ARLINGTON, Va. - HVACR instructors have a responsibility to make sure that their students are competent enough to enter the field and go to work for a contractor. But that is not the only challenge facing instructors today. Trainers from secondary to post-secondary programs are being hit with a number of issues, including possible cuts in funding for technical education.

Approximately 150 instructors attended the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute's (ARI's) Eighth Annual Instructor Workshop to discuss issues that could have a tremendous effect on HVACR programs across the country.

The workshop included a meeting of the Council of Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE) and a team leader-training program for the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA). Instructors also had the opportunity to take the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) and the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) exam free of charge.

The ARI Instructor Workshop allowed instructors to take part in NATE and ICE certification testing free of charge.

Continued Learning

Ray Mach, ARI's newest director of education, welcomed the instructors. He encouraged trainers to network, ask questions, and to take valuable information presented at the workshop back to their classrooms.

ARI president William "Woody" Sutton also addressed the instructors. "You have all dedicated your lives to education, and education is the future," he said.

He also encouraged those in attendance to take advantage of accreditation and certification, namely, PAHRA, ICE, and NATE, referring to them as a "continuum of education."

Several speakers were on hand to present a myriad of topics. Some presentations were meant to sharpen the instructors' technical knowledge. Daniel Almeida, education consultant with the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA), gave the instructors a lesson on troubleshooting hydronic systems. Paul Goldman from GE Industrial Systems explained the proper troubleshooting methods for variable-speed motors. Mike Bergen from Air Handling Services presented the ins and outs of air distribution.

Meanwhile, Pat Tessler, from Honeywell, gave instructors a glimpse at new wireless thermostat technologies.

Other presentations were meant to get instructors thinking about new ways of teaching. Ruth King from discussed the impact of new technology in education, including distance learning. Meanwhile, Rob Bates, an instructor from Delaware Technical and Community College (Georgetown, Del.), discussed the importance of including customer relations as part of an HVACR curriculum.

Other portions of the workshop included an update on Skills-USA from Tim Lawrence, executive director of the organization, a presentation by Ed Francis and Larry Jeffus for Prentice Hall, and other educational sessions.

Rob Bates, an instructor from Delaware Technical and Community College (Georgetown, Del.), gave a presentation on teaching customer service skills during the ARI Instructor Workshop.

A Looming Threat

Besides keeping instructors up-to-date on changing technologies, the ARI workshop gave instructors a look at changes that could impact vocational training programs. For instance, Don Davis, ARI's director of legislative and regulatory affairs, took time to address current federal and state measures that could impact instructors. More specifically, Davis discussed the current threat to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

Many HVACR instructors are very familiar with the Perkins Act. The act, which provides over $1 billion a year to help enhance technical and vocational education programs, has been threatened by the Bush administration.

The White House's 2005 budget calls for an approximate 25-percent cut in funding for career and technical education, and requests that the money available for Perkins funding be redistributed as block grants.

Davis explained that if the funding were to be available as block grants, the money would be distributed on a state-by-state basis, allowing the governor of each state to decide how it will be used to fund education. Davis also explained that with the No Child Left Behind Act, chances are good that governors would opt to distribute the money to traditional academic endeavors, especially since schools that are not successful under the No Child Left Behind Act could be passed over for future federal grant money.

The Perkins Act was up for re-authorization in September 2003. At that time, Congress decided to continue funding the grant throughout the 2004 fiscal year. This decision was due in large part to the efforts of several trade associations, such as ARI, that lobbied Congress and educated senators on the importance of funding vocational programs.

But the fate of the Perkins Act has yet to be clearly decided. Ideally, ARI would like to see the grant reauthorized for another 10 years. The Perkins Act was originally introduced to fund programs for 10 years, and ARI would like to see the program continue.

Davis believes that a decision will not be made on the Perkins Act until after the November elections, but he still encouraged instructors to contact their state representative and urge their support of the grant. In fact, Davis said that members of the industry should do more than work to keep current funding, but do what they can to increase the amount of funding available for technical and vocational education.

"We need to have people that are trained properly," he said. "We need to reject the administration's proposal and, in fact, raise funding."

The ARI Instructor Workshop stressed the importance of industry certification programs, including the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) and the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) exam.

Getting Students Ready

Each year, different members of the industry address the instructors at the workshop to give them an idea of what they look for when hiring new workers.

Harvey Kaplan, a trainer with United Supply and Distributing Co., gave the instructors his perspective on what students need to know. He said that more students need to have their own tools when they enter the field. This means knowing how to use them properly in order to perform the needed troubleshooting and maintenance procedures. Kaplan also told the instructors that they need to stress the basics with their students.

"Some students do not have adequate understanding of basic refrigeration," he said. "They need to understand basic ladder diagrams and the basics of electricity."

Greg Goater, trainer with Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning in Rochester, N.Y., told the instructors about his company's hiring procedures and what they look for in students entering the field.

"We don't take employment applications anymore," he said. "We only take resumes."

Once Isaac Heating has a resume, an interview can be set up. According to Goater, the company is looking for technicians who will reflect a professional image. This means they will not hire techs with visible body piercings or tattoos. Isaac Heating also checks the driving records of all potential technicians. Goater said individuals with DWIs or DUIs on their record would not be hired.

Warren Lupson, trainer with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America National Capital Chapter (ACCA-NCC), also addressed the instructors. He reminded the instructors that they need to get area contractors invested in their programs.

"Do you know what the contractors in your area really need?" he asked.

To help find out what local contractors need, Lupson recommended that instructors make local industry chapters, such as ACCA, a part of their program.

"There is [a chapter] in every state," he said. "And they all need employees."

Finally, Lupson said instructors should not be afraid to let their "guard down." More specifically, if their programs need help, instructors should not be afraid to ask for a hand.

Sidebar: NATE Recaps Recent Success At Instructor Workshop

ARLINGTON, Va. - During the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute's (ARI's) Instructor Workshop, Rex Boynton, president of North American Technician Excellence (NATE), and Pat Murphy, vice president of NATE, outlined the certifying body's recent successes and future goals.

According to Boynton, 2003 was a record year for NATE, as the organization sold over 16,000 certification tests. Boynton believes that it is possible NATE could reach its 2004 goal to sell over 23,000 tests. "Our momentum is measurable," he said, noting that this includes the momentum that has taken place in NATE training and recertification.

According to Boynton, there are 340 courses that have been approved by NATE to supply continuing education points toward recertification. "We are finding fewer and fewer people who don't know who we are," he said.

This is partly due to the amount of support NATE has gained from a variety of sources. Boynton pointed out that NATE now has the backing of the U.S. Army, and the certification is used in over 580 military bases around the world.

Murphy told the instructors about new developments within NATE, more specifically the launch of The Web site provides information for contractors, technicians, and test proctors. Individuals can track an order for exams, schedule test sessions, and receive statistical information to see how a technician's scores stack up. Murphy explained that the statistical information helps technicians see where they need more training.

Murphy noted that the new Web site makes it possible to take the NATE exam online. A proctor must still be present and enter his or her NATE ID number to get the test applicant started. After finishing the online exam, results will come back almost instantaneously.

- by James J. Siegel

Publication date: 04/26/2004