MOUNT PROSPECT, Ill. - HVACR training programs across the country can use as much help as they can get. As young people increasingly overlook the trades, and state and federal funding continues to diminish, the outlook for the industry becomes more and more grim.

Many members of the HVACR industry, including contractors, organizations, and manufacturers, have recognized that something needs to be done. HVAC Excellence and the Educational Standards Corporation (ESCO Institute) have unveiled a new grant valued at $4.8 million to fund outcome assessment testing.

Through the grant, HVACR programs will be eligible for free HVAC Excellence testing.

HVAC Excellence and ESCO believe that the new endeavor will help instructors and schools by lightening their financial load and providing them with a means to see how their programs stack up against other programs.

Critical Need

Julie Merar, account executive for ESCO, has been working to get the word out on the grant opportunity to HVACR instructors. According to Merar, the grant is one way for ESCO to step up and address a concern that could reach critical proportions. "We were finding that a lot of HVACR programs were closed, closing, or threatening to close," she said.

This spells trouble for an industry that is experiencing a shortage of qualified workers. But this may only be the beginning. Cuts in state and federal funding are also looming as another possible threat to HVACR training programs that are in need of help.

"During the last couple of years, it has become obvious that the HVACR labor pool is not keeping up with demand," said Jerry Weiss, CEO for ESCO. "Couple the labor pool demands with HVACR technical education cutbacks, and within a relatively short time you no longer have a problem, you have a crisis."

One source of aid, the Carl D. Perkins Act, which provides financial support to technical and vocational programs, may not be renewed. According to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the current presidential administration would like to see Perkins Act money transferred to No Child Left Behind programs. Since this announcement, many technical and trade organizations have put pressure on Congress and the administration to rethink the decision. Thus far, no decision has been made, but ACTE believes further details will be unveiled later this year.

The uncertainty about the Perkins Act is just one reason why ESCO felt a need to help HVACR programs. ESCO, which funds the HVAC Excellence certification, will provide the testing to secondary and post-secondary programs at no charge for the 2004 and 2005 academic years. Merar said that at the post-secondary level, approximately 18,000 students will take three separate HVAC Excellence exams. At the secondary level, the organization is expecting 30,000 students to take the exam. This averages out to almost $2.5 million in testing fees per year that ESCO will waive.

Merar also said that it is possible that ESCO will continue the grant past the 2005 school year, but a decision has yet to be made.

Proving Your Worth

The grant opportunity is designed to introduce instructors to the various benefits that certification can provide.

All HVAC Excellence testing is done online. Students answer the questions and submit them over the Web. After the answers are submitted, the test results come back instantly. "The HVAC Excellence exams are based on National Skills Standards," said Merar.

Programs that offer HVAC Excellence certification to students have the ability to see where their school rates compared to schools across the country. Merar said that it also helps individual students gauge their strengths and weaknesses. By taking part in certification programs, instructors can see where they need to provide more training and where they are succeeding.

Merar believes it is also a tool that instructors can use to provide hard data to school administration to gain further support. "This allows programs to prove that what they are teaching is meeting the needs of the workforce," she said.

ESCO believes that this grant is a small gesture, but one that could have lasting benefits if more of the industry gets involved.

"We want to challenge manufacturers, wholesalers, and contractors to join us in this effort," said Weiss. "They can help through additional equipment donations, time commitments, scholarship establishments, and direct donations. These are just a few of the ways in which they can help improve our industry. If everyone does what they can, no matter how small, we can avoid a crisis."

Publication date: 03/15/2004