The future of the hvacr industry is in America’s youth, and no other organization realizes this like the SkillsUSA Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA).

VICA is a national student organization with close to 250,000 student and professional members. These members have the opportunity to participate in job training in one of 70 different career areas. One of those areas happens to be hvacr.

With the constant struggle for technicians, not to mention qualified technicians, VICA has emerged as a source of idealism for many hvacr companies.

Several businesses, such as Carrier and Copeland to name two, have been working closely with the organization. And according to the many individuals who volunteer their time to VICA, the organization holds the key to many benefits. It may not develop more technicians, but the organization promotes better technicians, and this is what has drawn numerous corporations to give VICA an extra boost.

VICA members compete in a number of troubleshooting events where they are judged on their performance in diagnosing problems.

Working Together

VICA works on the local, state, and national level with 13,000 chapters, which usually run through public high schools, trade and technical schools, and community colleges.

The chapters work as an extracurricular, after-school activity, and gives students extra hands-on training for the trade they are entering.

A great deal of company support comes at the national level, where VICA hosts a yearly competition. Local and state chapters hold competitions where members show their hvacr skills in various events. The overall winner of the competition goes on to the national competition where they compete against the best students in the field.

For this reason, the competition draws a great deal of attention from the industry. So much so, that the VICA national competition board is made up of members from several companies. Members from Carrier, Copeland, Lennox, Rheem, and Alco Controls all have positions on the board. Hvacr organizations also show support, with members on the board from the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) and the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI).

Carrier has supported Skills-USA-VICA for more than 30 years through financial contributions, equipment donations, and volunteer work.

Rob Dohse, Carrier Corpora-tion senior training specialist, is chair of the VICA national competition in hvacr.

“VICA has been doing this for many years,” Dohse said about the competition. “When they started the hvac portion of the contest, they asked Carrier for help. They said yes and took over chairmanship of the hvac events. We’ve been taking the reins of this contest since its inception.”

Carrier then enlisted the help of other industry corporations, which currently makes up the board.

Dohse, along with other board members, makes sure that the competition runs each year. This means enlisting the help of corporations.

These corporations will sponsor a specific event in the competition, which requires donating equipment and volunteering employees to be judges. For example, each year Lennox will sponsor the electrical troubleshooting event and will donate air conditioners, or Scotsman will donate the ice machines for the ice machine troubleshooting.

There are eight separate hands-on events each year, each of which requires equipment donations. There is also a test-taking portion sponsored by ARI. ARI distributes its Industry Competency Exams (ICE) and is responsible for proctoring and grading the tests.

Supporters of VICA say the organization is not to just find new technicians, but to create better and more qualified technicians.

Investing In The Future

This kind of involvement is a great opportunity for organizations and corporations to get their name out, but according to Dohse it is not the most important reason for participating.

“I push very strongly for being involved with a contest like this,” Dohse said. “We can dictate to schools what industry wants them [students] to know.”

Steve Hawkins, training man-ager for Rheem Manufacturing and board member, adds another perspective. Involvement in the competition is more than just publicity for the company’s product, but an investment in the men and women who will work on it.

“We want them to see our equipment and be familiar with it, because they’re going to be our next dealer,” Hawkins said.

Before coming to Rheem, Hawkins was an instructor at a vocational high school in Okla-homa and sent several students to the state competitions. With this in mind, Hawkins has seen how VICA not only helps businesses, but how it benefits students.

“From the student aspect, it gives them something to look forward to. It’s a wonderful hands-on experience and they learn something from being there,” Hawkins said.

Lynn Bosse, board member and residential product service manager for Lennox, agrees with Hawkins. “We don’t view it as a sales thing or to get new customers. You realize that the future of the industry depends on experienced techs.”

Bosse also says that VICA gives a great deal back to the students who are involved in it, boosting self-esteem and self-confidence. “It gives you quite a good feeling to see 4,000 young people [at national competition] having a good time. I came away from there feeling pretty good.”

Hugh Redmon also agrees. Redmon is co-chair of the competition board and service and training specialist for Copeland Corp. Redmon has been involved with VICA for many years, even while transferring jobs among different companies.

“The industry has been good to me for 50 years now and we need people,” Redmon said about his involvement.

But Redmon also says that the benefits of participating in the yearly competitions are not easy to measure.

“I can’t show dollars and cents on the benefits,” Redmon says. “I can’t say that the kid will go out and buy a Scotsman ice machine, but he will be more qualified to work on a Scotsman ice machine.”

Redmon also says that he has not had any difficulty convincing other businesses to get involved, whether it be through monetary donations or through volunteer hours. Redmon explains to businesses that VICA endorses “anything you would need to succeed in the industry. They teach manners, dependability, good strong ethics, and good work skills.”

The national VICA competition does very well each year, enlisting a number of company support. The student showing is also good, with approximately 50 contestants competing in the hvacr events each year.

But VICA supporters say that more support is needed, especially on the local and state levels that do not quite mirror the success of the national competition.

Industry members donate their time to the VICA by judging events at the competition.

More Support Needed

Tim Neely, Carrier manager of technical services for Residential and Light Commercial Systems, also works very closely with the national VICA competitions. But Neely also has the opportunity to observe the organization on the state level.

Neely’s department is in charge of 11 district managers, all responsible for separate territories in the U.S. The department is also responsible for career recruitment. As part of that recruitment, Neely’s district managers decided to support VICA on the national level, as well as on the state level.

“The sad part about the competitions over the years is that contestants have dwindled. More and more schools are cutting hvac,” Neely said.

As chair of the state competition in Indiana, Neely has been able to work from the bottom up supporting VICA.

“When I first got involved,” Neely said about chairing the Indiana competition, “I only had three people to help me. Now I have a running list of 30.”

He also says that the support on his end has grown over the years, while student growth in the organization has gone down.

But even though the number of competitors has dropped over the years, supporters of VICA still believe in the organization.

“This is a national organization that is pushing to show young people that there are trades out there,” said Dohse. “They are making people aware of choices and air conditioning is an option.”

The number of students going down in the competition is not surprising, especially with the dwindling numbers of technicians. And many supporters of VICA say that creating more techs is a worthy goal, but it is not the most important.

“We are trying to better train the industry,” said Dohse. “It is getting more and more high tech.”

Neely agrees, saying that he has been involved in the industry for over 25 years and he has seen craftsmanship go down. “We know that there is value in promoting being the best in the hvac industry. We need to have skilled people and we still require skilled people to install our products.”

All agree that the point of VICA is not to just obtain more warm bodies for contractors, but to provide superior techs.

And all agree that there are many benefits to being a student involved with VICA, so many that it is surprising that more not involved.

Student Perspective

Rich Klein, from Owings Mills, MD, was the gold medalist of the 1997 SkillsUSA-VICA competition, and was sponsored by Carrier Corporation to attend the World Skills Competition in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he won another gold medal.

Sponsored by Carrier, Klein received several opportunities that many hvac students could only dream about.

To prepare for the World Skills Competition, Carrier allowed Klein to train at Carrier’s Bynum Education Center in Syracuse, NY, where he trained one-on-one with Dohse. Klein also says that he never had to pay for anything; Carrier picked up the cost of airfare and hotel accommodations.

Besides the relationship with Carrier, Klein cited many benefits from just being involved with SkillsUSA.

Klein took hvacr classes at Western School of Technology and participated in VICA after school.

In VICA, Klein said he had the opportunity to participate in training his classmates were missing out on.

“Because of VICA, I did a lot of advanced study in my field,” Klein said. He also says that the Maryland state competition was not as in-volved as the national competition.

“There were only four or five schools represented,” said Klein. “But when we got to the national level, there were 50 contestants.”

Klein says he notices the lack of people coming into the vocational fields, but he is proof that young people can succeed in the industry and do well.

After the competitions, Klein went to work in sales at Baltimore Gas & Electric. He says that he has had several offers from employers, but wanted to work for the company he had been with since his work-study days.

“I’m only 21, and I’m already sitting in my own office, and it’s all because of VICA,” Klein said.

He says that he does have a few ideas for his future. There is the possibility of going back to school for even further training, but in the meantime the VICA winner is content with his current job. He also speaks with groups of parents and teachers about the opportunities available in the trades.

Publication date: 01/29/2001