Build a skilled workforce with a registered apprenticeship program ... more
Greg Brown, Comfort First Heating & Cooling
Greg Brown is a 55-year-old college graduate, who has had a career in the car business and has owned a few small businesses over the years.
Now, he’s returned to school in Central Carolina Community College’s Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration program as part of his apprenticeship with Comfort First Heating & Cooling.
Brown learned about the apprentice program through a friend who works at Comfort First. “After researching the HVAC industry, the career move makes perfect sense for me. I believe the long-term economic outlook in HVAC to be very lucrative,” said Brown, who lives in West End in Moore County.
Apprenticeships are training programs that combine classroom instruction related to a specific industry with on-the-job training through an employer. Apprenticeships typically last between 1,000 and 8,000 hours, and apprentices who complete their training earn a journeyworker's certification in their field. ApprenticeshipNC, a division of the N.C. Community College System, registers apprenticeship programs and certifies apprentices’ participation and completion.
The Comfort First apprenticeship program with CCCC is in its second year of operation, with students learning from both academic and on-the-job experiences. Originally designed for one year of college instruction, the program expanded to include second-year coursework at the college and now has both new and returning Comfort First apprentices. Apprentices take classes one to two days a week at CCCC while working the rest of their week at Comfort First.
David Myers, CCCC lead instructor for air conditioning, heating and refrigeration, believes the apprenticeship program is successful because of the combination of college instruction and on-the-job training. “The apprentices learn the theory behind heating and cooling and practice their skills at the college and then go out into the field and put their knowledge and skill to use on the job serving Comfort First customers,” said Myers. “The apprentices are paid while they are in class and their motivation is very good, as Comfort First has high expectations for them.”
“The success of any apprenticeship program is based on strong partnerships,” said Drew Goodson, dean of career and technical education at CCCC. “Apprenticeships at CCCC are a collaborative process between the college and the sponsoring company. Comfort First Heating and Cooling is a great partner. They worked with the college to build the curriculum for the apprenticeship. They have been flexible with scheduling so the apprentices could succeed academically and have supported the apprentices financially with books and supplies. They are a first-class company.”
Wes McLeod, one of the owners of Comfort First Heating & Cooling, notes that the largest hurdle the company faces that limits growth is the ability to find great HVAC service personnel. “There is a tremendous shortage of qualified professionals that can provide the level of technical and customer service that we require and our customers deserve,” said McLeod, adding that he believes the partnership with CCCC and ApprenticeshipNC “will continue to play a vital role in securing a professional, well-trained workforce, that will allow us to continue to provide the high level of customer service that our customers are accustomed to.”
Brown, who began his apprenticeship in August, said he is excited and thankful for the opportunity. “The program allows me to learn and earn on the job while also gaining the academic knowledge I need to be successful in this industry,” said Brown. “I really enjoy fixing things and working outside. Heat and AC has become essential for modern life, and I find it very satisfying to go into a home where there is no warm or cool air, and leave with comfortable air coming from the vents.”
Central Carolina Community College, which also has apprenticeships in welding and industrial systems, is excited to partner with companies to support apprenticeship training in any field, said Goodson. “We work with students and employers to develop meaningful learning experiences that will prepare apprentices for success in industry and help build the skilled workforce of the future,” he said.
“For sponsoring companies, apprenticeships are a great way to build a talent pipeline, especially in industries where the skilled workforce may be getting closer to retirement. With the combination of on-the-job training and in-class instruction, apprentices come to work with both the training needed to enter the industry and an understanding of how the company actually operates,” said Goodson. “Research finds that apprentices quickly cover their costs and earn companies a return on their investment. Having already worked for the company for a year or more as an apprentice, the company and the apprentices have built a relationship that can lead to lower turnover.”