Menu Close

Learning HVACR Part 1

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.