Partners for the Future

On July 1, 1863 the armies of the Union of the North and the Confederates of the South converged on the small town of Gettysburg, Pa. The conflict lasted a short three days, but a loss of 51,000 men on both sides was the result. The men met, because of a difference of ideals, to do battle. The three day battle was not the last battle of the Civil War, but it was the turning point.

On Sept. 11, 12 and 13, 2008 the town was once again besieged by a group of men and women. This meeting was different than the one on July 1, 1863 as it was to be a meeting of the minds. This meeting was to discuss the future of our industry. The meeting was not to be all business, however, as we have learned that to have a successful meeting there must be a mix of business and pleasure. This challenge was met with great success by the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM). There, on the hollowed grounds of the Civil War conflict, over 100 members of NAOHSM came together to have some fun just prior to entering the 2008-2009 heating season. The third annual Oil Heat Conference was about to begin.

The evening of Sept. 12 we were entertained with a ‘Ghost Tour” of a few houses in town where the ghosts of the battle are said to ‘haunt.” On this trip no one in our group could definitely say they saw or felt the presence of a ghost although one member of our party did experience some kind of feeling. After the tour we all retreated back to the hotel to discuss our own individual findings of the ‘Ghost Tour.”

The true purpose of the event unfolded on Saturday. After the business meeting of the association had completed for the day, a round table discussion was held with eight of the industry’s best and brightest instructors. The instructors were from a variety of technical high schools, trade schools and a technical college. The moderator was Angel Gonzalez from New York. Assisting him was Judy Garber, executive administrator of NAOHSM.

Students and the Industry

The discussion opened with a very important topic. How do we attract new students to our industry? The methods used were as varied as the instructors. Some schools have open houses where parents and potential students are able to come in and have a ‘touch and feel experience” in the labs. The instructors are there to answer any questions about their programs. Other instructors feel that the high schools are not giving enough support to the technical trades. Schools are ‘rated” by how many of their students continue on to college, and the students that are in the technical trades normally will not fit into that category. To high school administrators, they appear as failures. As we know this could not be further than the truth, but that is reality. Another method some use is to go out into the public, such as in a mall, and set up a booth. Interested young people can see what other students are doing by photos and actual hands on work done. This seems to generate some true interest.

Another concern some educators have is that they are getting the ‘bottom of the barrel” from the schools. When students do not do well in academics, they are placed into the trades where they not only do not want to be, but also have a negative effect on the students who do want to be there. I can attest to this’I spoke to an assistant dean of a well know trade school in New York and asked him what programs they had in the HVAC field. His response was none. When I questioned him why, I was told that they don’t teach low-tech trades. This led to a full hour discussion. On the college level where students are there because they want to be there, about 60 percent of those attending gain their Associates Degree and the job placement is nearly 100 percent.



What the industry can do to help these students and the teachers was discussed next. Some felt that when students leave after the first year of technical training, much interest is lost over the summer break. All agreed that when a student worked for a heating company over the summer, they returned with a thirst for knowledge in the field; some schools say those who come back for the second year after doing a summer in the field, are their best students. They have developed a work attitude and see the possibilities.

Is it possible to have a working relationship with a school to mentor a student or two over the summer? A consensus was reached that insurance issues and finances are tight, making this a difficult thing to do, but it is an investment for the future. All agreed that if a company decided to do a mentoring program, the student would not be and should not be expected to stand alone. He or she would need guidance for the entire day. A company who does this might have the pick of the litter on graduation day.

A thought was mentioned about the mentoring program: Is it possible for the employer to be reimbursed from a state agency for his cost? A good question, but no one could answer this. It is an avenue worth exploring. Could NORA funds be tapped for this program from the state organization?

Another question from the audience was more direct to the oil company: How many students in the schools are going into the small, local oil company? Since many are facing technician challenges every day, this is a very valid question. Unfortunately, there is no way at present to track this. When students leave the high school, many go to work for plumbing outfits or other utilities. Some do work for small oil companies, and yes, some open their own repair shop. When they leave college with an AS degree, they are generally gobbled up by the larger utilities.  

The Dave Nelson Scholarship

All the members of the discussion group were reminded that NAOHSM has a scholarship program in place. The Dave Nelson Scholarship, named in honor of a true educator of the industry, awards six scholarships annually. The recipients must use the funds to further their education in our industry. Some past recipients have gone on to pass the test for the Master Oil Burner License and the journeyman’s plumber’s license. Students can apply yearly, even if they have received one in past years.

Another avenue is to use what you are now reading. Let all your employees and students know that most, if not all, industry publications are free to them. All they need do is ask.

At the close of the conference, after dinner, we were treated to a display and lecture on Civil War small arms. Charlie Smithgall, the previous mayor of Lancaster, Pa. and an expert on Civil War weapons, was our speaker. Mr. Smithgall enlightened all in attendance on some of the weapons and cannons used in that decisive battle. This ending was fitting for a conference held where the most American blood was shed on American soil.

Everyone who attended this event had a learning experience either chasing the ghosts of the past or looking forward to the technicians of the future. Check the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers Association Web site for the date and location of the fourth annual Oil Heat Conference.

And remember, we all have a stake in this. Students, educators and business owners can all be partners in our own futures.  

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