CARTERVILLE, Ill. — Many contractors are concerned with finding qualified and well-trained technicians. There are several reasons behind the technician shortage, but a prominent cause may be the state of HVACR training.

Some programs are not teaching students what they need in order to be adequately prepared for the industry. At the same time, many programs are not getting the support they need to educate and train prospective technicians.

Jerry Parker, an instructor at John A. Logan College in Carterville, has worked to rebuild the standards within his program and get the support of local contractors. Parker is not only a model for other instructors across the country, but a reminder of why industry needs to be active in its vocational training programs.

Rebuilding Education

Parker has accomplished a lot in his HVACR and teaching career. He has been a successful service and maintenance technician, and an even more successful instructor. Parker has been certified in eight areas of North American Technician Excellence (NATE), in all three areas of the Industry Competency Exam (ICE), and was recognized by The News as the 2002 “Best HVACR Instructor of the Year.”

One of Parker’s biggest accomplishments was earning accreditation for his program through the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). Earning PAHRA is a milestone for many instructors, but it was even more special for Parker.

Before he started his teaching career at Logan, Parker said that the college’s HVACR program was slowly going downhill, through no fault of the previous instructor. The man became very sick, Parker said, and could not give the program the attention it deserved. Nonetheless, Parker said many contractors in the area began to lose faith in the program and its students.

“Many of the contractors did not want to hire students coming out of this program,” said Parker. In fact, he said that many contractors began taking their technicians out of the course.

When Parker took the teaching job at the college in August 2002, he had his work cut out for him. The lab needed major upgrades and the program needed to regain the support of local industry.

For the most part, Parker said that he was able to get help from local contractors. “I was pretty familiar with most of the contractors from my work in the field,” he said. “That really opened the door for letting me talk with them.”

Parker explained to the local contractors that he wanted to turn the program around, but he needed their help. Many of the contractors were on board, according to Parker, but some would have “rather seen the program shut down.”

Many of those contractors have stood by Parker since those days and have helped him to rejuvenate the Logan program. “I have a tremendous advisory committee mostly made of contractors,” he said.

He added that after he and his committee made strides in rebuilding the program, more contractors started to come on board. In fact, Parker says there are more interested contractors than he knows what to do with.

Besides building an active advisory board, Parker was able to secure equipment donations, which helped in updating the lab.

The work and the attention helped the college find students to take the course. As the program started getting back on track, Parker wanted to go even further and make sure that his program was aligned with industry standards.

Raising The Bar

Parker was only six months into his job as HVACR instructor when he decided to pursue PAHRA.

The accreditation program was created by the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI) with the goal of standardizing HVACR training programs. Programs can be accredited in Residential Air-Conditioning and Heating, Commercial Air-Conditioning and Heating, and Commercial Refrigeration.

Parker said he wanted to earn the accreditation because of its affiliation with ARI. He believes that PAHRA’s stringent requirements will raise the bar for all HVACR programs.

“Standards have always been pretty low in this industry,” said Parker. “Anyone can put some gauges in a truck and be called a service technician.”

In June of 2002, John A. Logan College’s HVACR program was officially PAHRA accredited. It took Parker approximately a year and a half to complete the process.

The most challenging part of achieving the accreditation, according to Parker, was compiling every aspect of the program for evaluation. PAHRA dictates what curriculum should be taught to students, the kind of equipment that must be available for hands-on learning, and more.

To fulfill part of the requirements, Parker needed to find new and updated systems for his lab. After doing a great deal of legwork, he was able to get the equipment from manufacturers and area contractors.

Reaping The Rewards

For Parker, earning PAHRA was proof of the commitment he and his advisory board have had for resurrecting the HVACR program. Since earning PAHRA, Parker has seen the program continue to grow.

Recognition has been the No. 1 benefit for Parker since becoming accredited. He explained that manufacturers are more willing to donate equipment to his program now that it is accredited and the program is run according to industry standards.

He added that the school has started providing him with more opportunities and benefits since PAHRA. For example, Logan has sent Parker all over the country to attend continuing education courses through various organizations and manufacturers.

Parker was also able to get approval to start an HVAC club on campus. Recently the club collected old equipment and sold it for scrap. The money is being used to take a class trip to Chicago to attend the 2003 Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo). Parker, along with 12 students, were scheduled to travel to Chicago to attend classes and visit manufacturer booths.

While there, Parker's program will receive scholarship money totaling $4,750. He said the money will be used to help prospective students pay for an HVACR education through John A. Logan.

Parker said that rebuilding the program and earning PAHRA was made possible through the help of administration and his advisory board. He also said that contractors are beginning to realize the benefits of supporting HVACR educational programs.

“Contractors need to support the schools because that is where they’re going to get their future employees,” he said.

Publication date: 01/27/2003