When a new school year begins, hvacr instructors are busy getting their students ready for a career in the industry. More than likely, they will start with the basic lessons of what technicians need to know in order to work for a contractor at an entry-level position.

But how do educators know exactly what their students will need to know and what contractors are looking for? According to George Arrants, Business and Education Partnership Manager for Snap-on Tools, instructors don’t know unless they are tuned in to what contractors need.

Arrants speaks at conferences and events across the country about why every instructor, no matter what they are teaching, needs to have an advisory board. He also says that if businesses want quality employees, they must participate on an advisory panel to tell the educators exactly what they are looking for.


Arrants has been speaking about advisory boards for the last few years. As part of his presentation, he tells instructors why it is important to have an active advisory board. He also tells them how to start one, and how to make it successful.

“It doesn’t matter what program you have,” says Arrants. “You need an active advisory board.”

He also says that most programs do not have an advisory board. The reason, according to Arrants, is because instructors don’t know where to start.

“I don’t think they [instructors] know how to develop one, and if they do, they don’t know what their goals are,” he said.

Arrants explains that the goal of an advisory board is to get information from local businesses to find out what they should be teaching their future employees. This, of course, is also a benefit to contractors because they get a say in what is being taught to prospective workers.

As for organizing an advisory board, Arrants says it is as simple as contacting local contractors.

“It’s about going out to the business community and asking if they need technicians,” Arrants says. “If so, you tell them that you need their input on what they need.”

Arrants also says that you wouldn’t need to take too much time from the contractors. The minimum time commitment for an advisory board, according to Arrants, is an hour and a half, twice a year.

He also says that most contractors should jump at the chance to be part of an advisory board. But he also says that if they don’t, it may be for the best. An instructor only wants individuals who will be enthusiastic and willing to give advice and their time.


Arrants offers a few helpful guidelines on getting a successful advisory board off the ground.

Once an instructor has decided to start an advisory board, he or she must turn to the business community they are serving. In this case, the instructor must visit with the contractors and anyone else who may be able to provide useful input on the industry.

Arrants recommends that when you begin to recruit members for your board, don’t just send a letter. You should actively go to the contractor’s place of business and introduce yourself. Follow this initial visit up with an e-mail or phone call.

When you begin to look for advisory board members, Arrant suggests finding a diverse cross-section. Contractors make for great members, but don’t forget wholesalers, business owners, service managers, or anyone else who plays a role in the field.

Arrants even suggests that one of the most valuable members of the board can and should be a former student who has graduated from the program no more than five years ago. This student can tell the instructor and the board what he or she would have liked to learn before entering the field.

Parents of graduates can also be valuable, according to Arrants.

“The parent of a former or current student can be valuable because parents can have input on how the class has changed the student’s life,” Arrants says.

After you have enlisted members, the meetings must be agreed upon. Arrants says that most advisory boards meet at least twice a year. Some advisory boards can meet more often, but the typical board holds a meeting once before each new semester.

He also encourages instructors to hold their first meeting in the morning, if possible, and at the school. Arrants says that morning meetings are sometimes best so that members can meet before the typical workday begins. Most advisory board members will have more plans after work than before.

“The first meeting has to be at the shop,” Arrants says. “The members must have a tour of the facility.”

This tour is important because members can see how safe the lab space is and determine if there is any equipment the lab needs. Members of the advisory board can possibly use their connections to obtain donated equipment. Arrants says that this kind of help can be utilized year-round with advisory board members, even if it is just to obtain piping or other equipment that contractors and wholesalers can either donate or sell at a discount.

The first meeting should also center on the instructor’s curriculum for the semester. The instructor will give each advisory member a copy of the syllabus. They will make notes and tell the instructor what is missing from the syllabus and what outdated material can be taken off.

Arrants then recommends that a member should be chosen at the initial meeting to chair the advisory board. The instructor, according to Arrants, should not be the head of the advisory board. It will be the job of the chair to set up the next advisory meeting.

Lastly, the minutes of the meeting must be typed up and given to each member. Arrants also says that it is very important that the school board have a copy of the minutes. This shows the school that measures are being taken to ensure the success of the program.

“Many programs are closing, and the reason is because there is no advisory board,” says Arrants. “If an advisory board is doing its job, it justifies the program being there.”

Also, when the advisory board meets again for the next semester, the minutes will help the members analyze how the previous semester went and what could be changed for the next semester.


Rob Bates has been an instructor for 15 years. He currently teaches at Delaware Technical & Community College. He is also the president of the Council of Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Educators (CARE). Bates has 15 people on his advisory board, and together they represent a wide spectrum of the industry. This has been of great benefit for Bates.

“The advisory board knows what is going on every day in the field,” Bates said. “They let me know if what I’m teaching is right.”

For example, Bates says that his advisory board members felt they needed employees with more than just technical skills. They needed individuals with some knowledge in handling customers and relating to businesses. With that input, Bates says that courses in business and public relations were added. Bates notes that his advisory board is available all year. He has seen his members participate in open houses for recruitment, and some have even come into his classroom to help educate students.

“The benefit to the contractor is that if they make sure the right things are being taught, they’ll get good employees,” said Bates.

Tom Owens, president of Macintosh Services in Tulsa, OK, understands the benefits of helping on an advisory board. Owens is on the apprenticeship training committee for Pipefitters Local 430. He is also on the board of Sheet Metal Local 270.

“I’ve been in the industry for 40 years,” said Owens. “And the manpower shortage, I think, is such an important issue. With my experience, I think I can help.”

Owens explains that, as part of a union, his money is going towards training. By being on an advisory committee, Owens can help determine how that money is spent. He also has a say in what is important for his future employees to know.

By taking part on such a committee, “You know the people and you know who the good apprentices are,” says Owens. This offers contractors a valuable tool in recruiting the best students for employment.

Josh Kahn of Kahn Mechanical in Dallas, TX, agrees.

“I think the advantage to me as a contractor is that I get to meet the people at the school,” he says. “I get first shot at graduating technicians.”

Kahn has been active in a few advisory boards, including the one at Lincoln Technical Institute. Besides the hope of finding prospective employees, Kahn attributes his involvement to just wanting to help out.

“Many trade schools need friends in the industry,” he says.

Kahn feels that being on an advisory board makes him a better employer and enlightens him all around. He is able to learn more and pass that knowledge on to his technicians.

“Any time I get on any of these committees, it makes me a better employer,” Kahn said.

Publication date: 01/14/2002