Children begin to decide the path their life will take very early in their development. Some experts say that by the time children are in the fourth or fifth grade, they have already started leaning towards specific career possibilities.

But when you ask young kids what they want to be when they grow up, chances are that they won’t reply, “I want to work on air conditioners!” One reason for this is that, unless there’s an hvacr service pro in their household, school-age children are not even aware of the possibility.

One organization taking the initiative to expose children to careers in the construction industry is the Associated General Contractors of America. AGC’s “Construc-tion Futures Campaign” introduces the construction industry through regular classroom curriculum. The current phase of the campaign, “Build Up,” is aimed at students in elementary school. Everything the teacher needs for Build Up is included in a “tool kit” full of educational resources.

AGC stated that with earlier exposure to the trades, more children may develop an interest in construction and carry it with them later down the road.

In the hvacr industry, outreach to younger people has been generally limited to the high school level. But maybe the new motto should be, the sooner the better.

Where’s The Hvacr Campaign?

The Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI) has come close to doing what AGC is doing. In fact, Leslie Sandler, ARI’s education manager, says that they approached AGC to place an hvacr component in the Build Up program, but the overture came too late. Any kind of addition to the program’s tool kit at that point would have cost a great deal of money.

“I think it’s a marvelous idea,” Sandler said of Build Up. “I just hope that an hvacr component can be integrated into this.”

Sandler also says that ARI has made attempts to appeal to younger people before this. “We know that by the time they are in fifth grade, they know what they do not want to do.”

So far, ARI has launched, a website developed with junior high students in mind to introduce the benefits of the hvacr field. They have also created an hvacr coloring book for contractors to take to the homes of customers with children.

But according to Sandler, no hvacr organization has made an attempt as far-reaching as AGC has with its educational campaign. According to Sandler, it boils down to time and money.

Contractors do not have the time to wait 10 years to see if a child wants to take part in the trades; the industry needs mature people as soon as possible. With this in mind, this is where contractors and organizations feel they should be targeting their efforts.

In Search of Older Students

“Our members have told us they wanted to focus on older people,” Sandler said “Our people need to find workers tomorrow.”

Ken Baker of Virginia Air Distributors agrees. Baker has been trying to recruit young people into the hvacr field. His current endeavor is to get his Air Conditioning Education Foundation (ACEF) off the ground.

The goal of ACEF is to enhance hvacr curriculum and establish apprenticeship programs, but more importantly, the program aims to recruit more high school students into the field.

Baker says he admires what AGC is doing, but that the hvacr industry cannot wait. “Our critical level is at the high schools. We need to increase the pool right now.”

Also, Baker says that creating long-term programs to entice workers into the hvacr industry is easier said than done. It takes money, motivation, and recruiting skills. There must also be cooperation between the different industry members.

“All of this requires money and effort,” Baker said. “But educators alone do not have the money or skills.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Baker says that the industry could use a bit more motivation when it comes to recruiting. “For every 100 contractors, 10 are active and want to do something.”

On The Right Track

Still, AGC may be on to something. Since launching its program in 1998, 7,000 Build Up tool kits have been sponsored and used by more than 390,000 students.

The program is intended for elementary school children and combines lessons on construction with math, science, and language arts. “We implement this into a regular teaching program,” said Elinor Shemeld, AGC associate director of Training & Education Services.

Shemeld says that the program teaches children about the practical roles construction plays in their daily life. “It lets them figure out where electricity comes from, why the toilet flushes, or how mom washes the dishes.”

To begin the curriculum, teachers only need the Build Up tool kit, which can either be purchased or sponsored by a local construction company or contractor. Each kit costs $185, and can be used for up to 60 students. The tool kit includes essential materials such as books and videos that teach children how skyscrapers, bridges, and roads are built. It also contains student hardhats and safety stickers.

Contractors who sponsor the kits can also come in and do the activities with the students. Some even initiate field trips so students can see firsthand what construction workers do.

The next phase of the campaign, called On Site, is directed towards middle school students. This kit includes real-world lessons about construction, such as figuring out the length of a road or the stress factors on a bridge. The third phase, yet to be named, will be designed for high school students.

Shemeld says that the next two phases will be more in depth, and will introduce specific careers in the industry. This could also be the point where the hvacr industry could be included in the curriculum.

“Right now at the fifth grade level, it is primarily construction because it’s simpler for the children to grasp,” Shemeld explained. “On Site will delve more into introducing careers, and will break down construction more [into its] layers.”

Publication date: 10/23/2000