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issue: November 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

ARI 50th Anniversary
ARI Celebrates 50 Years of Service to America


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by Thomas E. Bettcher, chairman, ARI Board of Directors

What a difference a half century makes. From the founding of ARI in 1953 when only a few thousand service technicians were needed, the air-conditioning and refrigeration installer and service workforce has evolved into hundreds of thousands of talented men and women who would fill close to 10 Rose Bowls if they ever got together for a national convention!

Such a gathering is impossible because these talented and dedicated workers are on the job, making between 1 to 2 million service calls daily. Rain or shine, in killer heat waves and blizzards, they provide vital service to equipment that can mean the difference between life and death, comfort and discomfort, fresh or spoiled food, and they maintain modern marvels like clean rooms for computer chip fabrication and 24-hr surgical suites.

Sometimes taken for granted, the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R) industry deserves more recognition for the wonderful things we do. And that is why a stronger relationship building between equipment owners and service providers could generate huge benefits for an industry that is so fundamental to our quality of life.

Sometimes it takes a widespread blackout, a hurricane that deprives businesses and homeowners of electricity or the tragedy of a heat wave, such as in France in 2003, to remind HVAC/R equipment owners of the vital role we play in improving the quality of life.

How can we rise above the fast pace of modern living to raise awareness of what we do so well for so many millions of people? That's one of the challenges being undertaken by a team of industry volunteers drawn from the ranks of contractors and manufacturers, trade associations and media representatives.

Known as the Owner Awareness Committee, they started with the proposition that our industry has an image opportunity. They are in the research stage now, trying to determine how we are perceived by equipment owners, and they hope to emerge with messages and recommendations that will build better relationships and encourage customers to trust us to help make their lives better.

After all, this industry is involved throughout our lives - from our homes to commercial and industrial applications. It is a pioneer in the research and application of more efficient, cost-effective equipment and procedures. New, exciting energy-saving and environmentally friendly innovations are constantly being developed.

Demand for these imaginative, new products is increasing. Rapidly expanding service and technology solutions provide new jobs and require more and more skilled workers. With U.S. shipments of central air conditioners and air source heat pumps totaling more than 6.7 million units a year compared to just 127,000 units in 1953, a well-trained and respected workforce is a key ingredient to improving relations with our customers.

Demand for these skilled technicians exceeds the supply as is often mentioned by contractors in trade press surveys. They consistently note that with more competent workers, they could service and install more equipment. This problem is ranked their number one business challenge.

Before assuming the chairmanship of ARI's Board of Directors, I chaired the ARI Education and Training Committee. This dedicated group of industry volunteers has worked long and hard at trying to improve the technician supply problem. Since the early years or our industry, sister associations like the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America, the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, and the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association, among others, have provided vital support for technician training.

Our industry launched the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program in 1997 and it now has the support of a broad industry coalition. It has certified more than 15,000 technicians and has as its goal the addition of hundreds of thousands more certified workers.

In addition, more than 1,300 HVAC/R training programs now exist at the secondary and post secondary education level. Education offerings range from applied technology classes in high school to four-year programs at the college level. ARI is now publishing the full color fourth edition of its "Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration" text book, which aides teachers in the classroom.

Training is truly the key to our success. With the vast array of equipment available, skilled technicians can manage the environment in any enclosed area, from a home or office to a space capsule. A desired temperature can be maintained. Humidity can be controlled. The air can be filtered and cleaned of pollutants. This "know-how" to install and maintain special environments for people, products, and perishables is essential to our lives today.

Every new public building or complex requires installation mechanics, qualified service technicians, operating engineers, maintenance foremen, and crews who are trained to keep complex environmental systems operating. New technology and new products which require refrigeration or special environments create new demands and new jobs every day.

The challenge for our industry is to revitalize, improve and strongly support HVAC/R training programs so that we can attract the best and the brightest to our skilled labor workforce. That takes money as well as commitment at the local level from manufacturers, contractors, the education community and parents. Perkins grants from the U.S. government are a vital part of this process and in its 2004 budget request Congress approved approximately U.S. $1.3 billion with a portion going to HVAC/R training.

I mention this because earlier this year in a guest editorial in APPLIANCE magazine, I called on the industry to contact members of the U.S. House and Senate to support full funding of Perkins grants. Thanks to strong response, the U.S. Congress responded positively and the proposed cuts in Perkins funding were rejected.

But the fight is not over because reauthorization legislation will be considered in 2004. We need to keep up the drumbeat of support for Perkins programs that fund vocational education, Tech-Prep and occupational and employment programs that train HVAC technicians needed by our industry. Loss of these programs could greatly reduce the number of students being trained for HVAC/R careers.

The benefits are many: meaningful and rewarding employment for thousands, a reduction in the unemployment rate, and reducing the number one contractor problem - the lack of skilled workers.

Worldwide, the number of people employed in the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry is growing rapidly. For the foreseeable future, there will be growing demand for skilled workers to help this industry improve the quality of life. That is a noble task that should have great appeal to the next generation of HVAC/R technicians and industry professionals. Please do your part to help us and promote the HVAC/R industry.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Thomas E. Bettcher is president and CEO of Copeland Corporation and executive vice president of Emerson Electric Co., Copeland's parent company. In addition to his term as chairman of the ARI Board of Directors during ARI's 50th anniversary year in 2003, he has served as first and second vice chairman, chairman of ARI's Budget and Education and Training Committees and was chair of the Industry Recruitment Task Force.

 

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