In partnership with Service Nation, Coppell, Tex., the University of North Texas (UNT) is taking a revolutionary approach to the labor shortages in the plumbing and HVACR industries, by offering a training program for contractors and their employees. The goal of the program is to help students learn both a trade and a college degree.
“Dirty Jobs” star, Mike Rowe says, “We used to tell our kids that learning a trade was a great way to secure a worthwhile future. Today we tell them that if they want a really, really good job they’re going to need to get a four-year degree.”
Unfortunately, this is the message parents tell their kids and high school guidance counselors tell their students. Trying to counter it is an uphill battle.
When a contractor’s employees complete one or more certification programs offered by UNT’s Professional Development Institute, these can be transferred as accredited college level courses towards a Bachelor’s Degree from UNT, with an emphasis in service business management.
As Force Home Solutions owner Ron Strelke says, “We’ve got to learn to attract people into this industry who want to be plumbers and HVAC technicians and make it attractive to them.”
The staff at UNT had a potential solution. The 38,000-student university is one of the nation’s 115 "Tier One Research Institutions," named “best in the west” by the Princeton Review, and listed in America’s 100 Best College Buys®. Taking an entrepreneurial approach, UNT rejects the either/or choice by giving individuals the ability to learn a trade and earn a college degree.
When a contractor’s employees complete one or more certification programs offered by UNT’s Professional Development Institute, these can be transferred as accredited college level courses towards a bachelor degree from UNT with an emphasis in service business management. While limited to Service Nation Alliance members today, the program will eventually be opened across the industry. Classes are offered live, in-person or through Internet connections one Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday each month.
UNT will accept prior work from a two-year technical college and further accommodate technicians and office staff by providing work/life experience credit where possible. Depending upon previous school work and assignable credits the student will be within a year of earning a degree following the completion of one or more certifications. The employee then completes the remaining course work online.
College Level Service Business Training
The initial certifications are Marketing & Sales, Service Operations, Human Resources, Finance, and Leadership. Each course is rooted in upper level business courses offered by UNT, but tailored to service contracting.
UNT is offering a break on tuition costs, eliminating out-of-state fees. Company owners and employees will share the cost of the program. Instead of attending a four-year college out of high school and winding up in a low pay job with student debt equal to the price of a starter home, high school students can opt to learn a trade, earn money, and come out with a degree debt free.
Recruit and Retain
The UNT program gives contractors the ability to elicit the support of high school guidance counselors to recruit promising candidates.
“It will help us recruit people outside of the pool that we currently have. Our pool could increase by 50% or even larger because we now have a future or a path for somebody to better themselves,” said contractor Joe Strittmatter, owner, Strittmatter Air Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing and Roofing, located in Denton, Tex., about the UNT program.
Moreover, employees who are in the program and desire the sheepskin are unlikely to change jobs before a degree is achieved. “It’s not effective when you spend two, three, five thousand dollars on training an individual and they turn around and leave in three to six months,” says Strelke. But with the UNT program, “I’m investing in the employee. I’m investing in the education process. I’m reinvesting in our company. And, I’m retaining that person that I’m paying to educate long term so my investment pays off.”
Even more significant, this offers quality training for future managers and leaders. Joe Strittmatter remarked, “If something was to ever happen to me, I’ve got people trained and in place to take over my role and this now gives me the employee base to expand into different areas or different trades.”
Sunny Service’s Ben Stark adds, “If we open up a satellite location they’ll be able to fit in there and comprehend and understand what it takes to run a business.”
The UNT program appeals to growth-oriented contractors trying to build sustainable businesses and multi-location operations. In a survey of Service Nation Alliance members, 99% felt the program is valuable to their business, 97% were willing to co-sponsor tuition, and two thirds were willing to pay a deposit up front to secure a place in the first cohort in February 2019.
For more information on the University of North Texas/Service Nation education partnership, contact the Service Roundtable at 877-262-3341.