Apprenticeship can often be one of those overlooked but essential parts of skilled trades. We aren’t talking about the high-profile Hollywood version of “The Apprentice” taking place in a boardroom and slowly knocking out contestants week after week.

Instead, skilled trades apprenticeship, specifically within HVAC, prepares up-and-coming technicians for a fulfilling career in a trade that doesn’t get the attention or publicity it so rightly deserves, as nearly everyone who goes through apprenticeship comes out a winner.

States such as Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming do not require statewide licensing for HVAC, and the certifications required in other states vary greatly.

Now more than ever, it’s imperative to make sure you are bringing highly qualified and skilled technicians into your company.

That advice may seem obvious, but what may seem less apparent is the concept of starting an apprenticeship training program for technicians in-house.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, apprenticeship programs usually last three to five years. Each year, apprentices must have at least 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and a minimum of 144 hours of related technical education. To enter an apprenticeship program, a trainee must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent, pass a basic math test and  substance abuse screening, and have a valid driver’s license.

A commitment of three to five years is no small feat for an apprentice or those running the program, but the payoff can be tremendous. It provides you the opportunity to bring apprentices along and craft them into the exact mold you are looking for out of your staff.

This is the approach taken by Bell Brothers Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa. Company president Chuck Gassmann wasn’t satisfied with association apprenticeship training and decided to create a program under his own watch.

Now, apprentices train on the same equipment they will see in the field as employees, learn the styles and techniques preferred by the company, and are able to truly see if the company is a place where they feel they can work and grow into a fulfilling career.

As products and education editor here at The NEWS, I’ve heard the frustration from many contractors. Seemingly everyone is struggling to find young, eager techs that can be adapted to specific, successful service methods.

Javon Kemp, an apprentice at Bell Brothers, said he is always telling his family and friends about the apprenticeship program. “Spreading the word is important, and I’m trying to advise others to give it a try,” he said. “It’s put me in a great position. I’m excited about my future career in HVAC.”

On a larger scale, it appears as if apprenticeship is on the rise across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 197,500 individuals nationwide entered the apprenticeship system in 2015, up from just over 100,000 in 2010. There are approximately 448,000 apprentices currently in the system, and more than 52,500 participants graduated from the apprenticeship system in 2015.

Those numbers go beyond just HVAC and include all forms of apprenticeship, but the fact remains that the bar chart is pointing up, and there are those within the millennial generation willing and able to take this route.

Instituting a program like this is a major investment, not just in financial terms, but also in resources and time. Still, if you have often wondered if there is a new or different way to attack the impending technician shortage head-on, then perhaps a similar measure could be beneficial to you and your business.

Publication date: 10/31/2016

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