KNOXVILLE, TENN. — For every four skilled workers that leave the construction industry, only one is entering the field. It’s a fact this industry faces, and one that motivates Gordy Noe, president of Pioneer Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Knoxville, Tennessee, to do something about it.
For many students college is the answer, but for many other students it could be trade school. For other students it may be a combination of on-the-job apprentice training with either trade school or some specific college courses.
“Did you know that around 20% of people that get a degree actually go into the field they studied?” asked Noe. Careful planning with all the right information could save families hard earned money, help the economy and potentially give a young person a jump start to their future.
Recruitment of young skilled tradespeople has been a challenge of late. “Everyone at Career Day walks right past our booth,” said Noe. Since he became president of the PHCC—Knoxville Chapter a year and a half ago, Noe, and other members, have been looking for ways to revive interest in vocational training programs.
The former National PHCC HVAC Contractor of the Year, Noe is spearheading a new statewide “Ride and Decide” job shadowing pilot program for the skilled trades. The genesis for the idea came last summer when Noe welcomed in a high school student to work at Pioneer Heating and Air — something he has done periodically over the years — and it occurred to him that this was the program model they wanted.
What better way to get young people interested in the trade than to “dip their toes in the trade water” and pair students with industry contractors.
Through partnerships with local businesses and school systems, the program will pair students with various trade contractors to provide paid jobs during schools' summer breaks.
According to Don Lawson, director of Career, Technical and Adult Education at Knox County Schools, the Ride and Decide program will give students a hands-on experience outside of the classroom.
This five-week summertime program allows attendees to experience all parts of the business, from installation to service to sales. “The student gets a little taste of the entire business,” said Noe. Through partnerships with local businesses and school systems, the program will pair students with various trade contractors to provide paid — at least minimum wage — jobs during summer breaks. “We are trying to give students an education during the summer, so that they can make an educated decision as to whether they need to go to college or they need to go to trade school, or it may be a mixture of both,” said Noe.
And the PHCC isn’t interested in restricting the program to plumbing, heating and cooling contractors alone. “Welding, trucking, electrical — we need all trades well represented, so the kids can choose one they like,” Noe said, adding that he is currently working to recruit enough businesses to meet students’ needs. “We have nearly 50 businesses committed right now with about that many more committed verbally, and we are looking to recruit another 50 by summer.”
Noe explains further that each apprenticeship lasts approximately one month out of the summer; this gives individuals the chance to experience more than one industry per summer.
Noe believes Ride and Decide will be a win-win for everyone. It helps reinvigorate schools’ vocational programs, gives high school students more options after graduation, and potentially provides industry with more skilled workers.
“Without this program I probably, still, would have no idea what I want to do,” said Ty Killen, a participant in last summer’s Ride and Decide program.
To qualify for the Ride and Decide program, www.rideanddecide.com, students must be at least 16, have completed their sophomore year of high school, maintain at least a C average and have an excellent attendance record, among other requirements.
If it's successful, Noe will help launch the program statewide, and then nationally. “If this pilot gains momentum, the plan is to take program and go national with it.”
For more information regarding the Ride and Decide program, contact Gordy Noe at 865-922-2817 or [email protected].