One section of the lab, with fully-functioning (well, when they haven't been "sabotaged" to give students problems to solve) water heating appliances.
Twofer Photo A 5e70e524df982

Twofer

March 17, 2020
Instead of trying to compete with other contractors for techs, one owner decided to develop his own.

The answer came from out of my sight and out of the blue. It was correct, which was a little shocking, and spoken with a certain confidence. I was teaching a class of 24 techs in my new favorite classroom, if you could call it that, because it is much more; it is an Academy.

This is the idea of a couple of guys from a medium-sized local HVAC contracting outfit. One guy owns the place, while the other guy runs the place. For the past ten years they have wanted their own training center to develop their own techs, train techs from the large apartment complexes they work for, and train techs from around the country. Last year they got busy and built something that rivals the best training centers at the best manufacturers.

Actually, it is a 7,500 square foot training center with 70 working labs, including six fully functional hot water boilers. The actual classroom is equipped with one of those 86” touch screen computers you see on TV crime dramas. The wholesaler I work for and our vendors contributed more than half the equipment. This class was the twofer, two hours of steam heating using the giant screen displaying page after page of my book, Linhardt’s Field Guide to Steam Heating (available electronically for free at steamupairoutwaterback.com). The other two hours were spent with the working hot water boilers.

I asked the question out in the lab. The answer was from the kid. He’s making progress.

Heaven knows I like good equipment, logically thought out displays, and professional quality installations. This place has all of that in spades, but what I think sets them apart is their training philosophy.

In most markets, the good service techs are in high demand, and they know it because they get offers to work at other HVAC companies on a regular basis. Owners of HVAC companies are tripping over each other trying to hire away techs. Techs are making salary and benefit demands to their bosses that years ago would have been laughed off.

This owner recognized the dilemma and decided to try something different. Instead of trying to compete with other contractors for techs, he decided to develop his own, with a couple of interesting twists.

For years our guys have been developing a screening process for new hires to identify what position fits with the new hire’s personality. They have figured out which guy or gal would do better as an installer or as a service tech, then they tailor their training accordingly.

Their passion for developing new techs is evident as they describe their process. They truly want them to succeed and to ensure that they provide a success coach for each one. The first step is to build confidence. The second step is to establish confidence. The rest is to nurture that feeling for the tech, by never getting them in a situation that they aren’t trained to handle.

Once in the training program, the tech is highly trained in only one aspect of HVAC, like the fall clean and check of hot water boilers. Upon completion, the tech is only sent on that type of job. Also, they are sent on their own, without influence from a veteran tech.

Techs can call their success coach from the job site for help. The initial group of trainees called from about every job for the first month, about 50% during the second month, and now they call less than 15% of the time as their skills and confidence develop. They are now producing revenue at or above the rate of “seasoned” techs.

In this age of the internet, the new techs also have access to an exclusive online library of HVAC how to videos/tutorials on a tablet device. Again, the new techs used this service a lot at first, then decreased the frequency of visits as time went on.

There is no free lunch. The new hire tech for National Heating and Air Conditioning does not pay up front for the training. However, they do sign a contract to work for a certain amount of time to pay back for the training. Once that period is over, the tech can sign up for more training in another aspect of HVAC. The long term plan has techs learning certain skills, paying off that training by applying their newfound skills in the field, then going back to the academy to learn new skills. This concept is the model that other HVAC contractors are exploring as well when sending their techs to National Trade Academy. Learn, work, repeat. Learn, work, repeat.

Eventually, the new hire is well trained without taking on any student debt and the company has an employee that is confident in their skills, producing good revenue and likely to stay.

Students looking to get into HVAC pay up front for their training. The other 64 work stations include twelve work stations of an air handler with a hot water coil, outdoor condensing unit and video monitor for service training, twelve work stations of a gas furnace, outdoor condensing unit and video monitor for service training, twenty work stations for hands on electrical wiring training, and twenty closets with crawl space below for installation training. Classes stay small and focused. For more information, visit nationaltradeacademy.com.

As of this writing, I have taught three classes at the Academy. Each group was very impressed with the facility and its potential to develop their skills. The time goes fast as the techs ask questions about the equipment that is right in front of them. You can see the wheels turning in their minds as the boilers fire up, water temps rise, and pumps circulate. It is hard to get that response from a PowerPoint presentation.

Next month, per the kid’s request, we will talk about air control in hot water heating systems. It’s not as simple as adding an automatic air vent.

Patrick Linhardt is a thirty-five-year veteran of the wholesale side of the hydronic industry who has been designing and troubleshooting steam and hot water heating systems, pumps and controls on an almost daily basis. An educator and author, he is currently Hydronic Manager at the Corken Steel Products Co.

About the Author

Patrick Linhardt

Patrick Linhardt is a thirty-seven-year veteran of the wholesale side of the hydronic industry who has been designing and troubleshooting steam and hot water heating systems, pumps and controls on an almost daily basis. An educator and author, he is currently Hydronic Manager at the Corken Steel Products Co.

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