Earlier this year, I toldNewsreaders about a presentation that I made to a group of fourth-graders in my community (“Getting Fourth-Graders Interested In HVACR,” Feb. 24). The owner of a local heating and cooling business was on hand as we discussed the “fun” side of being a service technician. Since then I have spoken to many people about the topic of how to get young people involved in our trade, especially by using hands-on demonstrations. At the recent National Association of Oil Heat Service Managers (NAOHSM) Convention, I met a person who had an interesting story about getting some kindergarten children involved in the oil heat business.

Dennis Phelps is the operations manager for the Foley Oil Company Inc. in Laconia, N.H. Phelps was more than happy to talk about his program with me.

An Idea Takes Shape

Phelps indicated that his trade needs to attract young people. Nothing new here, right?

“It seems like a lot of the companies have openings or are in need of finding good people to get into the business and make a career out of it,” he said. “The most pressing need is in the service technician side of the business.

“So, at a NAOHSM monthly meeting in 2000, Al Little (an instructor at New Hampshire Tech) talked about his program, where he and some volunteers went into the career days at middle schools in the area and put on a presentation about the service side of the business. I volunteered to go along.

“Al explained some of the basic things and had some hands-on work for them to do. The kids seemed to like it, but I was not sure if they would have been there if they were not made to be there. At the time, Foley Oil had a big need to find techs. Al suggested that I go to the local high school and check out the plumbing and heating technical classes to see if we could find any students that might be good future techs.

“This was more of a disappointment than a help. There were only six kids in the class, and a few of them were there because it was the easy way out and they had no place else to go. I think at that point I started to realize that we needed to do something to attract new people into the business.

“At the same time, my daughter’s kindergarten class had been taking field trips to area businesses to see how they worked. I suggested to the Foley Oil marketing committee that this could be a good starting point to get the kids interested in the oil heat business.

“We all agreed and then went to the school and offered it to them. The school was more than willing to come with the children.”

Foley Oil Company And Elm Street School

Foley Oil owner Jeff Pierson picks up the story.

“This is a two-part field trip,” he said. “First the kids visit our convenience store. I spend time talking with the kids about gasoline and how it is important to observe safety rules. Then they go inside the store and are asked to stock the shelves in our walk-in coolers. It doesn’t last too long because most of them are dressed in T-shirts and shorts.”

Foley provides T-shirts for the kids each year as a souvenir of their visit.

“Then they are shown the security system,” Pierson continued. “From there they pick out a snack and are allowed to ring up the sale.”

After that, it is on to the bulk plant via a bus. The children are allowed to hold the oil hoses, climb on the oil trucks, and look inside the giant oil tanks. “We give them a lesson on where crude oil comes from and how it is processed,” Pierson said. “We have a poster showing the distribution system, including pictures of an offshore drilling rig.”

Pierson asked the kids if any of them recognized the Mobil-Exxon offshore platform. “One kid said, ‘Yes, my family stayed in that hotel once.’”

Elm Street School kindergarten teacher Sandra Jackson said the experience leaves a lasting impression. “The kids write stories about the oil business and draw pictures of where they have been,” she said. “Kids who visited last year are still talking about the trip.”

Jackson praised the Foley employees, too. “Those people are very patient. They must have children of their own.”

Jackson said the trip is part of a social studies program, teaching children all about a subject. “The kids learn about what happens before the heat gets turned on,” she said. “They understand why Mommy and Daddy have to pay for heat. Then they get to simulate filing up a home’s oil tank.”

The Side Benefits

It always helps when the field trip catches the eye of the local media. Pierson said that the Laconia Citizen took some photos last year and published one on the front page of the newspaper.

“The kindergartners get excited,” said Pierson. “The feedback has been great. According to the teachers, this is the field trip of the year. It has left a good impression.

“One of our drivers was delivering to a home and a little boy came up to him, saying, ‘I know who you are. You are Foley Oil and I get to come next year because I’m in Mrs. Jackson’s class!’ It makes us all feel good.”

Phelps said, “We all have a great time. We’ve done this for three years now and plan on doing it for a while. A lot of the kids count on this field trip because they have had a brother, sister, or friend who has told them all about it.”

Jackson mentioned one more perk of the field trips — the free T-shirt. “It has a picture of the Foley Oil truck on the back and each year they change colors. I have all three colors.”

The children may not grow up to be service technicians, but then again, some might. At least the Foley Oil/Elm Street School program has been successful in creating a lot of goodwill and awareness.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 06/30/2003