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Apprenticeship Programs Benefit HVACR Contractors – and the Industry

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Apprenticeship programs can greatly benefit HVACR contractors and significantly advance the entire industry. Here are two programs that teach HVACR skills – and ways for contractors to help shape programs in their own area.

AACP Apprenticeship Program

The Association of Air Conditioning Professionals (AACP) offers a four-year apprenticeship program to meet needs of the HVACR industry, held at the Gudelsky Institute on the campus of Montgomery College in Rockville, MD, says Peter Constantinou, the association’s executive director. The program is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Bureau of Apprenticeship, and Maryland State Apprenticeship Council.

“Upon successful completion of this program, each apprentice will receive a career path, credits toward an associate degree from Montgomery College, and if all the requirements were met, the opportunity to receive a Maryland journeyperson’s license without having to sit for the exam,” Constantinou says.

Individuals enrolled in the apprenticeship program attend class two nights a week for seven months out of the year, he says. The related training is complimented by on-the-job training that the apprentice receives from their employer.

The instructors and staff with AACP want each apprentice to succeed both in the classroom as well as in the field, says Alyssa Etting, AACP program administrator.

“We want our contractors to be supportive of their apprentices not only in the field, but also during their classroom related instruction, being cognizant that their apprentices need to be in class on time,” Etting says. “We view our program as an investment in the future of the apprentice’s career, which then benefits the contractor.”

Mike Tucker, president of Tuckers Air Conditioning, Heating, and Plumbing in Gaithersburg, MD, agrees, adding that the accelerated learning process of the classroom instruction — combined with on-the-job-training — gives workers “a fast track to grow them from the ground up.”

“The biggest benefit to the contractor — and the employee — is that apprentices have higher aspirations and want to perform their work at a higher level than the average employee,” Tucker says.

Charlie Ayres, chief operating officer of Shapiro & Duncan in Rockville, MD, says that apprenticeship programs are critical to the industry because “the landscape has changed — we can’t place an ad in the newspaper and have a handful of qualified HVAC technicians respond.”

“The only way to fill those slots and have any hope of growing our business is to hire based on the potential you see in a person and train them — starting with an apprenticeship program,” Ayres says. “Yes, it is a long-term investment.”

Gateway Air Conditioning Contractors’ Apprenticeship Program

Gateway Air Conditioning Contractors in St. Louis, MO, is a trade association that provides a Labor Department apprenticeship program for the sheet metal, pipefitter, and HVAC occupations, says Kellie Jones, executive director. The program is geared for companies that don’t have access to a union program.

A committee of contractors helps the association develop program standards, which includes lists of skills that students need to master, Jones says.

“This is key especially as the industry evolves,” she says. “For example, geothermal didn’t exist in the list of standards 20 years ago, but it does today. Contractors’ input is key — we want to make sure the programs’ requirements evolve to what the technicians need to know and expected to learn.”

The apprenticeship program is a good framework for giving structured experience, moving technicians through the development of their skills, Jones says. “This is all about people — that is the business we’re in and investing in the development of technicians’ skills is imperative.

Corey Malone, president of Air Comfort Service Inc. in St. Louis, says Gateway’s program serves the local contractors, and is approved by the Labor Dept. so that each worker can be independently licensed.

“Gateway offers us the ability to have a young man or lady in a technical college enroll in the parallel apprenticeship program to give them the skills they need to work in our industry,” Malone says. “It’s a very qualified and affordable program for workers, because St. Louis requires individual licenses.”

Contractors Can Help Shape Programs

Longtime industry veteran Warren Lupson, executive director of the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) and co-chair of the ACCA-NCC/AACP Apprenticeship Committee, also judges the annual SkillsUSA HVACR competition for more than 100 different disciplines, including HVACR.

Apprenticeship programs can boost the industry, as long as contractors — as well as wholesalers and manufacturers in the area — are making sure the program teaches what they need – “and not what a school system thinks they might need,” Lupson says.

For instance, schools might not have in their curriculum some of the building automation or electronics, such as ECM motors, being used today, or they might not have the ability to get it changed without the urging of local businesses, he says.

“Contractors can and should foster relationships with school presidents, deans, provosts, and program directors to help guide what changes need to be made,” Lupson says. “Contractors can also loan HVACR equipment and tools to schools, so that students learn to work with the latest equipment, along with helping the school get items they need.”

Contractors can also come talk to the students in the classroom, showing them how the industry is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry – and why a STEM career can be sustainable, he says.

“Contractors should be the ones showing students why math is so important, giving them real-life problems to solve that pique their interest in math,” Lupson says. “If contractors don’t get involved hot and heavy with directing what apprenticeship programs should teach, we’ll lose a lot of grant money that could help improve our industry and get more people into it.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Posted In: ACCA Now, Management

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