The CB Interview: Eddie McFarlane on the HVACR Learning 'Journey'

Eddie McFarlane acknowledges that different people learn at different speeds, and says HVACR teachers need to understand where each technician is in the learning journey.

Eddie McFarlane of Haller Enterprises was leading an idea session at the 2019 ACCA 'Optimize' conference with energy to spare, fueled by an ongoing passion for learning, and helping others learn. I spoke to him recently about his commitment to teaching technicians in conjunction with Haller Enterprises being selected as a Contracting Business Commercial HVAC Contractor of Excellence.

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Eddie McFarlane

McFarlane, vice president of Learning & Development for Haller Enterprises, Lititz, Pa., is committed to the training of mechanical contracting technicians in a way not often seen around the industry. He views field teams — both rookies and veterans alike — as people first, people with interests and strengths — who are eager to contribute as they grow in knowledge and ability. He joined the Haller team in 2005, after five years with a residential contracting business in Lancaster, Pa. He was born in Stirling, Scotland, where he had trained and worked as a professional chef. He moved to America shortly after he met his wife-to-be, Wanda, who was visiting Scotland on a missions trip. They have a son and daughter, both in their teen years.

'When we look at ways to enrich employees lives, the best way we can do that is to help them in their jobs, make their jobs easier, listen, and provide continuous improvement initiatives.'

McFarlane has been with Haller Enterprises through many of its very formative years. He was instrumental in forming and growing a residential sales team, followed by a stint as technician training leader. He developed processes for the commercial B2B service and replacement division, and established marketing processes. He calls himself “the company junk drawer,” but he has truly served in special and significant ways.  

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Photo: Eddie McFarlane leads an ideation session during the 2019 ACCA 'Optimize' Conference.

“When we decided to focus on an area, somebody had to tackle the training,” he said, and he gladly accepted the role.

The Learning & Development division was based on the leadership team’s belief in investing in an all-important “team.” 

“It’s an extension of our mission – ‘to enrich the lives of employees, customers and the communities we serve.’  When we look at ways to enrich employees lives, the best way we can do that is to help them in their jobs, make their jobs easier, listen, and provide continuous improvement initiatives,” McFarlane said. There are, of course, some non-negotiable processes that must be followed, but beyond those processes there’s an intentional bias toward giving heed to employee ideas, and their requests for new types of learning.   

“I could put together any type of curriculum, but the best way to be successful is to have them suggest topics,” McFarlane said.

McFarlane is pleased that HallerU has finally become a reality. In May it graduated its first electrical class. 

The school has functioning HVAC, plumbing and electrical simulators in the building next door to Haller’s main office.

As Haller Enterprises, and any number of competitors face the challenge of finding new talent, McFarlane wants students to know there are interesting and diverse career paths across all the trades, and he also wants to hear what they have to say. 

“I’m going to be visiting Thaddeus Stevens Technical College later today, to listen to the students, to understand their perspectives on careers. We attend career fairs, and we visit local elementary schools once each year. You have to get them interested in the trades early. High school is almost too late.”

'We’ve abdicated the responsibility for talking about our trade to other parties.'

 

McFarlane’s concern for the student as a person is reflected in the way he views even the most basic training class: “Respect the student for where they’re at in the journey. Instructors need to speak the students’ language, not just spout off an answer and look puzzled when they don’t understand something. We need to ask them where they’re at knowledge-wise, what do they know and don’t know.”

As for growing the industry’s employee pool, he wants experienced technicians to tell everyone they can about the profession.

“We’ve abdicated the responsibility for talking about our trade to other parties,” he said. 

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