Hands-on training is mission-critical, both at Peterman and CPI.
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Training Exemplified

July 26, 2021
Two plumbing contracting companies from different parts of the country share the same belief that in-house training is critical and having fully-trained employees reflects highly on their respective companies.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN and MT. VERNON, WA — One could say that the emphasis put on training today is as important as ever. With COVID, and virtually no face-to-face interaction, contractors relied on manufacturer Zoom training webinars, national and local association virtual seminars, or anywhere else they could find that ever-elusive advantage of training classes. During the height of the pandemic, you’d be hard pressed to find any of the irreplaceable, on-on-one, hands-on live training. With COVID restrictions loosening, however, training across the country is starting to slowly open back up to live, in-person training.

But what about contractor training without even having to leave the shop? More companies are setting up in-house training so that their employees get the best, and latest, training added to their repertoire.

Two contracting companies are doing just that.

Peterman Brothers

Peterman Brothers (formerly Peterman Heating, Cooling & Plumbing), Indianapolis, decided over the last few years that training is too important. With co-owners Chad and Tyler Peterman at the helm, the company supports the development of skilled workers through its Peterman Top Tech Academy, a trade school dedicated to restoring honor and tradition to the skilled trades.

“We reached a point where we couldn’t recruit enough job-ready people to keep up with demand,” says Chad Peterman. “We turned to the school in order to find great people and train them on the technical skills. The school started in October and we have trained almost 30 technicians. We are taking a break for the summer and will start a new class in September of 2021 with a class of around 15 more technicians,” continues Chad.

CPI Plumbing & Heating

In the Pacific Northwest, CPI Plumbing & Heating, Mt. Vernon, WA, chose to invest heavily in developing the technical skills of local high school grads, working with various vendors, such as Uponor, and suppliers to create a 2,500-sq.-ft. learning facility from the ground up. The key to the company’s training effort lies in its recently completed “Training Lab” where young apprentices get to practice the skills taught in the company’s classroom.

For CPI owners Brad Tully and Michael (Oly) Olsen, developing a team of properly trained plumbing and HVAC service technicians is a task just as important as—if not prerequisite to—successfully managing the day-to-day operations of this fast-growing company.

“There is no perfect system to find the right people, and it is pretty easy to get disillusioned. So many high school guidance counselors still think every student needs to go to college to have a meaningful life. It makes no sense to me. Kids need to hear the message that the trades are a real career option that can provide a good living, post-apprenticeship training,” says Steve Murray, a 35+-year veteran of the PHCP industry and currently HVAC Division Manager at CPI.

But let’s put it this way: “The closest training center to Mt. Vernon is 50 miles away, and it isn’t practical to ask guys who have already worked a full day to drive 90 minutes in rush-hour traffic to get to a training class. While there are a few local colleges with some HVAC classes, there is nothing in plumbing. Nor did the available curriculum offer any hands-on learning, which we believed essential,” says Murray.

CPI is confident that the people they do bring in will become better technicians. “We have the confidence that the people we train know how to do things correctly. So much of what goes on in the trades is learning, one person to another. That system relies 100 percent on the person doing the training, teaching the right way to do the work. Without standardized curriculum, that is a crapshoot. The Training Lab allows us to make sure, before we send anyone into the field, they are trained to do work correctly—the way we want it done,” says Murray.

Finding Satisfaction in Teaching

Back in Indy, the message is clear about recruiting those that reflect the values of Peterman Brothers. “We find good people by being very clear about our values. We make sure people we bring on our team live the same values the company lives by and we focus on educating them on the technical aspects of the trade,” says Tyler Peterman.

Top Tech Academy plumbing instructor Drew Gomez says he has found his calling as plumbing trainer at Peterman Brothers, and he loves teaching. “This is the most gratifying work that I have ever done. To see a student perform a task and stand back and look at what they have accomplished is an amazing feeling. Just to see their face light up is super cool,” says Gomez.

According to Top Tech Academy HVAC instructor Alan Richardson, the HVAC industry is constantly changing. For example, there are changes in government regulations regarding the environmental safety of refrigerants used in the equipment as well as increasing standards for efficiency, says Richardson.

“Manufacturers have to make changes in their equipment to meet the new standards. They are using more advanced controls and electronics and different materials to increase efficiency while trying to keep costs from rising. This means new technology for technicians to learn as well as new methods for making repairs,” says Richardson.

Great Attracts Great

The benefit of training at Top Tech and at Peterman is invaluable, says Richardson. “Here at Top Tech Academy, we pay our students to learn and do not charge them for the training. And they are in a company vehicle running their own calls within a few months. The fact we had 600 applicants for our first class last fall speaks to the value we are providing with our Academy. I am excited to be a part of something that is so valuable for our students, as well as with Peterman,” says Richardson.

With three full-time recruiters in-house, Chad Peterman says great attracts great. “We have a huge internal referral program. Our belief is that great people hang out with other great people. I think regardless of the channel you use, you must have recruiting champions in the building focused on bring people in each and every day.”

Yet with COVID, it really forced Peterman Brothers to think creatively. “It made us think outside the box, but we learned from every challenge. We have actually added activities we came up with during COVID to the actual training,” says Chad Peterman.

For Peterman Brothers, training is paramount, and will continue to be. “The school is obviously the largest symbol of our commitment to training, however, we also have an internal director of training along with two additional trainers that are constantly training people. A lot of people talk about training and we were just as guilty. Today, we are making a true commitment to training,” says Tyler Peterman.

Training Resources

Association for Career & Technical  Education (ACTE) https://www.acteonline.org/

ACTE’s mission is to provide educational leadership in developing a competitive workforce by empowering educators to deliver high quality CTE programs that ensure all students are positioned for career success    

Bell & Gossett Little Red Schoolhouse http://bellgossett.com/training-education/

The Little Red Schoolhouse is a completely equipped learning center that has trained more than 60,000 engineers, contractors and installers in the proper design, installation and maintenance of hydronic and steam systems. Opened in 1954, it offers seminars covering a wide range of topics tailored to different occupations in the industry. Attendance is by select invitation only.

National Career Pathways Network (NCPN) http://www.ncpn.info/

The National Career Pathways Network (NCPN) is a membership organization dedicated to the advancement of Career Pathways, career technical education (CTE), and workforce development initiatives. NCPN’s membership encompasses secondary and postsecondary education, adult education, workforce development, economic development, workforce investment boards, correctional education, community-based organizations, and employers.      

The PHCC Educational Foundation www.phccfoundation.org/foundation

The foundation provides innovative educational programming to enhance the growth and success of the plumbing and HVACR industry workforce. They deliver educational programs and training aimed at industry employees at every stage of their career.

SkillsUSA www.skillsusa.org

SkillsUSA empowers its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens. The mission of the organization is to improve the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce through the development of SkillsUSA Framework skills that include personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics.

Uponor www.uponor-usa.com/en/training

Uponor offers a wide variety of in-person and e-learning education opportunities including the company’s IEQ webinar series, AquaSAFE qualification, Radiant Solutions and the Complete Polymer solutions program.

Viega www.viega.us/en/resources/training.html

The company's state-of-the-art seminar center is one of the best ways to stay up to date on the latest in piping technology. For those who can’t make it to a Seminar Centers, Viega can still deliver a hands-on experience through a Viega Works session; technical consultants bring real world experience, industry knowledge and engagement direct to your location on camera.

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