Training Goes Beyond Vo-Tech Schools

The article on vocational schools ["Vocational Schools: Striving To Provide Quality Workers," June 13] by Mark Skaer was a very good article.

We work with several vo-tech schools in our area. They are not quite up to par with Rankin or Ferris State University. My comments may very likely not apply to the caliber of these two.

The local vo-techs we associate with are much like the vo-techs across the country. They are trying very hard to turn out good students, for a tech school, with varying degrees of success, for a variety of reasons, most Mark touched on in his article.

For the reasons mentioned and others, we took a different approach. Instead of looking at graduates from a vo-tech school as ready to be put in a truck and given calls, we use them as apprentices and give them the NATE [North American Technician Excellence] training to get certified for Core, air distribution, gas heat, A/C, and heat pumps, and we tied to the passing of NATE certifications a pay raise.

This has been a motivator. We view the vo-techs as having the ability to send us someone who knows the theory, has a few fundamentals, and has a desire to grow in the HVACR industry.

We recognize that before these graduates could make us money, we would need to invest more in them to hone their skills. Fortunately, the owner of our business had the foresight to be willing to invest in these young people. He has been doing this for the last four years with success.

We felt the NATE certification coming was a great opportunity to do some training to get the technician certified. But more importantly, the knowledge, which is far more valuable than the certification, is what we want the men to have.

We felt that we, as a responsible contractor, should shoulder the responsibilities of training our employees. We could either 1) train them in-house or 2) pay someone to teach them, provided their curriculum was meeting our goal.

We established our goal as training our technicians, so that they have the knowledge to pass the NATE certification [tests]. We thought this should be a no-brainer, since RSES [Refrigeration Service Engineers Society] and others offer the training materials for NATE certification specifically. With many training facilities in our area, we felt that if we just found the facility that offers the NATE certification training, then we have found our training program.

After contacting all of the training facilities in our area, we found that no one was offering training for NATE certification.

Each of these facilities, however, tried to sell us their training program as part of what we needed, and then use another facility for the other parts of our training needs. Had we followed their suggestions, we would have had a mish-mash of training with voids, and more time and money invested.

We spent two years training and perfecting the training, so it only covered [material for] the NATE certification. We found that just the NATE training from their curriculum has made a big difference in those who have taken it, not only in skill level, but attitudes are improved because they have success, which builds their confidence.

We are working with other people to start a school to train for NATE and RSES certification. We have found this to be the best and fastest way to upgrade our staff, and would like to offer it to others.

I think the contractor must have a mindset change on vo-tech schools from "I want a finished product" to "I want someone who is willing and capable of learning" and "I will participate in getting them trained."

There is only one reason for this: The vo-tech schools only have these students for 6 to 9 months, and they get the theory. Why don't they get the experience? Because they are busy teaching theory and fundamentals. No one likes to admit it, but to get a tech you can count on, it takes two years.

NATE certification is intended to be for a service tech with experience, according to NATE. Utilizing their training program on vo-tech grads while they are working, we are able to accelerate their learning curve. We are seeing some excellent results.

We realized we had two choices:

  • Do not train, so if they [the technicians] leave and go to the competition, they don't get a good tech; or

  • Train and make a good tech and keep them.

    The main reason we opted for No. 2 was, after thinking about it, we were afraid if we didn't train them, what if they stayed?

    As our industry is rapidly changing, so is the way we deal with our employees, vendors, and customers. We must do all of this and still make a profit.

    Jim Yockey
    Service Department Manager
    American Mechanical Group Inc.
    Columbus, Ohio

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    Publication date: 11/14/2005