Some of the most valuable resources that HVAC students have are their professors – experienced professionals who have navigated the challenges of the industry and have become experts in their field. For their second challenge, we asked our Mission: HVAC participants to pick the brains of their professors and get their perspectives on HVAC education.

Stefan: The Fast Track to the American Dream

For my second mission I interviewed a Professor Pete Goodman from the HVACR program at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, FL. While Mr. Goodman is not my professor for my class, he has become a valuable resource for information as I climb the knowledge tree of the HVACR field.

Q1: What kinds of trends have your seen in HVAC education?

A: When I first started out in HVAC/R schooling in 1975 there was only a night course and it was from 6:00 to 9:00 at night. As students we only had window units to work on during the program at night, then would spend days trying to find old AC units that people were getting rid of and bring them back to the school to try and repair them. There were some programs that had more advantages but required a substantial amount of money. I thought things may have changed over the years for the better from 1975 to 2010 in educating students in A/C, but I was amazed that it really hadn’t evolved too much. Students were still starting out with the window units. The following year in 2011 we dropped window units from the program altogether and got more split units to work on. Things changed drastically over the following years. We have better funding from the state and federal levels and private companies have sprung up to lend resources to help the process. There are also many more resources at the educational level with companies printing up bigger and better instruction manuals with up to date information and technology changing the learning and teaching curve along with webinars, seminars, power points, graphic instruction and other portals available online. Things have grown by leaps and bounds for today’s new technicians entering this field of work.

Q2: How much education is required for different jobs in the HVAC field? What certifications are needed?

A: You do not need to be a rocket scientist to enter into the A/C field – as a matter of fact, you can enter most programs in an apprenticeship program that lasts four years and includes both on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Apprenticeships teach electronic and electrical components, airflow, schematic reading, pipefitting, sheet metal work, plumbing and refrigerant handling. You could enroll in a collegiate or vocational training program, obtaining EPA certification and state license and enrolling professional certification through the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute or program. Some programs offer the NATE and OSHA 15 or 30 safety programs to help build a solid foundation and resume for entering the field.

Q3: How has the shortage of skilled workers in the HVAC industry impacted trade education? Have you noticed a decline (or increase) in enrollment for HVAC programs or course study?

A: A shortage of all skilled workers has hit all trade and industrial fields with devastating consequences and really put the American tradesman at an all-time low. Among the most difficult jobs to fill in North America are those of the skilled manual trades – A/C technicians, electricians, carpenters and welders being the most in demand. Also taking hard hits are computer technology and other technical skills. By 2030 the last of the baby boomers will have reached retirement age and 77 million baby boomers will have left the workforce. Therefore, it is very important to train new people to pick up that shortage. There has been a lot more demand and a big push by local, state and federal agencies to help get more funding for training and to ensure growth of new members. I have seen a big surge in new students coming in for trade and industrial programs. No expensive payments hanging over these students’ heads when they graduate, and they have ability to make a nice paycheck in a high demand field.

Q4: What do you expect for the future of today’s HVAC students? What do their career prospects look like?

A: Today’s students have a very bright and promising future with the sky being unlimited for jobs and income. You can eventually become your own boss or manager with a company. A/C and refrigeration are here to stay. Your desire for a bright and happy life awaits those completing a program of their choice.

Q5: What are some of the biggest challenges faced by students entering this field? How can HVAC businesses help the up-and-coming generation of skilled workers?

A: The biggest challenge facing students entering into HVAC/R field is their desire to learn and master a trade by becoming a great technician. Their education will continue the rest of their lives with the learning of new technology that never stops evolving. Even as a teacher I must have continuing education and studies to keep up with all the new systems that will be coming our way such as Magnetic Refrigeration and membrane-based rooftop air-conditioners, electro-caloric solid state and so on. If you are going about it the correct way you will never stop learning. Local communities and A/C companies must step up to help make sure there are solid programs and training available for future students.

Stefan’s thoughts: Taking the time to absorb and reflect on my interview with not only a seasoned teacher, but a seasoned technician with years of experience has me wrapping my head around the same ideals that lead me to this field: there is an inordinate sized gap between those skilled technicians entering the HVAC field and leaving it. There is little to no doubt that initiative is not only welcomed but rewarded with the relatively lower overhanging time and financial commitments that the traditional approach to college can lead you. A little vision and a lot of effort can literally be the fast track to the American dream of self-employment and fulfillment. The glaring weakness seems to stem from a generational disconnect from the millennial age range that continue to show that many do not want to get out from behind a computer or phone to get into a hands-on work field. As someone making the transition late in life into this type of field, I encourage many of those looking for a different path to do some self-evaluation and mining of all the resources available to pursue a path in these trade fields. Thank you Shurtape for helping me define some more of my goals in HVAC.

Glenn: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Q1: What kind of trends have you seen in HVAC education?

A: More hands-on training and having several late model units available to train with. Students learn to take them apart, put them back together, start up the equipment, and how each item within the unit operates. Another trend is contractors looking at institutions for skilled students to join their companies, taking on students as interns, and even joining forces together to produce skilled and competent HVAC technicians.

Q2: How much education is required for different jobs in the HVAC field? What certifications are needed?

A: From day one in class you can get into the heating and cooling field. Work hours are required to obtain your Associates Degree, which helps you get your Journeyman license. Iowa is governed by the Mechanical System Board, so class time and work hours are required. Apprenticeship lasts for 4 years, and then you jump to Journeyman status. Another 2 years of on-the-job training is required to obtain a master’s license.

Q3: How has the shortage of skilled workers in the HVAC industry impacted trade education? Have you noticed a decline (or increase) in enrollment for HVAC programs or courses of study?

A: A lot of contractors are working with the trade school apprenticeship programs, as they see the need for quality technicians out there in the field, which has gone from a need to now requiring almost extreme measures to get quality technicians who can perform the tasks that are needed. It has created a glass ceiling for many contractors, as they can only take on a limited number of jobs and they can’t take on any more work they already have due to the lack of man power. Classes here at DMACC have been pretty popular. The trend is going up on enrollment with more people are signing up for classes. Classes are full for this fall – seven months out and we are full.

Q4: What do you expect for the future of today’s HVAC students? What do their career prospects look like?

A: Compared to when I got into the HVAC field, today its more technical and will be even more so in the future. The older techs try to fight it, but it’s coming down the pike regardless. Manufactures need to make more training available. More technology should also bring larger salaries. The need for technicians is great and getting greater.

Q5: What are some of the biggest challenges faced by students entering this field? How can HVAC businesses help the up-and-coming generation of skilled workers?

A: Students try to understand everything right away. They want to understand everything in the first two weeks, but in reality, it’s more of a marathon than a sprint. DMACC does a great job spreading it out over a two-year period. And that also why you have a four-year apprenticeship program. It just takes time, and you need that marathon mindset to keep plugging away at it. Manufactures do a good job of donating equipment for students to train on and making scholarships available to help pay for tuition and tools. Many contractors visit schools and hold workshops while trying to recruit students to work for them as interns while supporting them through their training.

Glenn’s thoughts: Adopting the marathon mindset – slow and steady, learning as much as you can from the experts, contractors and manufactures, will go a long way in educating up-and-coming HVAC technicians.