After making the annual trek to Mom's house for turkey day, I sat watching the football game thinking about those things for which I should be thankful. My mind drifted back some 21 years. What would I be doing if it hadn't been for a friend who helped me get into HVAC many years ago? After six years of flipping burgers and steaks, one of my regular restaurant customers asked the fateful question: "You have a lot of experience in training, right?"
"Sure, our turnover is 300 percent in the restaurant industry; we're constantly training new people," I replied.
Goodbye Wendy's and Bennigan's. Hello HVAC.
From training, to sales, to R&D, to magazines, I have met the nicest people in this industry that anyone could ever hope to become acquainted with. Last Thursday, on Thanksgiving Day, that was the top vote getter on my list of things to be thankful for. Oh, sure, the industry has certainly been good to me in many other ways, but frankly, so was the restaurant business. Though I do miss the late night partying that accompanied the restaurant scene, I can't imagine doing anything else as I begin my third decade in HVAC. Yes, it has been good to me.
GIVING BACK TO THE INDUSTRYIt has been good to a lot of other people, as well, and many have contributed immensely in their efforts to pave the way for future generations. Maybe it's their way of paying back, or maybe their way of being thankful for what they have received.
With an early background in training, I have always had an interest in seeing professional instructors at work. I recently had the pleasure of visiting with Jim Mulgrew, a building construction trade instructor at Max S. Hayes Vocational High School in Cleveland. Mulgrew started in the cement trade while still a teenager, went to Max Hayes to complete his training, and later became an instructor himself. He now teaches a broad curriculum from cement, to HVAC, to carpentry. Seeing him interact with the students said volumes about his dedication and his desire to give something back to his old neighborhood.
There will be a story in an upcoming issue of The NEWS about Max Hayes, Mulgrew, and a few other people who are dreaming big things in Cleveland. But, most importantly, young men and women are dreaming of big things at an inner-city school.
People like Mulgrew and countless others give so unselfishly of their time and resources to help young people get a foothold in the trades - I guess I'm also thankful for people like them.
Each year The NEWS co-sponsors a Best Instructor Contest with the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute. Vocational instructors from North America were recognized in our Nov. 13 issue. You won't see Mulgrew's name on that list of honorees because his high school doesn't yet have a full-fledged HVAC curriculum. There is a lot of work that needs to be done at Max Hayes, and people like Jim Mulgrew are striving to make it happen. With a little help, it will.
The facts and figures about the shortages of skilled labor for our industry and related trades are too well-known, but are worth repeating: 20,000 HVAC technician jobs will go unfilled this year, and next year, and the year after that. The typical high school guidance counselor has for years sent young people in career directions that take them away from the trades. Fortunately, there are high schools like Max Hayes that provide an education and a career focus for young people. That focus is preparing for "something that I can always fall back on," according to one senior student at Max Hayes.
Many of these high school seniors have aspirations of attending four-year colleges, becoming lawyers, professional athletes, and doctors. Many others will go directly to a well-paying job in the trades that awaits them the day they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
The Cleveland community and the Cleveland School District should be very proud and thankful for the nearly 600 students who attend Max Hayes. For as they learn something they can fall back on, it must be reassuring to know that someday the community will be able to "fall back" on these students.
Publication date: 11/27/2006