TROY, MI —The Newsrecently took some big steps toward helping to establish a secondary hvacr educational program in Oakland County, MI. As we told readers last month,The Newswould like to have a more proactive role in helping our industry, and where better to start than our own backyard?

With help from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and local industry, our aim is to set up a program that will give young people in the area the opportunity to be involved in a career path they may not have thought about before. At the same time, this effort, if successful, will give contractors in the area a resource that could be used to develop potential technicians.

Here is an update on the project so far.


Does Oakland County need a vocational training center to educate young people in hvacr? That was something we had to find out before we could do anything else. This is also one of the first steps suggested by the ARI book, “Establishing an Hvacr Program In Your School, a How-To Guide.” Through our research, we found that there was only one heating and air-conditioning program in the 28 school districts that make up Oakland County. And of the 225,000 students in Oakland County, only 40 are participating in that one course.

The one secondary hvacr course that is offered is at the Oakland Technical Center in Clarkston, MI. There are four Oakland Technical Centers in Oakland County. The others are located in Royal Oak, Pontiac, and in the Walled Lake/Wixom area. The News thought that Oakland County could use an hvacr program at one of its other three locations.

Another factor in determining whether another secondary school program should be established was to contact area contractors to see if they needed qualified technicians. On a national level, finding and hiring qualified technicians is a major issue for many contractors. The News wanted to see if contractors in Michigan mirrored that nationwide trend. Sure enough, we found contractors who not only said that they needed a resource for finding technicians, but that they would be willing to help us reach our goal.


The ARI guide also stresses the need for local involvement. According to ARI, without local contractors and associations to help, a new program will not have much chance of getting off the ground.

The News has found several local industry members who are willing to help. Jesse Riojas, hvacr instructor at the Oakland Technical Center in Clarkston, MI, has been more than willing to help with the project. Riojas has been using his contacts in the school system to help push the idea and has been an advocate for starting another program in Oakland County.

The News was also able to recruit local contractors Craig Jones of Slasor Heating & Cooling, Inc. (Livonia, MI), Dennis Cline of Royal Oak Heating & Cooling, Inc. (Royal Oak, MI), and Clifford R. McCourt of Day & Night Heating & Cooling Co. (Novi, MI). All three contractors are also members of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). Jones is president and Cline is vice president of the metro Detroit ACCA chapter, known as the Northwest Heating and Cooling Dealers Association.


AfterThe Newstook these initial steps, we contacted Oakland County Schools with our idea. We were then directed to Mary Kaye Aukee, the director of career focused education for the school system. Aukee will decide whether a new hvacr program can benefit current students and the community.

Only a few weeks ago, News editors Mark Skaer and James Siegel met Aukee at the Oakland County School headquarters in Pontiac, MI. Skaer and Siegel also brought along Riojas and the three local contractors McCourt, Cline, and Jones.

Skaer and Siegel presented Aukee with The News’ goal and outlined how it could be accomplished. Aukee was presented with a number of industry statistics on the technician shortage on a national and state level. We also told Aukee about ARI’s success with its hvacr pilot program in Milwaukee, WI. The News believes that with the help of ARI, the success in Milwaukee can be duplicated in Oakland County.

Next, Riojas and the three contractors expressed their needs and how early hvacr education would help. They explained that young people need an early exposure to the hvacr trade. A secondary hvacr course can be a path to a career in the industry and even to higher education if desired.

Aukee told us that she did not have to be sold on the idea and that we were “preaching to the choir.” Aukee said that the goal of establishing another hvacr program is something Oakland County should be looking into. She did have a few concerns. One concern has to do with developing a curriculum. Another centers on student retention.

Although Aukee believes there is a need for more hvacr education, she feels it could be a challenge enrolling students in the program. Even more of a challenge will be to convince the parents of students that the hvacr course will be a viable and promising career path for their children.

The News’ local contractors said they would be up to the challenge of selling the program to the area community, as well as to students and parents.

Aukee said that the idea is definitely feasible and she would contact us when she puts the details into perspective.

The News is now waiting to hear back from Aukee so that we can proceed with our educational plan. In the meantime, we are still searching for not only local industry, but industry across the U.S. that would be interested in helping us pass our hvacr test.

If you think you can help The News in starting its hvacr program, contact James J. Siegel, 248-244-1731; 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 02/25/2002