Giving Technical Education A Boost

Congratulations to the Oakland Technical Campus Southeast in Royal Oak, Mich., andThe Newsfor outstanding efforts in successfully launching a secondary school HVACR training lab that will be a wonderful asset to the Detroit metropolitan area.

Inspired by the establishment of a pilot program at Custer High School in Milwaukee involving many ARI [Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute] members, The News showed wonderful enterprise in enlisting the HVACR industry in supporting the creation of this first-class facility, which now serves 31 students.

Congratulations, too, to instructor Rob Featherstone whose expertise, dedication, and enthusiasm for teaching will help many young people find rewarding and wonderful careers. The article detailing this outstanding project written by J.J. Siegel in the Oct. 25 issue of The News will prompt others to consider how they can launch an HVACR training program.

For a how-to manual based on the successful launch of the HVACR training program in Milwaukee, interested secondary or postsecondary school administrators can e-mail Ray Mach, director of education at ARI, at or write him at ARI, 4100 N. Fairfax Dr., Ste. 200, Arlington, VA 22203.

There is strong demand for competent, well-trained technicians in our industry. The News and the Oakland Schools Technical Campus are providing an important example of how this industry can work together to bring career opportunities to many more talented young people.

William G. Sutton
Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute
Arlington, Va.

Certification ... So What?

The letter from Reader Mail ("All In The Same Basket," Sept. 6) told the story of the business owner who hired the diploma holding, certificate card carrying technician who turned out to be, shall we say, less than competent. I could have guessed as much. As an individual who possesses several diplomas, certification cards, and wall certificates, I have always known their true practical value: I can take any one of them, along with a buck fifty, and get a cup of coffee at a waffle house.

The owner would have been much better off if the guy who wanted to work for free, "just to get some experience," had been the first to knock on his door. As "Dirty" Harry Callahan [the character played by Clint Eastwood in several movies] would put it, a good man knows his limitations.

As the owner of a one-man service business, I consider technical skills my most important asset, simply because most of my day involves "fixing" broken systems. My only certifications are those necessary to legally do business, and the only ones of importance to me. And oddly enough, I am rarely asked about certification. My customers don't care about credentials because they know I can fix their heat pump and not take all day to do it. Most assume I have all the legal credentials, but still probably don't care, so long as they don't have to buy a new heat pump system.

I'm sure the day will come when someone who has read something, somewhere about NATE will ask "the question." That inevitability, along with my primary equipment manufacturer pressing for NATE dealers, has prompted me to pursue the NATE program. At this point, I plan to get heat pump certification, but nothing else. Then, when asked if I'm NATE certified, I can honestly answer in the affirmative.

I'm not anti-certification or education. I subscribe to trade journals and attend seminars in an effort to continually increase my technical expertise. My state board recently began requiring very modest continuing education credits, which I thought was a splendid idea. It's just that certification cards or diplomas don't necessarily guarantee what they tend to imply, which is competence.

I encounter "certified professionals" all the time who, quite frankly, don't know jack about what they're supposed to be doing. Certainly, the certified guy or gal is better equipped than the one who buys a meter, set of gauges, and some business cards and opens shop. But certification alone, although a respectable accomplishment, isn't quite yet the best thing to come along since sliced bread and soft butter.

The only, although significant, shortcoming of certification is the absence of any absolute relationship between passing a test and effectively troubleshooting a heat pump or furnace.

I'm sure some people can read, comprehend, and retain test material, and subsequently apply that information in the field. But I suspect the majority of us require several years of battlefield experience to reach a level of professional competence. I didn't invent the expression "experience is the best teacher," but I have long been a believer in that wise proverb.

My point to all this is, simply, don't tell me, or my customers, that your NATE-certified tech is more competent, by virtue of his card, diploma, or whatever, because I know better. But go ahead and use "NATE-certified technicians" in advertisements to enhance your company image, if you like, just so long as you remember that certification card still won't buy a cup of coffee at a waffle house, and most likely won't increase your billable hours.

Wayne Shirley
Wayne Shirley Service Co. Inc.
Randolph, Ala.

Incentives For Hiring Ex-Convicts

[Editor's note: This letter is in response to the column, "Reader Mailbag: Prisoners, Certification," Aug. 23.]

I would like to know more about the eligibility for tax relief when an ex-felon is hired and about the federal bonding program. What are the details and who can one contact to find out about the details?

I believe this is a worthy enticement and should be made more commonly known. Little by little, the public and employers are awakening to the fact that reconstructive justice is a better option than vengeance, and ex-felons need some positive options for employment once they have served their sentences and are released.

John M. Lohbauer
M.C. Lohbauer Inc.
Elgin, Ill.

Send letters to Reader Mail, The News, P.O. Box 2600,Troy, MI 48007; fax to 248-362-0317; or e-mail to

Publication date: 11/15/2004