Monthly Archives: August 2011

A term that is often used to describe a college or trade school that offers HVACR technician training is “accredited”.  I think that, for the most part, when a potential student sees this term on a school’s website or in a brochure, it gives them a sense of confidence that the instruction they will recieve there is going to be of a certain quality. And, I would agree with that most of the time. If an educational institution has taken the time to apply (and pay what is often a hefty fee) for accreditation, it likely means that they are interested in providing a quality training experience. 

It also means something else.

The bottom line, $$wise, on getting accredited as a school or college is that with that process accomplished, the students who attend there will be eligible for government-sponsored financial aid programs. Translation: When someone enrolls in an HVACR training program, the financial aid office at the school will be able to assist them in applying for grants and loans to help cover the cost of tuition. Sometimes it’s all the funding needed for a training program…. books, tools (if the school you enroll in offers them as part of their training package)… along with tuition. And sometimes this financial aid covers most of the cost, but not all, or, it may work out in an individual situation, that it only covers a small part of the cost of an education. It varies according to the price of the education and the individual situation of the student.

Moving on about this subject…..the question that most people don’t stop to think about is, “Does accreditation necessarily guarantee a quality education?”

Well, from my perspective, the best answer to that question is, that it could. I recall from quite a few years back that an admissions representative for a college in New Mexico wanted to get me enrolled in a Masters program, and his school was not accredited (translation: I would have to pay all tuition costs out of my pocket). His take on that issue was that, “Harvard isn’t accredited by anybody,” because they didn’t need to be. “After all,” he argued, “who could accredit Harvard University?”

I don’t know if what he was telling me at the time was the truth, but if you do some research on Harvard University today, you find that they are listed as being accredited by the New England Assocation of Colleges and Schools. And, if you do some research on this accrediting association, you find that it is located in Bedford, Massachusetts, which is 20 miles from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

(By the way, in doing research on Harvard, you also find that one of Harvard Univeristy’s web sites is www.harvarduniversity.com , which drives home the point that I made earlier about any educational institution being a business.)

Hmmm….20 miles apart, huh….depending on how suspicious one was, one might wonder who really operates that association….even though they’re listed as being the accrediting body  for more than two-thousand schools, some of them vocational education schools. Well, I”m not one to ascribe to conspiracy theories, so I doubt that the accreditation process for Harvard University is a rubber stamp process….but I mention this idea to make a point.

If a school says they are accredited, your question should be “by whom?” And, once you get an answer to that question, ask what the accrediting body requires of the school in order to be awarded accreditation. Does it amount to only paying a fee? Or does it mean that team of curriculum experts visited the school, evaluated the lesson plans and instructors, and observed what goes on in the lab? If a team visited the school, did one of them follow up on the school’s placement records and confirm what they showed? Was there a member of the team who underst0od how to evaluate the financial aid practices of the school?

I realize that asking these questions of an admissions representative of a school could result in them looking at you as though you were from another planet, or, somebody might be downright insulted by being asked such questions, but I still think you should ask. After all, it’s your money, whether it comes in the form of a Pell Grant (which usually amounts to a maximum of $5,550.00 per year) or government gauranteed loans, or you pay your tuition out of your pocket.

If you’re going to invest the time, effort, and money into an HVACR education, you should approach it as you would when purchasing any product or service from any business.

Until next week.

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today…..Look forward to tomorrow

Jim

Last week I made some points about becoming an HVACR technician and deciding on enrolling in either a private, for-profit trade school or a college that offers a state-sponsored, more academic program.  One way to look at these two types of programs is their approach to guiding you through a learning experience, and I’ll consider that point by using the example  teaching someone the skill of riding a bicycle.

For the most part, if you wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle and decided to attend a private, for-profit school to accomplish that objective, it’s likely that after enrolling and spending a class session in the morning getting information on the safety issues, and what to expect as far as accomplishing the skill of balancing on two wheels, you would then head for a lab experience after your lunch break where your instructor would give you your first hands-on lesson on riding a bicycle. Your first lab experience would likely begin with your instructor demonstrating how to accomplish your first assigned hands-on task on a stripped-down model or mock-up of a bicycle, providing more necessary information about the safety issues, and then giving you an opportunity to try it for yourself.  That’s not to say that you would be a skilled rider after only one short session in the lab.

Your only activity in this first lab sesson might involve only practicing going in a straight line in a very controlled indoor environment for short trips with an instructor pretty much glued to your side to make sure that you didn’t hurt yourself or others, or damage the equipment you would be using . And, with each subsequent class/lab day, you would be afforded the opportunity to understand more about the process of riding a bicycle from a functional perspective, covering whatever theory information the developers of the curriculum decided you need to know, then head for the lab again for more practice.

Once you successfully completed your trade school education, you would be an entry level bicycle rider, which means that you would qualify for a job under that definition. What that means is that you still need field experience and exposure to more types of bicycles (and situations regarding these specific bicycles) than you had the opportunity to work with during your tenure of a given number of hours in training at school….probably accomplished on a weekly schedule of about 30 to 35 hours per week, meaning you attended on a schedule similar to a full-time job…. between your lab and classroom experiences.  

Another way to look at this situation is that even though you have practiced in a controlled environment at school, you haven’t yet actually ridden a bicycle in real live traffic, dealing with all that goes along with that, so before you can be a revenue-producing entity for whoever hired you as a bicycle rider, you’ll need to hone your skills so you can be proficient at bicycle riding and not make mistakes that can cost money, alienate customers, or create a dangerous situation situation that will need to be corrected by somebody else.

If you chose to attend a more academic-based institution program, your experience would differ in several ways, and similar in others. First, your schedule would likely not be daily attendance, but instead, you would only be in class on two or maybe three days in a week and those class sessions would be less than two hours.

Second, you would not likely be introduced to the hands-on portion of your training on the same schedule as your trade school experience. Your certificate or degree program may require that you complete courses on basic aerodynamics so you will have a complete understanding of balance and what holds your bicycle up when you’re riding it.

Your pre-requisite requirements for enrolling in an upper division class on bicycle riding may also include basic metallurgy so you would be able to identify problems that could come about due to metal fatigue of your bicycle frame if it is not ridden according to operating specifications, or it’s used in an environment that creates a lot of wear and tear. Or, perhaps a course in the fundamentals of rubber manufacturing and air pressures applied to vehicle tires would be required so you would have a complete understanding of the pneumatics of your equipment and how tire wear affects the ability of your bicycle to operate safely and correctly.

Further into your learning experience, you would work with mock-ups or stripped down versions of bicycles so can develop your riding skills and practice what you need to know so you will quailify as an entry level bicycle rider. Which, like I said above, means you need to rack up the field experience before you’ll be a full-fledged bicycle rider.

Which program should you attend if you decided bicycle riding was what you wanted to do?

Well….and, I’m guessing you already know what I’m going to say here…..that’s up to you. Once you look at all the details of each program, and the institiution, etc….make a decision that’s right for you.

More next week….

Learn from yesterday…….Live for today……Look forward to tomorrow.

Jim

 

I get phone calls almost every day of the week from folks who have very little knowledge of the heating and air conditioning industry, but are curious about whether or not it could be a career path for them. My short answer to their question is that I would absolutely recommend that they pursue HVACR as a career, whether they’re just out of high school, or if they’ve been doing something else for many years and they’re considering a second career. I’ve personally run thousands of service calls myself, and installed many systems, both in new construction and in retrofit situations, and can’t imagine that I would choose to do it differently if I was given a chance for a do-over. (Well, maybe there are some things I would do differently if I knew then what I know now, but I think that would apply to just about anybody in any profession) 

My long answer regarding how to get that done, though, can be, well….really long, because not everybody’s situation is the same, and that means they may pursue different paths to learning what they need to know about troubleshooting electrical systems in furnaces and air conditioners, or evaluating and troubleshooting refrigeration systems. And, no matter how many parts this post series winds up to be, I’ll likely not cover it all for everybody either. So, let me just say a few things in general about getting trained as an HVACR technician.

First and foremost, whatever path you’re thinking of taking, or if you’re considering how much money you might wind up spending, stop thinking of it as taking time or spending money. Going to school, be it a trade school or a community college, shouldn’t be described as ‘taking time’ or ‘spending money’. It should be considered as an investment. Yes, training is an investment, not an expense.

With that said (I’m sure I’ll rant more about that point sometime later), I’ll give some consideration to making the choice between a trade school and a community college. In answer to somebody’s question, “which one should I choose?, my answer is, “Either one, depending on what you think is best for you”. I”ve worked extensively as an instructor in both environments….the proprietary school, meaning, ‘privately owned’ or ‘for profit’ and the community college, meaning taking a more ‘academic’ approach to HVAC….and, as you would expect in any situation, I’ve seen and experienced both positive and negative things in both kinds of training environments.

I’ve seen private schools that, like any reputable business, always do their best to do the right thing (read it….spend the money they’re supposed to spend) to provide the best training they can for their customer, and I’ve seen some private schools that shouldn’t be in business; with the end result being one graduate who can do a great job, and another who can barely function. I’ve seen some community colleges that do a good job of turning out a technician who can function as a high-level, revenue-producing troubleshooting and repair person, and I’ve seen some graduates who can quote theory, but, as my Dad used to say, “don’t know which end of a wrench to grab a hold of”.

Now, before I start getting angry e-mails from instructors and administrators in schools everywhere with a vertible plethora of upper case words and sentences, some of which may even question my parentage on both my maternal and paternal sides, along with comments on their opinion of my obviously pathetic IQ, let me say right up front I am absolutely convinced that the student/school relationship  is a 50/50 deal when it comes to turning out a graduate that can function as the training program intends. If a person doesn’t approach going to school with interest, effort, dedication, and persistence (no matter how difficult it gets), then the school isn’t to blame for a defective ‘end product’.

So, with that said, the first thing I want to point out about going to a private school to learn HVAC, or attending a community college certificate or degree program, is this: Whether anybody likes to admit it or not, they’re both businesses. And, as a business, they’ve got costs to cover, and those costs have to be covered by revenue…..revenue that is generated by ‘asses in the classes’ as some in the education business have been known to say. For most people, this idea is easy to understand when it comes to private, for-profit schools, but more difficult to grasp for a public school like a community college or other state-run school. Well, there are four letters that help you understand about revenue in the hallowed halls of a public institution…..F   T  S  E  ……generally pronounced “footsie”.

It stands for Full Time Student Equivalent, and it works like this: In a given semester, or school term, or whatever an individual learning institution refers to it as, the state that provides the funding for part of the school’s operation looks at their F  T  S  E count and then determines how much money they’ll provide. One F  T  S E  is equal to 12 credit hours. And an F  T  S  E  can be worth in the neighborhood of $800 (or more) to a school. So, what that means is, that if you enrolled in a 3-credit hour class along with three other people, then the four of you would make up one F  T  S  E  (4 x 3 = 12), which would generate the accompanying revenue that the college would get for the four of you for that semester. Typically, this funding can cover up to about two-thirds of what it really costs to have a student in a class, with the last third of the cost being covered by tuition fees. In some cases, the numbers may differ, but the concept is the same. The majority of the money that covers the cost of doing business for a state-run school comes from tax revenues, and the balance comes from the students.

I mention this to make my point that all schools, public or private, have to pay salaries, pay for supplies, etc…so both of them should be considered a business when it comes to making a choice about which one to attend.

(A note to HVACR instructors everywhere……If you’ve got a better way of explaining what I’ve been talking about here, please post your comment. I believe that the purpose of a blog is to inform and educate, and not mis-inform. So that means we all have to be open to the idea that there’s more than one way to present information, and I’d be happy to consider your thoughts and opinions on this subject.)

Until next week…..

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today……Look forward to tomorrow.

Jim

 

Technicians are known for being technicians. They troubleshoot….they fix things….they solve problems for people. And, in some cases, technicians who do all these things for people sometimes find it uncomfortable (or even downright difficult) to communicate with the people they do these things for….their customer.

As an HVAC technician, consider the idea that developing your communication skills can be accomplished in the same way you developed the skills you needed to read schematic diagrams or evaluate refrigeration systems. In the same way that the things you needed to learn about electricity and vapor compression systems are rooted in understanding the science behind them (things like the laws of thermodynamics and heat transfer and Ohm’s Law, or example) there is a science in learining how to communicate effectively with others. One segment of this science is known as NLP, which stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. It was first brought to light be two university professors who wanted to know why some students did well in learning from certain teachers, while others didn’t.

These two professors figured that the problem had to be with the way in which people communicated. Some students ‘connected’ with certain teachers, while others didn’t. They referred to the results of their work as NLP because it means simply that everybody’s brain…Neuro, has a certain language…..Linguistic, that allows them to understand and use information……Programming.

On a very fundamental level, the science of NLP explains that people are dominant in one of three ways in their speech patterns. Some are dominantly visual in the way they make sense of things and speak, while others are dominantly auditory, and some people are dominantly kinesthetic. What this means is that visual people use visual words when they speak…..”I see what you mean”, for example.  A dominantly visual person expressing the same thought wouldn’t use that phrase. Instead, they would say, “I hear you.” And, a domintly kinesthetic person, one who ‘feels’ about things rather than hears or sees, would say, “I think I’ve got a feel for what you’re saying,”

The idea I want you to get about all three of these types of people is that they’re all saying the same thing: “I understand.” And when you realize that people, depending on their dominant verbal communiction characteristic, will say the same thing in different ways, you begin to understand that in order to communicate effectively and ‘connect’ with your customer, you can listen closely to them, then use the same kinds of words they use to respond. This makes it easier for your customer to understand you, and trust you. And, all relationships, including the one between a technician and customer, are built on trust.

If you’re a kinesthetic person (and, if you’re a technician, you likely are), and you’re communicating with a visually oriented person, rather than saying, “Here’s what you need to know in order to get a grip on what we need to do here so your air conditioning unit will get fixed”, you would be communicating more effectively if you simply said, “Let me show you what we need to do”. And the end result of that adjustment on your part is that your customer will feel more comfortable with you and what service you are providing for them.

The overall science of NLP has a wide range of characteristics and processes, but you can learn more about the fundamentals you need to know in order to help you communicte with your customers. A wide variety of books and audio programs are available on the subject. Do a search and find the study material that would work best for you, and develop your NLP skills.

Jim

Learn from yesterday….Live for today…..Look forward to tomorrow

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