More than 500 HVAC educators attended HVAC Excellence, the National HVACR Educators and Trainers Conference, here at the South Point Hotel, March 18-21.

Attendees participated in approximately 40 sessions — including “Smart System Technologies,” “Sustainable Technologies in the Classroom,” “Soft Skills Training in the Classroom,” and “Teaching Customer Relations.” During a general session, employment trends and how this affects the education and training process were discussed. Richard Holden, regional commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provided attendees with the National Employment Outlook to the Year 2020.

Holden discussed how the HVACR industry will grow by 33.7% by 2020 while the growth for all occupations in the U.S. is only expected to grow by 14.3%. The HVACR industry will grow by nearly 20% more than all other occupations in the U.S. In addition, the BLS projects that 31.2% of HVACR service personnel will retire and will need to be replaced by 2020. In summary by the year 2020, 65.6% of service persons in the HVACR industry will be people that are not in the industry today.

Focus on Sustainability
Executive Director of the Green Mechanical Council, Steven H. Allen, discussed that the retirement of many professionals in the industry affects not only technicians, but also the educators that train them.

Allen reviewed the elements necessary for training technicians in sustainable technologies. He also addressed the need to change the baseline knowledge of the persons entering the industry, so they understand concepts and terminology related to sustainable HVACR and electrical systems, energy-efficiency concepts, energy management and alternative energy systems.

“Instructors now need to go back and look at curriculums, sustainable technologies need to be incorporated,” said Allen. “The younger generation has grown up in a digital age. Now we have students that are not familiar with using tools, so we also need to go back to the basics.”

Coinciding with Allen’s remarks about sustainability, there were a variety of sessions about the topic, such as Green Awareness, focusing on the basics of concepts, terminology, systems and technology and how to incorporate this into training. A Smart System Technologies session focused on Smart HVAC systems and how to best prepare students to install and troubleshoot them. Allen also presented a Green Roundtable session in which participants discussed how to establish a curriculum covering technologies such as wind, solar and HVACR.

Darrow Soares, Department of Labor grant director and professor of air conditioning and refrigeration at Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, CA, said that the Smart Systems Technology session was one of the sessions of most interest to him.

“This session is a strong signal that manufacturers are ready to support instruction for smart systems and serial communicating equipment at the residential and light commercial level,” said Soares. “This has become an entry level requirement. The only way we can get this information into the classroom, is for industry to support the instruction. Tangible resources were made available by Daikin, Danfoss and Robertshaw, to name a few.”

According to Lou Vendrell, education supervisor at Lincoln Technical Institute, Union, N.J., Certified Master HVACR Educator, and National HVACR Curriculum Council Chair, the main benefits of attending the conference were learning about the latest in green technology advancements and how they can be presented to students, and the latest in teaching delivery methods.

“The subject matter that I was most interested in was the green building technologies subjects,” explained Vendrell. “Lincoln was presented with the Green Mechanical Council School of Distinction Award because we are aggressive in implementing innovative green technology programs in the industry. The need for us to stay ahead of the green technology advancements is pivotal to our success.”

Other schools that received the Green Mechanical Council’s School of Distinction Award for excellence in green and sustainable education in the growing field of energy conservation are:

  • Dysart United School District, Shadow Ridge High School, Surprise, AZ;
  • Houston Community College, Northeast Campus/Energy Institute, Houston, TX;
  • Harrisburg Area Community College, Green Center of Central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA.

Soft Skills a Must
During the conference’s opening general session, Steve Coscia, president of Coscia Communications Inc., discussed soft skills and how they are a must for every technician and also instructors.

Coscia noted that his company conducted a survey designed to assess the value added to service companies by trade schools, and the two top areas contractors want to see improvement in are technical skills and soft skills.

Coscia continued to discuss soft skills in the session "Soft Skills Training in the Classroom." He began the session showing a short video of a technician, arriving at a customer’s home in truck. Coscia then asked attendees to shout out what stuck out to them in the video.

Attendees’ responses were: no company name on truck, how the technician was dressed — no uniform, driving on the lawn, parking in the driveway, and sitting in the truck after arriving.

“It’s all about biases, assumptions and perceptions,” said Coscia. “What may a customer think if a tech shows up on time, but sits in the truck for a while? The customer is then assuming they are being charged for him sitting in the truck.”

Soft skills help technicians with customers and advance their careers, continued Coscia.

“A tech with proper soft skills goes a long way,” said Coscia. “A key soft skill is listening and surveying the scene. A tech also needs to know when it’s a good time to bring something up. This is the Halo Effect… When a customer has confidence in a technician it’s easier for them to like them.”

Coscia also pointed out that congruency — when things are in harmony — is paramount for service companies.

“Congruency happens when a customer has an idea about a brand, if they think it looks nice and then they experience behavior that is nice, then this is a powerful force,” said Coscia. “When employees think of themselves they see themselves at the bottom of the organizational chart. However, customers see it different. In their frame of mind, the most important part is the service professional. That person represents congruency with the brand. The people you are training in classrooms play a vital role with future employers’ companies.”

Different Generations
Regarding the younger generation coming into the HVAC field, Coscia said that this generation is changing things greatly. “The younger generation gets it, and as instructors we need to have patience and we can learn from them,” said Coscia. It’s a different world now. People born after 1980 were raised with a different dynamic. This just means that generations are different, but they all need to be taught soft skills.”

In the session, "Motivating Your Students, "Brian Byrom of NARS Training Systems pointed out that since 2001, 5.5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. “Think of this as in terms of people,” stated Byrom. “Many of them are finding a need to retrain themselves. Many of them flock to our industry. These people are already mechanically inclined. They have to rethink what they have learned. I have seen an influx of 50-, 60- and early 70-year-olds coming into my class, along with the younger generations.”

Byrom said that the industry has always depended on the younger labor force for the brunt of the work. “Being a contractor myself, I do find that we are running low on dependable young people coming in to our industry,” explained Byrom. “However, as an instructor I find that the ones who will ‘stick it out’ for at least one year do seem to have better attitudes and higher work ethics. These are the ones who are not necessarily interested in immediate gratification more than learning at a deeper level, which is what it takes to be successful in our industry.” Byrom also advises contractors to bridge the generation gap between employees.

“Employers who wish to continue company growth must be willing to bridge that generational gap,” said Byrom. “Provisions have to be made to allow the younger generation to ‘bloom.’ Older technicians bring lots of experience to the table whereas many times the younger generation will bring a higher understanding of technology and evolving trends. An employer who will accept and cultivate these will be successful for years to come.”

Customer Relations
According to Frank Besednjak of The Training Source, customer relations is the weakest link in the industry today. Besednjak spoke about this topic in the "Teaching Customer Relations" session.

“If people don’t learn to communicate correctly things don’t happen,” said Besednjak. “Impression and image plays a part too. I find that techs are good with the technical skills, but usually need to improve their soft skills, etc. Everything we do relates back to the customers.” Besednjak went on to explain the Customer Satisfaction Pyramid, which is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The bottom level of the pyramid is basic needs of the customer, such fixing the equipment correctly, feeling safe and not being taken advantage of. The top level of the pyramid is to be a friend to the customer and take care of them.

“Your actions need to reflect your attitude that they are your friend,” explained Besednjak. “This may be routine to you (the tech), but it is not routine to them. No service call is never routine! That’s one thing you want to hammer home. Everyone is the customer relations manager. It’s everyone’s job to make the customer happy.” HVAC Excellence is a not for profit organization that works to improve competency through validation of the technical education process through programmatic accreditation, student outcome assessments, technician certifications, educator credentialing and professional development.

HVAC Excellence is an affiliate of the ESCO Group. Additional information is available at: hvacexcellence.org.