PHOENIX, AZ — Universal Technical Institute (UTI) has been going strong since 1965. With seven locations, including campuses in Phoenix, Houston, and Glendale Heights, IL, the institute has been offering a number of technical courses including automotive technology, collision repair, and HVACR.

UTI has been very successful over the last 30 years and has been leading students in the direction of high-paying jobs with high-profile companies.

Recently, though, the institute has had to shut down its heating and air conditioning program at two campuses (Houston and Glendale Heights). These programs are in the process of being phased out, allowing students already enrolled to continue through the course. And although UTI has resorted to closing these programs, it has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep the HVACR program alive and in the minds of prospective students as a one-of-a-kind opportunity.


Because of the closures due to declining enrollment, the Phoenix campus will become the only campus with the HVACR program, while the other campuses make room for its more popular automotive courses.

Sherrell Smith, UTI school director for the Phoenix campus, says that the institute has seen several trends that have led to lower student numbers for HVACR.

“The trend that we are seeing is that it is more difficult to get young people in this career,” said Smith. “The industry as a whole does not have any attention-grabbers.”

That is why UTI is beginning to focus more of its energy on getting the word out about the industry and its program.

The institute currently employs 100 representatives throughout the U.S. who visit local high schools and speak with students about the benefits of a technical education. They also inform the students about what UTI has to offer and explain the related careers.

Smith says that UTI is going to go one step further with its representatives. “Our strategic planning is to add representatives in regions only to discuss HVAC,” he said.

There are currently two such representatives serving Southern California and Arizona. Two more will be added in the near future. So far, Smith says that its representatives appointed to speak exclusively about HVAC have been fairly successful. In the last calendar year, they were able to get 80 new enrollments for the institute.

John Redman, an educational representative, is a recruiter for UTI. He does not just promote the HVAC program for UTI, but all the courses the institute has to offer. Redman is also in charge of the territory in parts of Washington and Alaska. And in a given year, he can speak with more than 5,000 students.

As a recruiter trying to get the word out about the industry, Redman says that it can seem like a daunting task, but once students realize the benefits of the industry, they start to come around.

“High school students have not heard of [HVACR]. It’s pretty much unknown to them,” says Redman.

To start, Redman explains to the students what HVACR is. “I basically explain how important HVACR is and how our country would cease to operate without it.”

He also says that it helps to show the students how a career in HVACR can be more appealing than other traditional career paths.

“There are three jobs for every person with a technical degree,” he says. “And there are two college graduates for every job requiring a bachelor’s degree.”

Another example Redman gives the students is that according to U.S. labor statistics, by 2005, 80% of all jobs will require a technical degree.

Redman explains that one out of seven graduates from UTI’s HVACR program will go on to start their own business.

He also provides the students with some success stories. One in particular, Redman notes, involves a student who was recruited from a high school in the state of Washington. The student went through a 10-month HVACR course at UTI and moved on to work for an entertainment company that worked closely with Disney On Ice. Redman says that this student has now traveled all over the world with the production company, preparing the ice rinks for the shows. And this is just one example. Redman says that many UTI students have gone on to interesting and successful careers without going the regular college route.

The recruiter also speaks with teachers and parents. He says there is often a bit of opposition at first, but parents do come around when they learn how far their children can go with the help of UTI.

Finally, Redman explains that if the HVACR industry expects to fill the void for qualified workers, it will need to keep getting the word out to students, parents, and teachers. The industry also needs a change of image that will give people a better idea of what an HVACR career is all about.


Smith explains that UTI has developed some partnerships that have helped to give students real-world experience along with their education.

Encompass Mechanical Services has been working with the institute by hiring its students for internships. The company allows students to work during the school year, after classes, and during the summer. Also, with several Encompass locations, some students can opt to return to their hometown and work for an Encompass branch closest to them.

The internship not only gives the students practical, hands-on experience, but it can also work as a tuition reimbursement program. Students can sign an agreement with the company in exchange for payment on school tuition.

UTI is looking to form more such partnerships in the near future. And the institute would like to see these partnerships flourish the way they have with its automotive program.

Currently, several automotive manufacturers have been involved with UTI to offer more specific brand training. Smith says that these manufacturers have realized that the students coming out of the schools will be working on their products, and they want these future technicians and mechanics to be the best they can be.

Smith says he is confident that the HVACR industry can step up to the plate to do the same thing.

Currently, UTI is looking for industry sponsors to help in the production of a video that would be used as a recruiting tool. This video would explain HVACR careers and would give their companies the opportunity to advertise their business.

In the meantime, UTI has even bigger plans. The school is looking to relocate its Phoenix campus within the next two years. UTI is hoping to have a new location chosen by July 1.

For more information, contact UTI at 800-859-1202 or visit (website).

Publication date: 06/24/2002