Technical Schools: A Good Place To Start

When I read the September 6 edition Reader Mail letter "All In The Same Basket," written by Miguel Barreto, I felt the need to respond to the letter. Not all HVACR technical/trade schools are "scams and rip-offs," but a good place to start a career in the HVACR field.

First, let me share a little background regarding my working career, although this letter is not intended to be about me. I started my career in the HVACR field about 18 years ago because of the unfortunate circumstance of being a displaced worker. (I was laid off from my high-paying manufacturing job due to corporate downsizing.) Knowing that I needed/wanted a job and not wanting to get caught up in the same scenario as before, I enrolled in a local technical school's Air Conditioning Technology program. After my initial training, I paid my dues working in the field as an HVACR service technician.

I worked as a service tech for several years while at the same time continuing my education. I suppose I finally reached the point where I might be considered an "experienced service technician."

However, I didn't start out "experienced," but I started out at "entry level." I think we would all agree that the learning curve involved in the HVACR field is continuous and ongoing.

I am now an HVACR instructor at a local technical college and can relate to most of Mr. Barreto's comments. I have worked in this industry as an HVACR service technician, service manager, facilities manager, and an HVACR instructor at a technical college.

My credentials include a diploma in Advanced Air Conditioning Technology from an accredited technical college, an Associate of Applied Science degree in Air Conditioning Technology and a bachelor's degree in business administration. I also hold a state Conditioned Air Contractors license as well as the necessary "certifications" required to work in the HVACR field. I believe many individuals have basically followed the same career path as I have, in that we started our HVACR career at a technical/trade school.

What do HVACR technical/trade schools teach? Well, I cannot speak for other HVACR programs, but I can speak for our program.

We teach the basics: fundamental physics (solids, liquids, gases, Rankine and Kelvin temperature scales, absolutes, etc.); heat transfer; pressure-temperature relationships; the basic vapor/compression refrigeration cycle; refrigeration system components; special refrigeration tools and equipment; piping and plumbing practices; basic electricity; electrical symbols and schematics; electric motors; electrical components; troubleshooting; heat-load calculations and duct design (ACCA manuals J & D); psychrometrics and properties of air; gas heat; heat pumps and related systems; and most important of all, safety. We require our students to take the EPA 608 refrigerant certification exam and pass types I and II at a minimum.

Our curriculum is based on the same HVACR industry educational standards as the major industry organizations, such as ARI, RSES, PAHRA, and HVAC Excellence. (Our program is accredited by HVAC Excellence.) We also have an advisory board comprised of individuals who are HVACR professionals and evaluate our program twice a year.

As an HVACR instructor, I have seen many students who have graduated from our program with "entry-level" skills and are now very successful in this field. (I also consider myself a former graduate who has achieved some level of success.) Many of them have started their own companies after working in the field a few years and have actually hired some of their fellow graduates as installers and service technicians. Some of them (former graduates) are doing quite well in their careers.

So, in regards to Mr. Barreto's letter, I must say that there are many technical/trade school HVACR graduates who are highly competent and productive service technicians and are helping to fill the gap of the technician shortage.

All technical/trade schools are not scams. Our institution has a performance accountability system (PAS) that monitors and maintains data regarding the placement and employment of our graduates. Our job placement coordinator conducts regular employer surveys to gather data on our HVACR program graduates' strengths and weaknesses.

Our organization also offers a guarantee to employers, which applies to every graduate. If the graduate is lacking in any area of his or her training, we will offer additional training to that individual at no cost to the graduate or employer.

Our HVACR graduates are generally prepared for "entry level" employment in the HVACR field. In addition, we also teach a series of lessons on work ethics as well as technical lessons and lab projects. The student receives a work ethics grade as well as an academic grade.

However, regarding the terms "entry level," I must say that every student who graduates from our program may not necessarily have the critical thinking skills, analysis skills, and mechanical aptitude needed to function as an HVACR service technician, although they might successfully complete the program requirements.

We all know that there is no substitute for practical field experience. Some of our graduates are ready for their own service truck the first day on the job. Others need a grooming period or apprenticeship period for a short time to help them get up to par in the real world. I suppose there are a few individuals who simply do not have what it takes to be a service technician (perhaps as in the case of Mr. Barreto's employee).

The bottom line is that we all have to start somewhere, and an accredited HVACR technical college or trade school program is a good place to start a career in HVACR. We are not born with knowledge; it has to be learned. All technical/trade schools are not scams but a good place to start learning HVACR.

Ricky Henson
Air Conditioning Technology Program
Griffin Technical College
Griffin, Ga.

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Publication date: 09/27/2004