KISSIMMEE, FL — Over the years, as the number of employees increased at J & J Air Conditioning Inc. in San Jose, CA, owner Jerry Hurwitz felt a need to keep his mechanics up to date and on the “leading edge” of the industry.

Hurwitz put his love of education and his years of professional teaching into practice by developing a series of in-house training classes for his own employees. This eventually led to the establishment of Air Conditioning Instructional Research (AIR) in 1983. AIR now offers a full schedule of courses that are open to the public, and many mechanics from the San Jose area have benefited from the training courses offered each year.

Hurwitz brought his years of teaching experience to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA’s) 34th annual conference, held here recently. Hurwitz preached the value and importance of training, plus offered attendees ways to get in-house training programs started and maintained through his informative seminar, “Training Your Own — An Investment That Pays.”

“Training is critical,” he said. “It’s excellent for morale. It can also be how you go to market. We all need to differentiate ourselves. We need to make a statement about ourselves that is special when we’re talking to our potential customers. It [training] is the way — and it is a high-class way — to go to market, to tell people that you have a trained staff.”


Hurwitz was quick to point out that setting up a training program takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work. There is plenty of planning, too. For instance, you have to know what you want to teach and then select the material accordingly.

“When it comes to training, we always want to focus in on what’s important,” he said. “Think of one topic that you are going to train your people. I urge you to review all of the text and lecture material and ask yourself, ‘If my man is on the roof, is this [material] going to help solve his service problem?’

“Remember, time is limited. Weed out all of the crap. Just get to the point. What are your most important things?”

He suggested that educational materials be geared to someone with an 8th grade reading level, with as many diagrams and pictures as possible. Courses should be taught in short segments. He praised Carrier’s teaching literature, which he considered “sets the standards.”

“Be careful of the materials that you’re choosing,” he warned. “Some of you who maybe have a background in engineering, you may want to pull some things from ASHRAE or some SMACNA information. Some of that reading level may be greater than what you want to use.”


The best curriculum, he said, will focus on performing a particular task and will allow the student to evaluate his own success or failure.

“So we don’t lose those students who are stuck, one of our most important jobs is to circulate so we can spot them early,” said Hurwitz.

To keep things organized, he suggested that a syllabus be constructed for the class. It should contain name of class and date, name of instructor and instructor’s phone number, list of required materials, objectives of the class, rules regarding absences, course layout, how points will be determined, and grade evaluations.

In order for the class to be successful, Hurwitz stressed that the process has to be a two-way street. Students, he said, cannot be passive observers. He said students should have assigned homework. He has his students write five to 10 questions from the homework reading, provide answers to these questions, and then hand in that information before class. He believed in testing students on their homework at the beginning of each class plus have them work in the lab on the materials covered. And, he said one cannot review enough. He encouraged having mid-term and final exams covering the same material over and over again.


When to schedule such training program is the question, a question each individual will have to answer, said Hurwitz. It could be held before work, after work, and/or Saturdays, but each has its pluses and minuses.

If classes are held before work, Hurwitz suggested that a class not be held for more than an hour. Most people will be there and alert, he said, but “it is hard to have a shop exercise in one hour of class.” While class length could be longer if held after work, the dangers there include attendees being less alert and sometimes attendees get tied up on jobs and cannot make it on time. Hurwitz said he prefers Saturday classes.

“We usually do two Saturdays for 16 hours of class time, which is equivalent to six three-hour classes during the week in the evenings,” he said, but that does have drawbacks, too, he was quick to point out. “We do not feel it is effective because of the fewer homework assignments and tests and limited time for students to absorb and internalize the instructional materials.”

Another consideration to decide: to pay attendees or not to pay attendees?

“We do not pay,” Hurwitz said. “However, the mechanics are responsible for getting their own training. If they do not come to our classes, then they have to go to the community college or do home study classes.”

He did say his training is “voluntary,” but he also noted, “educational objectives are 50% of their raises.”

Hurwitz said in-house training can be less expensive than sending people to factory training classes, but he did think it was still a good idea to go to some factory training. “We try to send every journeyman service mechanic once every three years,” he said.

At J & J, he figured his overall training costs to be nearly $30,000. While that may seem costly, he said divide that cost by 15 mechanics, which is about $2,000 per year, per mechanic.

“Divide the $2,000 by 2,000 hours worked per year and you have a cost of $1 per hour per mechanic,” he said. “It is hard work. It is expensive. [But] it is our future for growth in qualified manpower. It can be a way to present ourselves in the marketplace as the contractor who cares enough to ‘train their own.’”

Hurwitz is owner of J & J Air Conditioning Inc. in San Jose, CA; 408-920-0662; 408-920-2591 (fax).

Publication date: 04/08/2002