Scott McClure emphasizes hands-on training in the school’s lab (pictured above). His classes also gain real-world experience by participating in Habitat for Humanity projects in the area.
VERNON, Texas - Scott McClure hesitated, but for only a second. "What's the biggest challenge facing HVACR vocational training today?" he asked aloud, repeating the question pointed in his direction.

"My biggest challenge is taking students and getting them entry-level ready. I have students from all walks of life. Some may not have even held a wrench before, while there are the older ones who have some experience, but are looking to get more. The challenge is working with this mix. Diversity, I see, is my challenge."

Based on what his students and bosses say, McClure is doing an excellent job with his challenge. So much so, the five-year instructor at Vernon College earned an honorable mention in the 2004 Instructor of the Year contest sponsored by The News and ARI.

"I believe one of the reasons that my program has been successful now for five years is the time I take for my students," said McClure, trying to explain why his students appreciate the concern he shows each one - and why they nominated him, among other reasons. "I understand that they are the ones who pay the bills. I stay in touch with contractors as far as what they want in a technician and when they are looking for help.

"I tell my students to stay in contact even after graduation and call me if there is any advice they need in the field. I try not to waste my students' time. The material I present to them is not just a bunch of fluff but relevant to what they need to survive in the real world."

In truth, McClure does not consider his teaching style or his curriculum unique. In his estimation, there is nothing wrong with being "on par" with the rest of the HVACR teaching world.

"I really don't differ," he said. "We all teach the same thing. What is different, I guess, is how does that instructor teach? Now, I may be more hands-on than some, but I believe that you need to be more hands-on, because that is where a student will really learn firsthand."

It's one reason why McClure and Vernon College is actively involved with Habitat for Humanity. Not only is it a good cause, believes McClure, it is an excellent hands-on training program for his classes.

"We have installed 16 heating and cooling systems with ductwork so far," said McClure, meaning his crews have helped renovate more than five Vernon-area homes per year over the last three years. "This is real-world stuff. We also take care of the maintenance of the school's package units."

As an added bonus, being involved in Habitat for Humanity gives McClure and the school free publicity. He, like others at the school, is all for spreading the word about vocational training and the need for HVACR technicians.

"The challenge is getting to these kids in high school," he said. "You can tell they are not interested, so you have to get them interested. Sure, most are thinking of going to a four-year college or university, but college is not for everyone. I think we have to get to the [high school] counselors first, letting them know about vocational training and how there is a shortage. That is the challenge."

To help everyone's cause, McClure would love to see manufacturers, distributors, and contractors all band together to produce a national advertising campaign, with the aim of putting the industry in the spotlight, plus pique the younger generation's interest in joining its ranks.

"There has to be something geared to that age group," he thought. "We have to get them involved, as we need them."

In the interim, McClure will continue to do his part. Vernon College has a two-year associate's degree program. It also offers an advanced certificate, which is 40 credit hours and can be accomplished in one year; and a basic certificate, which is 20 hours and can be done in six months.

"I am currently aligning my curriculum with Texas' skills standard set up two years ago, which I am finding that I am already nearly there due to having received PAHRA [Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation] accreditation already," said McClure.

"There are just a few things I have to document on syllabuses. This may open up areas of funding by the state - or at least keep my program funded as is. I have applied for one grant from an outside source but was turned down. After getting tied in with ARI by giving the ICE [Industry Competency Exam] and being PAHRA-accredited, I have received several nice donations of equipment from them."

Publication date: 11/08/2004