"I can't believe it. My boss called me into her office and told me that the school district had to save $90K and because of that they were closing my hvacr program and the electric shop.

"She cited things like declining enrollment and low pay for our students when entering the workforce. I understand that they want to turn my building into a junior high school for kids in the school district that just don't 'fit in.'

"Since I am a Florida Class "A" contractor I will keep going. But I feel sorry for my students and the air conditioning and refrigeration trade."

Imagine my surprise when I received the above news in an e-mail from an instructor whose hvacr program was featured in the May 1 issue of The News (page 14) for its stellar curriculum and aid to its community. I'm sure my reaction to this news pales in comparison to the surprise and shock Paul Arthur felt as he sat in his boss's office.

Arthur, the hvacr instructor at Charlotte Vocational Technical Center in Port Charlotte, FL, went on to write, "I think over the past 25 years I have trained over 1,000 students. Most of them have been successful in our trade. Our trade has a shortage of good, highly trained people. This will make that shortage worse."

No words could ring more true. The industry is already suffering from a shortage of technicians and with each school that closes, that shortage becomes more prominent -- especially for contractors in surrounding communities.

The End is Near

Decreasing enrollment was one of the factors cited in Charlotte Vo-Tech's decision to end its hvacr and electrical programs. Another factor is that the school had to decrease its budget by eliminating two teachers' salaries.

The harsh reality in many of today's trade programs is that by eliminating a teaching position, this often eliminates the entire program. Decreasing budgets also decreases the number of teachers. When there is only one teacher left and his or her position is eliminated, the program also must fall to the pressure of the budget.

Judith Willis, director at Charlotte Vo-Tech, was quoted in Florida's Sun Herald as saying, "The hands-on, construction-type careers are suffering. People can go and get employment in these areas with no skills. Employers will train them on the job. The real misfortune is that you lose the teacher."

Arthur and the school are working to accelerate the hvacr program to be completed in a much shorter time than usual, to allow the 10 students currently enrolled to complete their programs. "We're compressing the program to get in as much theory as we can," says Arthur.

Expected graduation for the majority of the students is June or October, with the remainder still able to finish their programs by April.

"I have opened many new programs and had many exciting times in my classroom, but this has been -- without a doubt -- the most painful experience I have had as an educator," says Arthur.

Not to Be Ignored

Isn't it ironic that in light of a shortage of technicians, vo-techs are choosing to end their hvacr programs? Should contractors be working with instructors to educate vo-tech administrators on the dire need for the technicians that their hvacr programs produce?

While we're at it, we'd better add high school guidance counselors and students to the list of those who need to be told of the opportunities in our industry.

Human nature is to think that bad things can't happen to you. However, one day they inevitably do. Just because the end of the hvacr program at Charlotte Vo-Tech doesn't effect you or I personally, doesn't mean we shouldn't take notice and try to take action.

In today's fast-paced world, you could be opening your newspaper tomorrow to a story about the closing of your local trade school and then what will you do?

I'd like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the decreasing number of hvacr programs at vo-techs? What are some possible solutions to this problem? Will all training be done on the job in the future, with no classroom instruction? How can contractors get involved?

Or is it the case that even as this vo-tech closes, another may be opening somewhere else? I'd like to hear about that as well.

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