counselor Mike Sherman explains that he and other counselors at the school made an effort to get the word out on the hvacr industry. One way this was accomplished was to develop a video for middle schools. The video was put together by Purdy & Associates and tells about the new lab at Custer High School.

“It discusses the benefits of going in to the hvac program,” said Sherman.

Dumas says that these efforts must be coupled with a message for the parents of students. He says that parents must be made aware that hvac is a viable career path.

Only The Beginning

The pilot program is the culmination of a lot of hard work, but the ARI Task Force is not about to rest on its laurels. The next step, according to task force member Lev Goldberg, is to monitor how Custer’s program does over time. This will include how many students enter the program, the grades of the students, the student scores on the Industry Competency Exam (ICE), and the number that graduate from the program. These factors will help ARI gauge the success of the pilot program.

The ARI Task Force decided to put a handbook together as an outline for other high schools looking to duplicate the Custer project.

“The handbook incorporates every lesson learned from doing this,” said Goldberg.

The other goal is to get another program started in other high schools. Goldberg stated that the task force has yet to decide on where to begin another program.

In the meantime, ARI is envisioning a success with Custer High School.

“Custer is going to become nationally known,” said Mikulina.

Publication date: 04/09/2001