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issue: July 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Guest Editorial
Ask Congress to Support Training of Skilled Workers

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by Thomas E. Bettcher, chairman, Board of Directors, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and president/CEO, Copeland Corporation

Thanks to the significant amount of technological advancements that have taken place within the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry, American consumers enjoy a quality of life unimaginable to earlier generations.

Thomas E. Bettcher is chairman of the Board of Directors of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) and is president/CEO of Copeland Corporation

With each new HVAC innovation, we have come to expect a high level of comfort wherever we are, whether it's where we live, work, shop, or relax. In order to maintain this degree of comfort, we depend more than ever on a highly skilled workforce to install, repair, and service the equipment, so that it performs efficiently at its full potential.

Unfortunately, demand for highly competent service personnel far outstrips supply. Contractors across the U.S. say the shortage of skilled technicians is worsening as fewer qualified candidates enter the industry. That's why it's very important that we as an industry continue to support and promote career and technical education training programs at the high school and postsecondary levels.

Many of usÑmanufacturers and contractorsÑwork closely with these schools, contributing equipment for labs, expertise, and mentoring for the students and scholarships. But the task is enormous. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, skills shortages for all industries are worsening, and America could face a need for 10 million skilled workers by 2020. In addition, a Workforce 2020 Report estimates that only 20 percent of jobs in the future will require a 4-year degree, while 65 percent will require some form of postsecondary education or training. Without quality career and technical education programs, many students will be deprived of opportunities to gain valuable skills that help them to succeed.

Against this background of growing need, it is clear that programs and teachers must have the support of the federal government. Over the coming months, the U.S. House and Senate will consider reauthorization of key legislation such as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). It promises to be a long, drawn-out discussion, and the outcome could dramatically affect the supply of skilled workers for years to come.

Debate over education programs can be positive if it leads to improvements. With imaginative and positive programs, applied technology training programs can be designed to attract the best and the brightest.

But the debate has gotten off to a rocky start. Proposals are being voiced to reduce the amount of money that goes to the local level under popular WIA partner programs like the Perkins Vocational Rehabilitation and Adult Education Act. This could not come at a worse time. The industry, and the U.S. for that matter, cannot grow and pull out of this economic slump without a solid skilled workforce to build and support the infrastructure.

That's why it is important for all of us to let our voices be heard. I urge you to write your Congressman and U.S. Senators and ask them to support full funding for Perkins grants. Key votes will be held later this summer or early fall. Write or visit your elected officials when they come home for office summer recess. Tell them about the vital role that skilled workers play in America and that HVAC/R programs at the local level are counting on Perkins funding.

In our industry alone, there are approximately 1,350 training programs across the U.S. that depend on support from local and state resources and/or the federal government to provide qualified candidates the skills needed to pursue a career in HVAC/R. To make matters worse, just as funding for many of these programs is coming under threat, our industry is experiencing an annual shortage of about 22,000 technicians needed to install, service, and maintain HVAC/R equipment.

This shortage is made worse by the fact that there is a phenomenal amount of innovation and growth in technologies occurring in our industry. While this means better performing, more efficient systems and equipment, it also means there is a greater demand for knowledgeable contractors and service personnel who adequately understand the technology, can communicate to customers its advantages, and are able to service the equipment properly.

For example, during the rest of this decade, our industry will be transitioning from HCFC-22 to alternative HFC refrigerants in many types of equipment. There are several distinct operational differences between the refrigerants that service technicians need to learn. This important education begins in vocational training programs and schools where entry-level technicians receive hands-on experience and training with systems using the new HFC refrigerants.

Fortunately, most industry organizations and manufacturers understand the valuable role vocational schools and training programs play in our continued growth and success. They show their support by providing scholarships, encouraging industry experts to volunteer their time, and even donating equipment for the classroom through ARI's very active program.

With the support of these manufacturers, ARI has also been very active in addressing the industry's educational challenges over the years. The association maintains an extensive education section at its web site (www.ari.org), where readers can find a sample letter and talking points to assist them in writing members of Congress about the need for increased funding for skilled worker training. ARI assists educational institutions nationwide with designing, maintaining and improving their HVAC/R training programs. Our organization brings manufacturers, contractors, and wholesalers together to help promote our industry.

We can see the many benefits of these efforts in the thousands of people who are embarking on lifetime careers in the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry. Their careers will offer meaningful service to society and rewarding work opportunities here or anywhere in the world.

The value of vocational education to America and the HVAC/R industry cannot be stressed enough. By effectively training qualified individuals, vocational schools help build a strong infrastructure of skilled professionals that allow our industry and our country to continue to grow and prosper. And this is good for manufacturers, contractors, consumers, and our legislators. Take time today to write your elected officials and ask them to support career and technical education with full federal funding of the Perkins Act.


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