Jim Bergmann (yellow shirt) explains a ductwork project to students (from left) Brandon Heyduk, Nathan Bernette, and Eric Schlotte. The students installed the ductwork in the school’s lab.
BRECKSVILLE, Ohio - At first glance, Jim Bergmann's HVACR training lab looks out of place. It is too complete. In fact, one member of his advisory committee likened the lab to those at higher learning institutions, calling it a "mini Ferris State."

The compliment is nothing new to Bergmann, winner of the 2004 Instructor of the Year contest sponsored by The News and ARI. The instructor, who has spent the last four years teaching students at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center (CVCC) in Brecksville, Ohio, has drawn rave reviews from school administrators and has appeared in several articles in The News. He was a runner-up in the contest two years ago.

Bergmann credits the success of his program to the hard work of his advisory committee and his students. "I have a very active advisory committee," he said. "They come in here and help me develop the lab, obtain supplies and training materials, etc. I'm not the only one who should get this award - it should include the advisory committee. No one person can build a program like this on his or her own.

"Our goal is to get a good working model in our lab. The students, not contractors, set all of the equipment up. I invite contractors to come in for visits and have them watch the students work on the equipment, and I encourage them to ask students about the parts and what the function of each part is. The contractor gets an idea of where the kid is, and how he handles himself."

Jim Bergmann shows off his portfolio documenting some of his class projects.

The School And Program

CVCC in suburban Cleveland is able to draw secondary and postsecondary school students from the entire metropolitan region. Bergmann said that the school's many popular vocational programs and new facilities are a major reason why they have an average attendance rate of 95 percent. "We always get one person who throws off the average," he joked.

The average class size is 15 to 20 students and all are enrolled in a two-year program. The class meets five times each week - juniors in the morning and seniors in the afternoon. Hands-on instruction dominates 67 percent of the curriculum. The HVACR program has been accredited by PAHRA (Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation).

Bergmann likes to encourage his students to pick something they like to specialize in - and pursue it. "The first year of class I expose them to everything - get them started with the fundamentals," he said. "And then the second year I specialize in various techniques/systems."

Some of the equipment and systems are so modern that some HVACR contractors could benefit from Bergmann's instruction.

"High school students are working on equipment in the lab that some contractors have never even worked on, i.e., Tracer Summit systems, power burners, and chillers," he noted. "We have a lot of equipment in the lab that you don't see in programs anywhere else. We have state-of-the-art Trane equipment, and DuctSox products, which we learned about from reading The News.

"We read The News to keep up on the latest products. We read about Arzel Zoning, so they sent

a representative down to look at our program and showed the kids how to install an Arzel Zoning system. The kids were having a blast, using their tin snips and putting in the parts."

Jim Bergmann checks on the progress of student Scott Simcic.
Upon successful completion of the course, students receive their CFC certification and Industry Competency Exam (ICE) certificate. In the interim, between the start and finish of the course, students are encouraged to participate in the SkillsUSA-VICA national competition.

Bergmann is familiar with technician competition, having been a former student. His own certifications include: ICE Residential, ICE Light Commercial, ICE Refrigeration, NATE Core, NATE Air Distribution, NATE Heat Pump, NATE Air Conditioning, NATE Gas Furnace, and NATE Fuel Oil.

Bergmann has also attended ARI instructor workshops and takes part in continuing education in order to keep up with industry technology and training. He has been a member of CARE (Council of Air-Conditioning Refrigeration Educators) and is serving as the president of CARE's Ohio chapter.

Bergmann said that besides theory-based instruction and hands-on training, his students are encouraged to read The News and discuss topics with classmates and their parents. "Many parents read The News when it is taken home to see what their kids are doing, and what our industry is all about," he said. "Parents have taken an active role in their children's education because of the future they see from reading The News."

Bergmann credits the system approach for his teaching success.

"We look at how components act together within a system, i.e., our boilers are hooked to VAV boxes and hot water coils, hydronic floor heating system," he stated. "We have VAV boxes up in the shop. Kids can see that there is a problem in one zone and determine that just because the system is in one place doesn't mean that the solution is in that same place.

"The system approach makes the students go and look for the solution."

Student Tim Lea inspects a portion of the ductwork in the lab. The ductwork was installed by his classmates.

Getting Kids Interested

Bergmann plays an active role in recruiting students for the trade. He spends time visiting with students in area high schools, even speaking with seventh-grade students during visitations. He also encourages his students to spread the word.

"We bring guidance counselors in from our associate schools," he said. "They see what the kids are doing - the interaction, the math, the science, etc. We show a path to college for kids that want to go.

"We get kids talking about college right away. It is a great idea for kids in votech school to go right to college. College is a way to continue education and this process motivates the kids. Kids in our class are looking at continuing education who have never looked at it this way before. I would guess that at least 50 percent of our students at Cuyahoga go on to college."

Despite his program's success, Bergmann thinks the HVACR trade - as a whole - needs to do a better job of recruiting and offering a career path.

"The industry needs to improve the entry year for these kids - this could make or break them," Bergmann said.

"The contractors need to let the students know that what they did was worthwhile. They are not going to be paid a lot at first, they need to know what to expect and have a career picture painted for them.

"We need to invest in these guys and train them. The best thing a contractor can do would be to get these students back into training within six months of leaving school. We preach lifelong learning and continuing education - honing our skills. We need to pound that message in right away."

Bergmann thinks that students are discouraged by some of the starting wages in the industry.

"We are underpaying a lot of people, especially kids coming out of high school," he noted. "These kids in my shop know how to braze, to solder, they know the basics of installation, and they know the basics of wiring and service. Their qualifications exceed what people think they should be making at a certain age.

"Some contractors are only willing to pay $7.50 an hour to start and people can make $7 an hour working for McDonalds. It is very disheartening."

Why was Bergmann selected for this award? It can be summed up in his own words. "There is always something new happening around here - it is stimulating for the kids," he said. "I'm still learning more and more every day."

Publication date: 11/08/2004