• Overhead? Education Is Essential Now and in the Future

    March 1, 2007
    One of the unique values that HARDI brings to its membership and the HVACR industry is its product- and market-focused business Councils and special interest

    One of the unique values that HARDI brings to its membership and the HVACR industry is its product- and market-focused business Councils and special interest Committees. These Committees and Councils are responsible for initiating, guiding and bringing to fruition the programs and services of HARDI.

    Serving as the hub of educational information for HARDI is the aptly named Education Committee. It develops and offers training and certification programs to HARDI members to enable them to provide their employees with the tools necessary for advancement.

    “A lot of times, distributors hire people and just think that they can do the job,” says Tom Hansch, newly appointed chair of the Education Committee. “We just throw them on the counter or on outside sales without giving them the proper tools to get things done.”

    Hansch, who works for G.W. Berkheimer Co., Inc., Portage, IN, says that, as a Committee, they need to make sure all the members are aware of the types of training that are available.

    Home Study Institute

    One program that members are most likely aware of is the Home Study Institute, whose mission is to provide up-to-date training courses for HVACR industry employees outside the confines of a physical classroom.

    HARDI designed the program for on-the-job air-conditioning industry personnel, more than 1,000 of which enroll in the program each year.

    The Home Study Institute provides academic recognition for courses completed in the form of Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Each course may require up to three months to complete, based on a study schedule of two to three hours per week.

    Some of the courses offered in the Home Study Institute include:

    • Introduction to Comfort Heating.
    • Introduction to Comfort Cooling.
    • Principles of Controls.
    • Modern Hydronic Heating Basics.

    “I think that HARDI has always done a really good job of putting together programs — like the Home Study Institute,” says Hansch. “But I think that there are other things that we can add to that offering to make our salespeople better than they already are.”

    Business Training Push

    According to Hansch, one of the biggest trends in the industry right now is that distributors are showing an interest not just in the technical and product training but also the business-type of training.

    “Our members are looking to us to do additional training to help them with a full business understanding … understanding the financial side of the contracting business,” Hansch says. “So that when there's a product decision to be made, they'll be able to better understand the financial impact. This will help the dealer be more profitable than they have been — to give the dealer suggestions and ideas on decisions he could make that could help his company make more money.”

    Business essentials is an area of training that Hansch believes will be the focus of the Education Committee in the future. Right now, however, it's only in the beginning stages. The idea of offering this type of training was introduced at the Committee's last meeting in December. The foundation is that if the salespeople have a better understanding of basic business formulas, it will have a direct, positive impact on the dealer's overall business.

    “We're just now taking a look at that,” Hansch says. “There are some trainers doing that right now with us, getting our salespeople up to speed on the basic understanding … so that they can be more attuned to the business aspect of our industry rather than just the technical aspect.”

    In fact, the HARDI website (www.HARDInet.org) already offers a variety of specialized training and reference materials focusing on business-related topics. With themes such as Managing a Contracting Business, Improving the Bottom Line and What Really Helps (or Hurts) Your Company's Bottom Line, HARDI members are able to get a head start on the types of training Hansch and the Education Committee will offer in the future.

    “What I've seen in our company is a drive toward that type of selling, a value-added business relationship selling,” Hansch says. “Stemming from that, we have to ask ourselves, as a Committee, what type of training, outside of the basic technical training, can we offer to make our salespeople more astute and more rounded than they already are?”

    Of course, this new focus on business essentials doesn't mean the Education Committee is going to abandon its already beneficial programs.

    “No, it's a focus on what types of training can we offer in addition to what we currently offer,” Hansch says. “We're basically looking at what types of training and education we can offer that will make our members well-rounded.”

    Empowering Counter Personnel

    One of HARDI's newest and growing offerings is the Counter Certification Program. Like any certification program, it's simply a process that recognizes a person's qualifications and demonstrated knowledge, under the auspices of measurement by HARDI, which has received broad recognition as the appropriate body to award certification.

    Its goals are simple, too:

    • To establish industry-recognized standards of performance, education and training for the counter position in HVACR distribution.
    • To encourage training and education as well as practical experience among counter personnel.
    • To demonstrate to customers and suppliers the importance of Market Center Distribution by cultivating knowledgeable sales support personnel.
    • To increase awareness among potential entry-level young people of the minimum requirements for wholesale counter sales positions.

    HARDI's Counter Certification Program is beneficial to both the member wholesale company and its individual counter employees. For the individual counter person, the program offers industry-recognized credentials that will assist them in the advancement of their career. And for the individual wholesale company, it provides them with the opportunity to place a test-proven professional at the counter to assist their customers.

    “Education is a challenge for everybody — finding ways to do training that sticks is the hardest part,” Hansch says. “I believe that training has to be done in a way that it will stay with our team.”

    Within the challenge of education itself, there is the obstacle of developing programs that fit in with today's busy society. Finding the time to enroll in an industry training program can be a major challenge for some people.

    However, with the multitude of opportunities available through the Internet, training programs offered by the Education Committee are easier for busy professionals to access than ever before.

    “When I first started in this industry, people would take books home and do a lot more studying than they do now,” Hansch says. “It's harder and harder to get our salespeople to take stuff home because they have so many other personal commitments now, so we have to find a way to make our training better and easier for them to do.”

    Overall Improvements Planned

    Lastly, Hansch hopes that as the Education Committee improves existing programs and develops new ones, the HARDI membership keeps in mind all they offer. Developing programs may be the easy part compared to getting people to take advantage of the opportunities.

    “Members shouldn't hesitate to contact the HARDI staff to get a list of everything that is available and also to let them know what types of programs they'd like us to take a look at in the future,” Hansch says. “We're always open to new ideas.”

    Pete Grasso is an associate editor with Contracting Business magazine. Contact him at 216/931-9439 or [email protected].