Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Challenge

The coming year promises to be a busy one for anyone teaching HVAC/R. Enrollments are up at schools across the country as people turn to trade schools and technical colleges to increase their employability and earning potential. This is happening at a time when many schools are experiencing budget cuts due to the lagging economy. Other challenges are posed by significant industry changes starting in January due to the elimination of HCFC 22 in new equipment. The year ahead is starting to look like a difficult year. But these events also have a significant potential upside. First, business is booming. The HVAC/R industry has been wishing for years that more people would choose to enter this field because the qualified labor pool keeps shrinking while the need continues to grow. We now have a unique opportunity to help the HVAC/R industry and technical education as well. If we can turn this bumper crop of students into a bumper crop of trained HVAC/R personnel we can make a sizeable dent in the technician deficit and prove the value of the technical education system at the same time. The graduates of Air Conditioning Programs all over the country will be entering the job market just as significant new technologies are being adopted. Technicians who understand how to handle the newer refrigerants, who can work with the increasingly sophisticated control systems, and who read and follow manufacturer’s instructions and technical bulletins will quickly establish themselves as industry leaders. They are the future of both the HVAC/R industry and technical education.

I can hear you saying “how am I supposed to teach more students and adopt newer technology while my budget is being cut?” I will readily admit that is a big challenge, but it is not insurmountable. First, choose course materials that provide a lot of bang for the buck. I believe that Fundamentals of HVAC/R provides an unmatched value for HVAC/R course materials. One text can be used throughout the program, saving on textbook costs. The text is provided with many free additional resources including a powerpoint presentation for each unit in the book, a large test bank of questions, a test generation and management application, and an instructor’s guide that provides a detailed lesson plan for every unit in the book including suggested class activities. However, the really unique feature is the complete turnkey online module, MyHVACLab. Online course delivery and management is the newest buzz in technical education. MyHVACLab is not simply a set of questions that can be imported into a course you are constructing with Blackboard or Angel, it is an already constructed course complete with questions, interactive learning activities, animations, powerpoint presentations, and troubleshooting simulation software. It is ready to go out of the box. However, you are not confined to the default course, you can still build or customize courses any way you want. But with MyHVACLab, you can start with a complete course. To learn more about MyHVACLab click on Fundamentals of HVAC/R.

The payoff for adopting on-line course material is more than the fact that it can simplify your life. Having on-line course material impresses administrators. Your chance of successfully competing for scarce financial resources increases when you give administrators something they can show off. People invest in success. If you show success integrating online technology with your curriculum resources will follow.

Another way to stretch your training dollars is to utilize free online materials available from equipment manufacturers. It takes an investment of time to find them, but many OEM parts manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and even wholesalers have articles, animations, powerpoints, and educational material available online to anyone who wants to download it. This material does often come in the form of product promotion, but it is typically professionally produced, technically accurate, and free.

Talk to local distributors, wholesalers, and contractors about equipment donations. Often they can get more by way of tax writeoff for a scratch and dent special or an old model by donating it to you than if they sold it. All manufacturers send equipment to third party testing organizations for testing. Afterwards, this equipment cannot be sold as new even though it only operated for a few hours. Again they can probably do better financially by donating the equipment.

Make your own trainers. Who knows better what you need to train with than you? You already have or can get the parts, and you have slave labor (students). The students building the trainers receive great experience doing things you might not be able to have all students do. Future students receive the benefit of using a trainer designed by the person who knows the most about what your students need – you.

This all boils down to one thing: you are being presented with both the challenge and opportunity to work harder than you have ever worked before. By accepting the challenge you have the power to make a positive impact on the lives of your students and on the industry as a whole.

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