|by Carol Fey
Continued education is the key to staying in the industry.There’s
no debate about it — there is a shortage of new guys in our
industry. We like to grumble and blame it on the new generation:
“Those kids just don’t like to work. They just don’t have the
skills.” I suspect though, that the exiting generation, whether
now or 50 years ago, typically sees the next generation as a
bunch of ungrateful lazy slobs.
“People from the whole spectrum complain that young people 1)
don’t want to get their hands dirty; 2) think they deserve a
wage of $20+/hour; and 3) don’t believe they need any education
of the trade,” says Carrie Polk, managing editor of a family
of regional industry newspapers. She talks to all levels of
people — contractors, distributors, manufacturers, educators.
“At the same time,” she notes, “educators complain that contractors
will hire only those with three to five years’ experience.”
Where are employees going to get the experience when it seems
that “contractors are too busy chasing a dollar to properly
train employees or even send them to classes?”
One educator in New Mexico cited the issue of states and school
districts cutting industrial arts from their course offerings,
either because of lower funding or because of safety issues
regarding the use of industrial equipment by minors.
So it looks like the would-be “newbie” to our industry needs
to be resourceful to figure out how to get enough training and
experience to be hired and stay in the industry.
Open Your Ears: One of my favorite “new guys” in the hydronic
heating business is Shaun Anderson. Some of you may have encountered
him signed on as “The Future” on Dan Holohan’s The Wall at HeatingHelp.com.
Shaun is proud of being the young guy in an established industry.
He’s been in the heating department at Rampart Supply in Colorado
Springs, Colo., for just a couple years. Everything’s new and
exciting to him. He says, “I got started first by having the
hunger and passion to want to learn.” Here’s what he does:
Listens to the guys he works with and picks up their knowledge
to get a feel for hydronic heating.
Works weekends installing tubing and piping boilers to get
a visual on things.
- Learns about equipment from local wholesalers and their employees.
Reads Dan Holohan’s, Carol Fey’s and other industry experts’
- Works with RPA for educational opportunities.
- Attends after-hours classes by manufacturers reps to learn
about new products for plumbing and heating.
- Attends local mechanical contractors association meetings
every other month to learn about code. Even though most of the
meeting is talk about hot air, he learns a lot that applies
to hydronic heating.
- Reads trade magazines, such as PM, to find out about future
- Attends events sponsored by RPA, ASHRAE and ISH.
He says, “I found there are a thousand ways to skin a cat, but
whose is the best? With people talking about global warming,
gas shortages and more houses having radiant installed, you
would be stupid not to want to install a mod-con boiler. Even
installing baseboard at high temps, you still would see high
efficiency during the milder days.
“When we do a heat calc for custom homes, depending on location,
we use -20, -10 and 0 degree design temps. If it never gets
that cold, you never need 180 degrees F through your baseboard.”
On-The-Job Experience: I met Ruben Chinea when he called me
from Yonkers, N.Y., to ask about a thermostat problem on a job.
Hardly a kid at age 35, he’s a “new guy” to the hydronics industry.
He says he read articles that our industry is in need of minorities
— he’s Latino — and he’s very optimistic about his future here.
He’s getting on-the-job experience and going to school specializing
in HVAC. He comments that he learns a lot about controls because
his tech school instructor brings articles into class from PM
Steve Lanyon owns Blue Sky Plumbing and Heating in Wheat Ridge,
Colo. Steve is a believer in “bucket time” as one of the best
ways for a new guy to learn. Bucket time is when you sit down
in front of the boiler, using an upended bucket as a stool,
and think about the situation at hand.
He says the hardest thing for a new guy is to calm down enough
to think. “They want to just get on the radio or phone and call
the shop for someone to tell them what to do.” When a guy calls
in, Steve’s tempted to solve the problem for him. But the right
thing to do is get the caller calmed down. He might tell him
to go outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. “Then
come back in, sit down on that bucket, and think about how to
solve the problem. That’s when they learn.”
Eternal Apprentice: John Madden of Georgia, Vt., claims he is
“proof positive that old dogs can learn new tricks.” He calls
himself the eternal apprentice, although his license reads master
plumber. He says there’s no such thing as a master plumber;
technology changes too quickly. He says training in our industry
is as important as it is for doctors. “A heart transplant is
a common thing now — doctors learned that by constant training.
We, too, are the guardians of people’s health and welfare.”
John gets much of his training by reading. Even though he thinks
most of our industry doesn’t read, he believes they should,
especially magazines where they can learn from the experiments
of Hot Rod Rohr, and from the technical background of John Siegenthaler.
Madden also thinks contractors should start using computers
to get information. “I can shoot off an e-mail to an expert
and get a quick answer.”
As a result of interviewing many, many people in the industry,
Carrie Polk is alarmed at the direction the trades are going
— or not going. She says, “As an HVACR industry professional,
I am shocked at the lack of cooperation between educators and
the professionals who depend upon graduates to carry their trade
through the next generation.”