I remember my way back to 1969, when I was taking my driver’s education course at a Northwest Detroit YMCA. The instructor kept a dish of toothpicks on the console that he would occasionally “prod” students with who turned left instead of right or didn’t check both mirrors when pulling out into traffic.

I only recall one stabbing sensation — lucky for him.

The car was a 1964 Chevy that was a little bruised but in pretty good shape. I didn’t understand why I was driving a five-year-old car that wasn’t equipped with the latest bells and whistles. It seemed that if a student had to endure the horror of road tests, it would have been logical to use a later model vehicle.

Maybe it wasn’t in the YMCA’s budget.

Fast forward to the year 2000. A dozen or so students are standing around a piece of equipment in the training area of an hvacr vocational school. Their jaws drop when they see the equipment they must learn diagnostic and troubleshooting skills on. It’s real old.

It’s an exact opposite to a scene from that great cult movie The Groove Tube, where the camera focuses in on a bunch of prehistoric cavemen trying to figure out what to do with a TV set that suddenly appears in their midst.

What do we do with this old piece of metal with dozens of broken wires and missing panels?

Just what are we supposed to do with an air conditioner that has already outlived its usefulness and now sits in the middle of a training center, waiting to be torn apart, rebuilt, and analyzed?

I may be exaggerating the point somewhat, but I have been in a similar setting where I saw equipment that looked at least 10 or 15 years old. I asked myself, “Is this how techs have to learn hands-on work?”

I’m not sure it would be constructive or useful to say that one part of our industry is to blame for the lack of proper equipment, or even if that matters. There are many sides to this discussion and I’d welcome them all.

I remember visiting a discussion group in a popular website last year where one contributor, an hvacr instructor, wrote about the need for better equipment to train on:

Teaching theory and components is a must, but without the actual equipment to see and touch and work on, it becomes difficult to finish the all-important third step, which is the application of what was learned.

With a $4,000 annual budget, it is extremely difficult to buy training equipment after buying perishable materials and replacing worn-out tools each year.

One industry mind responded by saying that techs should train on older equipment because that is what they will likely encounter when going on a service call in the real world.

That brings up two very interesting points, both with merit. Should we be spinning our wheels, trying to increase budgets and encourage manufacturers to donate equipment? Or should we accept the fact that having any kind of equipment is good enough?

If I were a student, I’d want the newer equipment. If I were a recruiter, I’d want prospective students to see newer equipment, including all of the latest high-tech bells and whistles. Our industry is in a dogfight to attract students, and trying to do so with ancient equipment is no way to win the war.

Here’s another thing: I understand that some equipment manufacturers will not donate equipment unless they are satisfied with a school’s graduation and placement record, or their class sizes.

So now we have the classic Catch-22: “We can’t give you new equipment because you don’t have enough students, but you don’t have enough new students because you don’t have enough new equipment.”

Hogwash. We need students and we need them now. Let’s do everything in our power to make this an attractive and viable career for young people.

We can’t make do with a 64 Chevy.