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Just a few things on this [July 3] issue. I enjoy this weekly for a lot of reasons, Tech Talk, new products coming, and ways to keep customers and gain new ones. We in the hvac trade are always looking for the right blend to gain new customers, retain old customers, and set ourselves apart from the rest.

The article on Calculating Costs, page one, continued on page 38, prompts this e-mail. While I agree with the better profit margins with split systems vs. central a/c duct jobs, I feel that the picture on page 38, showing an installation with nothing protecting the floor near the ladder (plastic or whatever), and the technicians resting the unit on a couch armrest, is amazing.

In this time as marketing ourselves as professionals, I could only wish this would be an advertisement in my area of Western MA by a competitor, as it would boost my sales!

Keep up the good work informing.

Richard Brehaut Owner

R-D Heating and A/C

Belchertown, MA

Where's the bacon?

The June 20, 2000 article inThe News[“Chickens, Eggs, and Technician Training”] brings out some good points concerning the shortage of technicians and the decreasing number of schools offering hvacr programs that have been a feeder of young people to our industry. Be it the lack of teachers, lack of students, lack of programs, or other factors that we might discuss, let’s go shopping for the bacon.

The last few years have seen a population cycle with a reduced number of high school graduates followed by schools today that are bulging at the seams and expanding to accommodate increased numbers. Starting from the baby boom following World War II, the cycles continue and the result will be different (about 180 degrees) in eight to 12 years. Add to this smaller pool of recent high school graduates, a booming economy of unprecedented economic prosperity, and it is not difficult to see that the hvacr industry has plenty of competition. Today’s high school graduates are heavily recruited by colleges and high-technology companies that can offer high-paying careers.

“There is an increasing view that vocational education is not an appropriate role for a high school education,” said James R. Stone III, deputy director of the National Center for Research in Career and Technical Education, a federally financed research center based in St. Paul, MN. He also stated, “It is increasingly difficult to sustain the traditional programs.” During the late 60s and early 70s, vocational education programs were an integral part of high schools and vocational education centers were formed to serve the smaller communities. Hvacr programs were so plentiful that in many areas the supply of graduates exceeded available jobs with hvacr contractors.

So why did these hvacr programs fail (and continue to fail), and how can we change the trend?

The bottom line is that graduates’ skills didn’t, or don’t, meet employer expectations. Many contractors gave up long ago in recruiting and hiring vocational-technical (vo-tech) graduates because they simply could do only a few or none of the skills necessary for employment as installers or technicians. Hvacr teachers taught what they were most familiar with vs. a locally developed curriculum or, worse yet, attempted to teach to a state or nationally developed curriculum that included the entire diverse hvacr industry. This was a task that could not be accomplished at the post-secondary level, let alone at a high school level. Many of the failed or failing programs recruited the wrong student, a student with no math skills (the best indicator of a person’s ability to problem solve). Or, they allowed the school system to use their program as a dumping ground for “problem” young people.

Our industry failed by not supporting the program with the appropriate leadership, advice, partnering of the school and industry, equipment and supply donations, keeping the teachers and laboratories current with technological changes, etc. In short, the hvacr programs failed to partner with the folks who hire their graduates — contractors. Show me a successful hvacr program, and I will show you a program that has partnered with the people who hire their graduates.

In defense of the hvacr teachers, the hvacr industry is a very diverse industry. Hvacr cannot be taught in two or four years of schooling. The more teachers attempt to teach sections of the entire industry…the more watered down the education becomes. Graduates will know a little about everything, but have weak and limited core competencies that would allow them to perform tasks. Many teachers have not had the administrative leadership and or curriculum flexibility to correct this issue.

Smaller hvacr programs that have only one or two full-time teachers have tremendous responsibilities and very difficult challenges. The day-to-day challenges necessary to keep a program operational include, but are not limited to, inventory and ordering supplies, software, computers and keeping hands-on equipment operational, partnering with their industry, recruiting students, placing graduates, budgeting curriculum revision and development, lesson planning, audio-visual development, laboratory and information sheet development, assessment and grading, discipline and behavior issues, and so on. It takes a willingness to work long hours to do it all effectively.

There are some of those “Champions” in our schools, but not enough. Many have found greener pastures.

What can our industry do? Plenty! Graduates from good vo-tech schools are in much greater demand than supply. Good, solid careers at excellent salaries abound for these graduates.

The majority of service technicians are recruited to hvacr by family, friends, and neighbors, not the school system, as recently revealed and reported from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) career development survey. The fact that most contractors are “growing” their own technicians in-house does not mean that we as an industry can afford to lose schools as a workforce resource.

So where is the bacon? Look in the mirror. If we are going to affect a change in the community schools, you and only you can make a difference.

Contractors must become active participants in their schools’ decision-making by partnering. Other industries are vying for the same strong programs in their disciplines (and their students) as we are. If we are not proactive in building the right programs for young people, other industries will be hiring the graduates. Building partnerships will take time and effort, but the rewards can be immense. Not only will there be intrinsic rewards with these new-found partnerships, the possibility of bringing home the bacon to grow your business are real.

Dick Shaw

Technical Education Consultant

Air Conditioning Contractors of America Washington, DC