The local newspaper near where I live has a periodic column called “Get To Know Me.” Staff reporters provide an email Q&A to selected area folks asking questions about the person’s first job, biggest pet peeve, favorite places to go in the area, best advice, etc. The results are then published in a Q&A format a few weeks later in the newspaper.

I know about such things because back in early 2011 I was profiled because of a then upcoming pancake breakfast fundraiser being put on by a service club I was involved with. (I also managed to get in a free plug for The NEWS.)

The “Get To Know Me” column recently profiled a woman in the area. She is a small business entrepreneur. One of the questions asked of her was, “What was the worst advice she ever received?” Her answer: “My high school guidance counselor told me not to go to college.”

That struck a chord with me, because one of the long-standing tirades among many editors at The NEWS is how too many high school counselors steer students to a four-year college track and not into a vocational track even when the student’s aptitude may be better suited to the latter.

Adjusting the Approach

When it comes to the HVACR vocational track, there are high school students who show promising skills reading schematics, fixing mechanical equipment, and working with tools. They would likely be far better served focusing on HVACR classes at a college offering such courses, a vocational school, or in an apprentice program.

In reading the woman’s newspaper Q&A, I got to wondering what might have caused the responder to share that not going to college was the worse advice given her.

There is usually extreme pressure on school counselors to get as high of a percentage of graduating students into four-year colleges or into community colleges with plans to stay on a four-year track. To tell a student not to go on to college takes a bit of courage I would think. But maybe the question becomes: How was the student told to steer clear of a four-year college track? This would call for diplomacy.

Setting the Example

To help in the diplomacy effort, it is important that the vocational tracks offered are shown in a favorable light. There are many avenues for counselors to avail themselves in that regard. SkillsUSA is a prime example. I wish that every counselor and high school student — regardless of their post-graduate plans — could check out local, state, and regional SkillsUSA events; especially the national event each summer in Kansas City, Mo.

HVACR contractors could help by becoming involved in high schools, helping to sponsor school events, and taking part in job fairs, for example. They can add to the image by having well-dressed, polite employees driving around town in clean, attractive vans or trucks. High school students do see those folks and vehicles daily. Contractors should remember that their audience is more than just paying customers.

Contractor behavior is likely not enough to offset the historic negatives regarding vocational education that can be perpetrated by four-year college track students or their parents. Nor may it counter a counselor that might insensitively brush aside a non-college-bound student; nor may it change a misperception of a young person listening to a counselor.

Regardless of these outcomes, we in HVACR need to do what we can to promote an exceptionally fine vocational career for the many intelligent and skilled young people who have the aptitude to change the industry for the better.

Publication date: 10/1/2012