I have to admit as the economy began to tank two or so years ago I thought the downturn may actually help attendance for classes I was conducting. My premise was with tradespeople having more “down time” due to the down economy, they would be proactive and use the time to learn new “tricks” - maybe add things like radiant floor heating and thermal solar systems to their repertoire. In no way was I hoping to benefit from others’ misery, but I did think that there would be a spike in attendance. Boy, was I wrong!
I discovered that there was a real psychology to this down economy. Fear seemed to be the predominant emotion. Instead of a proactive approach, I noticed more of a “head-in-the-sand” posture taking over. I believe many felt it best to just try to “tread water” through the downturn and ride it out, thinking it has to get better soon.
Now that we are deeper into this downturn than almost anyone anticipated, I am seeing my initial prediction of behavior come to pass. The fall 2010 semester saw big numbers in attendance for virtually all subjects. I have seen a wide range of skill levels and ages. Both owners and their technicians are attending classes to sharpen their existing skills and to learn new ones.
I have also seen an increase in attendees who have been displaced from their chosen professions and are now looking to HVAC as a new career path - something they hope is more stable and consistent. I recently did some cooperative classes with a large independent vocational institution in New Jersey and I asked the class why they chose HVAC as their career path. Many answered, “People will always need heating and cooling.” That seemed to be a sound reason.
The subject of the inaugural class of my fall 2010 semester was “Hydronic Heating System Troubleshooting.” The first person to show up that night was a guy about my age who I had never met. He entered the classroom and explained to me how he was new to the HVAC business, and he was concerned the class might be over his head. He told me how he had been displaced from his profession through austerity layoffs, and this was a new career path. I put his mind at ease, telling him that the class was designed for both the newcomer and the seasoned professional.
The class was almost a full house (which was GREAT), and everything went really well. This is one of my favorite subjects because it allows me to share what I have learned in the field, and the class tends to be very interactive with attendees sharing their tips and experiences. As usual when the class ended there were a few guys who stayed to ask questions and check out the show & tell items I used throughout the evening. The last guy to leave was the same fellow who was the first to arrive. He came up to me and asked about some of the upcoming classes. He told me that because of his financial situation (currently unemployed), he would not be able to attend all of the classes. He explained how he and his wife agreed that he had to take a new trajectory with his career and they were willing to sacrifice so he could take the time to learn the business and ultimately find a more stable career choice. He is enrolled in a local county vocational school HVAC program by day and attends supplemental classes such as mine when he can.
I told him I would waive the tuition fees for as many classes as he wanted to attend this fall. My offer made him emotional. I’m not suggesting that I changed the course of this guy’s life, but it felt GREAT to change the course of his day! This guy was so appreciative he wanted to stay and help me clean up. I told him it wasn’t necessary. As he was leaving, he passed the cafeteria and offered to clean up the food from the dinner we serve to the class attendees. I responded that it would really help if he took the leftover food trays home (as soon as I said this I felt bad, because I didn’t want to offend him). He replied that he would take the food home for his kids.
My experience that night was a reminder of how much I love training, how a small gesture can make someone’s day, and how this economy has affected people so dramatically.
I’m happy to report that this fellow attended every class this past fall and will soon be ready to start his job search upon completion of his votech training in June 2011. I will do everything I can to help him!