Educating the next generation of sustainability-focused technicians
By Charles McGinnis
Workforce development programs must work toward supplying the field with sustainability-focused technicians.
By Charles McGinnis
February 23, 2022 – Facilities across industries and around the globe are rushing to install more sustainable and energy-efficient infrastructure to meet aggressive sustainability goals and foster healthier spaces for people and the planet. In fact, 72% of global senior sustainability leaders identify sustainability as an increasing priority over the past two years.
Amid this drive to meet sustainability goals, it is important to pay attention to education programs that provide technicians with the knowledge and skills they need to install and maintain the solutions that support sustainability and net zero initiatives.
Workforce development programs play a critical role to closing the workforce gap that currently exists in the technical field. Currently, 4 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled by 2030, and there is a high risk that more than half of those positions will go unfilled due to lack of workforce training.
Moreover, in a world where organizations are focused on sustainable infrastructure and net zero initiatives, technical training programs allow future technicians to work hands-on with new and innovative technologies. Meaning, they will be better prepared to seamlessly install and integrate sustainable solutions with existing building technologies.
For their part, workforce development programs must work toward supplying the field with sustainability-focused technicians.
It starts with K-12 students
Not only does the installation of smart building technologies in K-12 environments facilitate healthier and more productive learning and teaching environments, but it also presents an opportunity to educate students about the technologies and solutions that keep them safe and healthy behind-the-scenes.
Offering an engaging learning program for grades K-12 that introduces students to energy conservation and energy-saving technologies can encourage them to consider a career in the trades, while simultaneously installing clean air and sustainability-focused solutions in classrooms.
The curriculum can involve grade-specific lessons on energy, ranging from the basics to advanced. There is also an opportunity to engage students in lessons around HVACR technology, including the physical equipment, energy management systems, water infrastructure and conservation methods, and digital control systems.
By facilitating interaction with industry professionals at an early age, students are taught to look at energy challenges with actionable solutions. These types of programs also help older students explore opportunities for apprenticeships, internships, jobs, and other potential career options in the energy services field.
Benjamin Ratcliffe is an energy manager with the Peel District School Board, and a recipient of an Energy Manager of the Year award. He launched an initiative called “Energy Revealed”, which puts meters in the hands of students to provide them with an understanding of the importance of energy efficiency, and to inspire them to take action to reduce energy use.
His vision was for the schools in his board to “have mini-energy managers, who will bring this home and influence their families with what they learn about energy use”.
Another example is the Johnson Controls Pathways program, which provides a full curriculum and dedicated HVAC labs to help prepare high school students for a career in HVAC.
Supporting and investing in trade education
As people spend more time indoors, especially in the winter months, building administrators seek to enhance building health with clean air, touchless access controls, sustainable practices and more-efficient, data-centric operations. And they will be looking for guidance from technical experts more than ever. The key to offsetting the current workforce gap is by increasing awareness and interest in trade education programs.
A 4-year university program may not be a good fit for everyone and, quite frankly, is becoming more unattainable as the cost of higher education continues to trend upward. Apprenticing in a trade education program offers the benefits of an accelerated timeline (many programs take one to two years to complete) and the ability to earn while you learn.
This is a viable and desirable path to a stable and fulfilling career.
Many HVAC suppliers and contractors work in collaboration with technical colleges and other academic institutions to develop curricula or programs in energy efficiency or sustainability. Through these programs, future technicians are equipped with in-depth knowledge on technologies that improve building efficiencies and drive sustainability.
When students complete their program, the industry welcomes a new generation of sustainability-focused and environmentally conscious technicians who are well-positioned for green jobs. With this training, HVAC contractors are better-positioned to make tailored recommendations to organizations for energy-efficient and sustainable building and manufacturing technologies.
Providing technicians with the knowledge to install sustainable technologies and solutions is just one element of a successful trade education program. Once those technologies are installed, technicians need to be able to maintain and upgrade existing building solutions. Since previously siloed solutions are being integrated with additional building technologies, technicians need to understand how to maintain all aspects of the modern building.
Providing ongoing opportunities
Given the increased demand for sustainability technologies while facing a limited workforce, facility and trade program managers are always looking for creative ways to close the workforce gap.
Correctional facilities leaders can work with HVAC suppliers to achieve two goals at once: improve facility health and sustainability while preparing inmates for release by providing them with onsite vocational training. These workforce development programs directly impact inmate and officer welfare, as energy-efficiency and clean air improvements are made to the facility through hands-on learning. Moreover, these programs equip inmates with highly marketable skills to help them achieve employment after release and reduce recidivism rates.
The Green HVACR Career Development Partnership Program provides training and opportunities to inmates and former inmates as they look to successfully re-enter society. Participants receive training from experienced instructors in state-of-the-art learning labs, equipped with both commercial and residential HVACR equipment, as well as building automation controls. As a result, the program reduced recidivism rates to 4% (U.S. national average is 77% within 5 years).
Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) recently installed infrastructure improvements to advance the Government of Canada’s energy efficiency, net zero and sustainability goals at Canadian Forces Bases in Kingston and Halifax.
In addition to these improvements, the projects include a sustainability awareness program. Base personnel learn about energy-saving best practices, while the surrounding community is provided educational tools and resources about DND’s sustainability strategy.
This is a great example of how community-focused education programs can increase awareness of the types of sustainable infrastructure improvements that drive occupant wellness and comfort, as well as better outcomes for the planet (e.g. reduced GHG emissions). Sustainable infrastructure improvements can also reduce long-term utility and maintenance costs through increased energy efficiency, the savings from which can then be used for other initiatives.
Foster technician development… we need them
With the demand for sustainable infrastructure steadily increasing as organizations set bold net zero and energy efficiency goals, there is an increased demand for technicians who understand cutting-edge, sustainability-focused technologies.
Organizations need technicians who can recommend and seamlessly install these technologies, plus integrate them with additional building systems with minimal disruptions to the organization’s operations. In short, workforce development is the key to a more sustainable future.
Charles McGinnis is vice-president of Sales for Performance Infrastructure-North America at Johnson Controls, where he is responsible for leading and executing strategies to profitably advance business in North America. With more than 30 years of sales and leadership experience, Charles is passionate about building high-performance teams that can help solve complex engineering and financial problems.