A Free Skills Program Is Training Veterans and Transitioning Soldiers for HVAC Careers

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Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Chailo DeLuna assesses an HVAC unit at the Baymont Inn and Suites in San Angelo, Texas. (U.S. Army)

Anyone who's had to have heating or air conditioning work done on their home in the past couple of years can tell you a good HVAC tech is hard to find. It's not because they aren't out there, it's just because they're booked solid -- there just aren't enough HVAC technicians.

The shortage is a problem for major companies like Trane, the commercial and residential HVAC products manufacturer, who rely on their distributors to have the manpower needed to get their products into homes.

The HVAC industry itself, like many skilled trades, is experiencing a huge labor shortage to the tune of 122,000 skilled technicians. That shortage creates an employment opportunity for transitioning service members, veterans and for employers, a sentiment echoed by Bill Timberlake and Anthony Maynor, partners at Raleigh, North Carolina's RightTek HVAC Training.

"It comes with a starting salary of around $45,000, without a college degree," Timberlake tells Military.com. "Then you realize within two years, most technicians with overtime and bonuses can earn $80-90,000. That's good work for good money."

Timberlake has been in the HVAC sector for nearly 30 years. He got his start after enlisting in the Navy. He attended the University of Maryland to study mechanical engineering before returning to the Navy as an officer in the Corps of Engineers. He even taught at the U.S. Naval Academy before retiring in 2004.

Maynor didn't serve in the military. He has worked in HVAC for most of his adult life, running his own HVAC business for more than two decades and becoming a well-known figure in Raleigh. The pair both trained students at a local college before they got together in 2018 and founded the RightTek Training school.

RightTek Training is unique in that it distills the yearlong training program from the local college into a two month course. In 2021 Maynor and Timberlake saw an opportunity to get the school onto nearby Fort Bragg, which wanted an HVAC training program as part of the Army's Career Skills Program.

"We talked to Trane about getting the ball rolling," says Maynor. "Trane is really seen as the premier dealer and manufacturer of heating and air conditioning in the world. They had a strong interest and we partnered on the effort to pull this together."

Trane now provides equipment to the students as well as after-hours access to Trane's internal Learning Management Systems training programs and online learning modules.

"Trane is interested in doing the right thing by our veterans," says Dottie Goebel, a Dealer Experience Manager at Trane Residential. "Nothing made a better fit for our dealers who are desperately seeking technicians and installers. The industry shortage for technicians and installers is growing every year as people are retiring and no group is more deserving than our veterans."

Trane also ensures that there are no out-of-pocket costs for soldiers looking to learn HVAC through the Trade Warriors program. The cost of attendance is covered by HVAC dealers who hire the program's graduates, which has a nearly 100% job placement rate.

Potential students do not need mechanical engineering or previous HVAC experience to apply. They only need to bring the discipline the military instilled in them for the intensive eight hours a day, four days a week training (Fridays are excluded so soldiers can tend to separation-related duties on base).

By the second or third week of the program, soldiers will begin interviewing for jobs, contingent on completion of the program and separation from the military. Soldiers then become Trane Certified Technicians after passing the EPA (EPA608) and NATE Ready-to-Work exams at the end of the program.

Graduates from Trade Warriors’ third cohort receive their Trane Certified Technician status. (Courtesy of Trane)

While they also receive 1,000 hours of experience toward the required 4,000 hours for North Carolina HVAC licenses, the program's job placement goal is not limited to North Carolina. Trane is looking to grow its pipeline of dealers across the country to create more opportunities for veterans.

"Everybody that comes through the program has been extremely excited about the doors that it's opened for their potential future career path," says Timberlake. "To be able to work in the civilian sector, provide for their families and their future with job security. For a lot of these guys coming out of the service, where they're doing something that maybe doesn't translate into civilian life, this gives them a pathway directly from the military into the civilian world, and I think that's part of why it's been very popular."

While the Trane Trade Warriors program is currently only at Fort Bragg, the program will soon expand to Fort Hood in 2023 and plans a later expansion to Camp Lejeune.

For more information, find the Trane Trade Warriors program on the DoD SkillBridge website, reach out to RightTek HVAC Training or visit your base Career Skills Program office.

Recruiters and HVAC companies looking to hire Trane Trade Warriors can get started at the Orion Talent website.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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