News editor-in-chief Mark Skaer takes notes during a group discussion on student recruitment and retention.
ROYAL OAK, MI — Oakland County Schools andThe Newsheld an Industry Summit on Oct. 14. The goal was to bring members of the local industry together to discuss HVACR issues such as education and recruitment.

Over the last several months, the Oakland County School District and The News have made substantial progress in the effort to launch a new secondary HVACR training program at the Southeast campus of the Oakland County Technical Center.

A room has been designated at the campus, and an instructor has been hired for the job. But recruitment and retention of students is one key issue that The News and Oakland Schools still needed to discuss.

With that in mind, a few dedicated contractors and instructors gathered with The News staff and representatives from Oakland County Schools to map out a plan that would help spread the word about careers in the HVACR industry. Although the new HVACR educational program is on its way, it is now time to guarantee that seats can be filled in the new classroom.

Instructor Jim Bergmann discusses strategy with Mary Kaye Aukee, director of Career Focused Education for Oakland Schools.


The Newsinvited subscribers in the local area to attend the summit and share ideas on how to raise interest among young people and the community about career opportunities in the HVACR trade.

News editor-in-chief Mark Skaer updated the audience on the progress of the program to date. He explained that The News decided a year ago to pursue the development of a secondary HVACR program. He said that the inspiration came from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), which launched a pilot HVACR program at Custer High School in Milwaukee, WI.

The News and Oakland County Schools, with the help of ARI, hope to launch a similar program, which would help metro-Detroit area contractors in developing future technicians.

Mary Kaye Aukee, director of Career Focused Education for Oakland County Schools, then took the floor to discuss Career Focused Education (CFE). She explained that CFE aims to expose school-age children to career choices throughout their education. The goal of this approach is to reach young people at an early point in their development.

Oakland County Schools offers education in several trades and vocational areas. The HVACR course is just one component of the school’s construction cluster program. By using CFE as a model, the goal of the participants at the meeting was to find ways to reach young people about HVACR career choices.


Attendees then focused on three main questions.

  • What can be done to reshape outdated perceptions — among students, parents, the public at large, and the media — about careers in the HVACR industry?

  • How do we get information about career preparation and workforce needs into the mainstream awareness of Oakland County?

  • What is the best way to communicate these messages to the local community?

    Many of the attendees felt that there were several opportunities to expose individuals to the benefits of HVACR careers.

    An example of some large-scale ideas came from Lynn Briggs, executive director of the Michigan Air Conditioning Contractors of America (MI-ACCA). Briggs said that in the past, unions have used billboards to advertise career trades and list several benefits, including salary. These billboards also advertise a website where interested parties can get more information.

    Other participants believed that there may be benefits in working with the local media. The media could help in telling the story of the industry, including its need for qualified labor and the benefits that come with a career in HVACR.

    Other attendees suggested speaking with students of all ages, from elementary school through high school. Some contractors said they could volunteer to speak with students. Some suggested bringing students to a contractor’s place of business or creating job shadowing opportunities.

    Many in attendance believed that guidance counselors needed the most educating about trade careers. The consensus at the meeting was that most counselors are pushing college as the only route to career success.

    Others mentioned using resources from ARI, such as promoting the organization’s recruitment website ( and distributing ARI’s recruitment videos.

    It was also mentioned that The News and Oakland County Schools could team up again with local industry to hold a career night.

    Jim Bergmann, instructor from Cuyahoga Valley Career Center in Brecksville, OH, said that the best advertisement for any HVACR program is its success.

    “My best advice is to invest capital in the program so that students and parents see that the training being given is state of the art,” said Bergmann. “If you have a staff and a budget that is prepared to meet the needs of this very dynamic and evolving industry, and a strong advisory committee that sees the needs and points the school and staff in the right direction that will fulfill their requirements — and surpass them in some areas — you will see several things happen.”

    Bergmann explained that when students are successful in the classroom, they are successful on the jobsite. This success will then be talked about by parents and other students, which will breed interest in HVACR and the program.

    Publication date: 10/28/2002