By TED CARTER
Eighteen schools in Mississippi are giving assistance to a U.S. heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry starved for new workers.
The schools, most of which are community colleges, offer programs designed to address a skills gap that could stall commercial and residential construction in Mississippi if not filled.
At the Wesson campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, 20 or so HVAC students are training for the air conditioning, heating and ventilation field. Another half dozen are in the program at the college’s Natchez campus.
They’re undergoing two years of instruction in both academics and HVAC. The four semesters include math, English, science and public speaking, says Brent Duguid, Copiah-Lincoln’s dean of Career, Technical and Workforce Education.
They learn about everything from window air conditioners all the way up to the big cooler, chiller types, Duguid says.
While enrollment has not been growing, it has been steady over the past three years, according to Duguid.
He says he thinks more students would be taking the training of they had been introduced to it in high school. “I think it has to do with the education process,” Duguid says of the stalled growth. “Career tech programs in high schools have gone away.”
The college’s total enrollment is around 3,000 students.
The typical HVAC student is a recent high school graduate, though non-traditional older students are part of the mix. “We get a lot of ex-military students,” Duguid says.
“Whether incoming freshmen or non-traditional students, they are there because they want to be here.”
If past trends hold, only 28 percent of the students will complete the program and receive their associate of applied science degrees as well as school-provided credentials that include the National Center for Construction Education and Research Core, Level 1 and Level 2.
The graduation rate is identical to the one U.S. News & World Report listed for Copiah-Lincoln in 2013.
The students undergo training with HVAC businesses in the region. “Many go to work for a company (they trained with) once they graduate,” Duguid says.
A misconception is that grads of the technical program must go into installation or repair work. However, some start in the sales side of the business, Duguid says.
“What we find,” he says, “is when students get employed, they have a lot of information they are bringing to the table. The employer is able to fine tune that for what they need.”
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