Like all sectors of the industry, the oil heating division of hvacr is finding fewer and fewer individuals willing to make a career out of the trade. To help balance those odds, the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) has made education and recruiting a priority.

Chapters of NAOHSM are encouraged to adopt and become actively involved in local vocational high schools.

The Central Massachusetts Chapter of NAOHSM decided to follow the advice of the association, and has taken part in a cooperative learning program with Bay Path Vocational Technical High School in Charlton, MA. The partnership benefits both the oil heat trade and the high school. But the important message in the partnership is that direct involvement between the local industry and the local high schools is a necessary element for preserving an adequate workforce.

Working Together

The Central Massachusetts Chapter of NAOSHM had been out of commission for a period of time before reorganizing two years ago with new vitality and a new mission.

Jim Falconi, of Falconi Bros. Oil, is the president of the chapter. He knows the challenge of recruiting and retaining technicians. Falconi said his business is in need of eight service technicians and recently lost three employees.

Last February, Falconi said that his chapter voted to adopt a vocational school and assist with its needs. That school ended up being Bay Path Vocation School. Chris Faucher of Sid Harvey Supply, the chapter’s education chairman, said Bay Path’s hvacr instructor, Bob Wiley, attended a chapter meeting and presented a “wish list” of equipment and other needs for his department.

Faucher told Wiley that many of the things he needed could be donated. From that moment on, Wiley and the students at Bay Path had the NAOSHM chapter actively helping them.

The first strategy for the cooperative program was to get members to use their resources to provide help for the vocational school. Smith Cast Iron Boilers was able to donate a brand new Series 8 residential boiler for the program.

Carlin Combustion Technol-ogy Inc. pitched in, donating a burner. Thermaflow donated a tankless unit, and Hazelton Supply in West Newton, MA, gave its time to service and deliver the donated equipment.

Kevin O’Rourke, regional sales manager for Smith Cast Iron Boilers, says that Smith has a responsibility as a manufacturer to support such programs and assist in shaping the career choices of young people.

Smith Boilers has also been responsible for helping out a hand-ful of other vocational schools throughout the New England area with donations. O’Rourke says that helping vocational schools on any level is an opportunity to benefit the trade. He also recommends that contractors and manufacturers offer their services to help hvacr educational departments.

“Like most school systems, funds are tight,” said O’Rourke. “Anything you can do is a long-term investment.”

The next step in the partnership will involve a more hands-on approach in supporting the vocational school. Falconi says that the chapter may take an active role in the classroom by coming in and helping with instruction and answering questions from students. Falconi also says that it is very important to get young oil heat service people in the classrooms to better relate with students.

“If you are dealing with high-school-age kids,” Falconi said, “you want to get the younger guys from the trades to talk with them.”

Another possibility, according to Falconi and Faucher, is to hold a career day to expose students to the jobs available. Falconi says that part of the challenge is revealing to young people what the oil heat trade really is about and highlighting its benefits. One of those benefits is the pay.

Because of the increasing need for technicians, Falconi says that the “pay scale is only going to escalate.”

Also, Falconi is aiming to develop a cooperative job program between Bay Path and chapter contractors. This would allow senior students enrolled in the hvacr program to also work for a contractor and receive field experience. This not only gives students the opportunity to see their trade in action, but it gives contractors the employees they need.

In the future, the Central Massachusetts NAOHSM Chapter may adopt another local vocational school.

The bottom line, according to the chapter, is that involvement with vocational schools helps fulfill the need for qualified technicians.

“We have to be able to recruit,” said O’Rourke. “There is a big demand for oil service people and no place else where we will find qualified people.”