High schoolers learning about high-demand HVAC jobs

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GREENFIELD — Lee Paschal wasn’t thinking much about the trade industry before his senior year. Now, with a few months of studies under his belt, the Greenfield-Central student sees it as a possible career.

Lee is one of several local students in Greenfield-Central High School’s first-year HVAC — heating, ventilation and air conditioning — class. It introduces students to the installation, operation and maintenance of air-handling systems and gives them an opportunity to earn multiple certifications.

Jason Cary, principal of Greenfield-Central High School, said the school created the career and technical education class after hearing about a demand for more HVAC technicians in the community. The course also qualifies for the state’s work-based learning requirements under the new graduation pathways.

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Dan Canter, instructor for the course, said the students so far have learned about basic electric circuits and safety procedures during the first two quarters of the school year. They’ll next study more about basic refrigeration and heating and also work on HVAC systems installed in the classroom.

The class is comprised of eight students: four from Greenfield-Central, three from Mt. Vernon High School and one from New Palestine High School. Out-of-district students can sign up for the class if they meet requirements, similar to Greenfield-Central students enrolled in Mt. Vernon’s aviation class.

Emmie Lamaster, a Mt. Vernon junior, said she’s more of a hands-on learner, so the class piqued her interest as an elective. She spends each morning in Greenfield and finishes the day at Mt. Vernon. New Palestine junior Bailey Ott said he’s enjoyed learning about electrical wiring in the course.

Summers Plumbing Heating & Cooling over fall break donated and installed three HVAC systems, worth between $18,000 and $25,000, said Leroy Sexton, general manger for Summers in Greenfield.

The HVAC systems Summers installed are high-efficiency equipment, Sexton said. They have WiFi thermostats and Bluetooth-enabled furnaces. Summers wanted students to learn about modern technology rather than “ancient equipment” that sometimes students must work with in their studies.

Canter said he hopes students in the class can see the benefits of a career in skilled trades. College isn’t meant for every high school student, Canter added. During the first few months of the class, a few of the students, like Lee, are thinking about making a career in the industry.

“For kids that are thinking about doing it, they really should do it because it’s good money and it’s a good way to provide for your family or even just yourself,” Lee said.

The students who complete the class will earn a one-year HVAC certification, and Canter also plans for the students to take the 10-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, certification test and also earn refrigeration certification from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Students might also want to pursue an HVAC associate degree at Ivy Tech Community College, he said.

“You’ll get a job if someone else doesn’t have the certifications you do, so more job opportunities,” Emmie added.

And not only will students learn about the technical aspects of HVAC systems, Canter said, but also about customer service.

“As a service person, you’re going to relieve somebody’s pain, of one type or another. Either they don’t have heat, they’ve got a plumbing leak, they don’t have air conditioning,” Canter said. “This job is mainly having a few tools, some knowledge, a whole lot of common sense and following instructions — listen to what that person’s telling you.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median pay for HVAC mechanics and installers was $47,610 per year, and the highest degree workers typically need is an associate degree. Job outlook is also high for HVAC technicians until 2028; the bureau says employment is expected to increase higher than average — 13% growth over the next decade, from 367,900 employees to 414,200.

Although the HVAC industry is anticipated to grow, much of the workforce is retiring, specifically baby boomers, in the next 10 years, according to industry experts. Canter, a 47-year veteran in plumbing and heating, used to own a business in Indianapolis, but he sold it off and is now semi-retired. In addition to teaching the high school class, Canter spends three nights a week teaching plumbing apprentices. He also worked as an assistant maintenance supervisor at the high school in the 1980s.

“When guys like me retire, there’s a huge, gaping hole of experience and knowledge,” Canter said.

Sexton said sometimes the trade industry is “looked down upon” as “blue-collar” jobs that require little skill. Sexton said that’s not true. The industry has many skilled workers who have put in hours upon hours of training. He said Summers aims to change the way people, and prospective employees, look at skilled trades.

“We’ve grown up in the industry, that people look at us as just that person who can fix something for you, but not really worth anything,” Sexton said. “We want the kids to be able to realize that there is more to it, that they can get a life that they feel fulfilled.”