If there is any indication that the hvac industry is changing, proof can be found within the United Association (UA). The growth of technology in the industry is expanding with little sign of stopping. With this in mind, the UA is instituting a number of technological advances to instruct its journeymen and apprentices.

Up-and-coming technicians are learning the basics of computers and CAD, as well as technical lessons on the latest equipment. Not only are students gaining exposure to possible technological developments in the field, many apprentices and journeymen are able to receive training where the possibility may have not existed before through online distance learning and telelearning.

Individuals who have a preconceived notion of what a union training center looks like might be very surprised. The amount of technology is overwhelming, and many would not suspect that future technicians would learn their trade on computers and over the Internet.

All this high-tech training does not come cheap. The organization spends close to $100 million each year on training.

This money supports 291,000 members in 418 local chapters in the U.S. and Canada.

Each local is equipped with computers for general use. Bill Yatteau, director of apprenticeship training at UA Local 13 in Rochester, NY, says that the students learn a variety of subjects with the computer training. This includes basic computer education and instruction in CAD, Microsoft Office, and hvac components.

Yatteau explains that the field is changing and today’s revolutionary technological developments may soon become routine for technicians.

“Service guys are going to have laptops,” said Yatteau. “That’s the possible future. My feeling is that if there’s a possibility, you need your members to be prepared for it.”

Not only could service technicians be using laptops, but they could be pulling blueprints from the web and communicating with contractors from a jobsite. These advances make work in the field easier and show that the industry is a technologically challenging field, which could be a selling point for young people.

“We can’t show pipe wrenches and expect people to think its modern technology,” Yatteau said.

Shane McCarty, training coordinator for Union Local 787 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada shows visitors the computer he uses.


There are close to 60 local unions now wired with teleconferencing capabilities. The long-term aim is to have all unions hooked up to telelearning, with at least 100 locals gaining the capability by August. This technology allows a local union to draw on the power and resources of another union.

This is also available at each of the UA’s regional training centers, including one in Ann Arbor, MI, and another in Charleston, SC. Steve Allen, education specialist with the UA’s training department, explains that when local unions are hooked up with the appropriate ISDN lines, an instructor televised at one location can be viewed by students in another location miles away.

There are several benefits to telelearning, especially for students who have difficulty finding training on a particular subject in their area.

“There are areas of the country where we are strong,” said Allen about the different unions. “This allows us to draw from pockets of experience around the country.”

This technology is also beneficial when it is difficult for an individual to find training altogether. For example, Allen says that the UA recently wired telelearning between islands in Hawaii. Previously, students would have to fly between islands to receive the proper training. The telelearning system now lets students view an instructor live from another island.

The same technique has been applied in Alaska, where the distance between training facilities in the state can be several hours away by car.

Online Resources

UA members also have the opportunity to utilize the Internet. One way, which is still in some development, is online courses.

The courses run through Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, MI. An online pilot course was already offered in basic refrigeration. It is set to begin again this summer, along with a few other courses in development. The UA and the community college are hoping to get basic air conditioning and CAD courses online, in addition to the basic refrigeration course.

These online courses would allow UA members from anywhere in the country to study an area of training on their own.

In the future, members will be able to register for the courses online, where they will receive a code number in order to access class material.

Dan Welch is in charge of the distance learning programs at Washtenaw Community College and says that the UA’s distance learning is unlike any other correspondence course.

According to Welch, the upcoming online courses will improve on the pilot program.

He explains that students will be able to access course material and tests, as well as streaming video of actual demonstrations. There will also be ample opportunity for feedback. Students will be able to participate in an online forum and a chat room to connect with fellow students.

With the online courses there is also the possibility of earning an associate’s degree.

Through the UA University program, currently enrolled apprentices can receive six college credits through Washtenaw Community College or Eastern Michigan University for each year of apprenticeship. By the end of the five years of apprenticeship, 30 college credits can be earned —half of the amount needed for an associate’s degree. By completing only four more general education courses through the college, an associate’s degree in Construction Supervision can be earned. These last four remaining classes can all be taken online.

“This is really a lot of theoretical information,” said Allen about the online training. “[The students] then have that much more time to do hands-on. They have the basics, giving them more time in the shop.”

Instructor Training, Too

Even UA educators have the opportunity to increase their skills online. Recently, UA instructors came together in Ann Arbor, as they do each year, for a week of training sessions on teaching techniques.

These techniques are also online for UA instructors. In fact, many UA instructors are learning how to teach online through an online course.

“It’s an extremely powerful way to accomplish teaching,” said Allen about the many different UA technologies. “For everything the UA does, it can be online.”

Publication date: 01/29/2001