I'm sure many of you have heard about the "graying" of the HVACR workforce, especially the service techs and installers. I remember hearing one statistic that the average age of an HVACR service tech is 41. It makes me wonder about the average age of a copy machine repair technician. Some of the ones I've seen would pass for high school students.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a high school classroom and training lab. It was occupied by about 20 students and this year's HVACR Instructor of the Year, James Bergmann. I was visiting Bergmann at Cuyahoga Valley Career Center in Brecksville, Ohio, to conduct an interview for my feature on him, which ran last week ("Top Instructor Embodies Professionalism," Nov. 8).

What struck me at first was the good-natured atmosphere in the lab. The young men seemed to take a genuine interest in what they were doing and took time to help each other when a question arose. At times, Bergmann reminded me of some of my teachers in high school - he knew when to watch and when to teach. These kids were getting it because of Bergmann's approach to education.

I attribute a lot of the success of the hands-off method I saw him using that day in the lab to a lot of hands-on training earlier in the year.

At the beginning of each semester, Bergmann teaches his kids by having them perform the actual set-up and installation of each of the mechanical systems in the shop. He doesn't ask any seasoned veterans to come in and lend a hand, nor does he do the work himself, although he will pick up a wrench when necessary.

Each student has the opportunity to set up a complete HVAC system, from the air handlers to ductwork, from piping to controls, and eventually to the furnaces, condensing units, or boilers. I have to believe that these young men take ownership of their systems.

I think this makes the students more attentive to what they are doing, and it gives them more satisfaction to know they can install a system and troubleshoot it with confidence.

That's Why There's Hope

I think of Bergmann's students as the hope for the future of the HVACR trade. If this handful of guys can demonstrate such a passion and interest in a successful HVACR career, think what would happen if other schools could model themselves after this course of instruction.

I am sure that the same thing is happening in other college and vo-tech schools across North America. The News is fortunate to visit and spotlight the best of the best. And many of these schools are preparing students for NATE certification testing, which is vital to the success of contracting firms.

I would like to think that there are many more like Bergmann and the dozens of other instructors who have told their stories through the "Instructor of the Year" profiles and other features throughout the years.

Note that I said dozens. That's a very small percentage of those who are responsible for adding a little color to the graying of our HVACR workforce. The News has only scratched the surface when it comes to spreading the word about our best educators.

Some of the young men I met that day may go on to become the best in their field. They may become business owners. Whatever HVACR endeavor they choose, they will have James Bergmann to thank.

Who do you have to thank for your success?

John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-786-1390 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 11/15/2004