• Matthew Langan
    One section of the HVACR and trades lab training area at Emily Griffith Technical College.

    Ride-Alongs with Refrigeration Techs Provide Students with Career Insights

    Oct. 5, 2021
    Polar Ice and Emily Griffith Technical College of Denver use ride-alongs to supplement classroom training, as a glimpse into real-world refrigeration tasks and opportunities.

    By the end of April 2021, job openings rose to an unprecedented 9.3 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Service industries such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration are included with those trades wading through the waters of low-level employee pools.

    In an effort to hire more ice technicians amid the employee shortage and help those looking to have a career in the HVACR industry, national ice machine subscription company, Easy Ice has partnered with the long-established Emily Griffith Technical College, based in Denver, Colo., to take students on ride-alongs with Easy Ice technicians, to help them gain real-world experience and insight into refrigeration opportunities. Easy Ice operates under three brands: Ice Masters in Kansas and Missouri; Automatic Icemakers in Chicago; Polar Ice in Denver; and Easy Ice in all other cities and states.

    The ride-along experience provides students from EGTC's College of Trades, Industries and Professional Studies, with opportunities for hands-on learning, while also giving them an opportunity to network and potentially lock  in full time jobs after graduation.Polar Ice places an emphasis on promoting from within and values technical skill and expertise.

    HINT, HINT: The college is always in need of equipment donations for training purposes.

    The ride-alongs were started  by Dustin Ferrel, a branch manager and 24-year employee of Polar Ice, who initiated the program with Matthew Langan, the new refrigeration instructor at Emily Griffith Technical College. Langan has 25-years of experience in mechanical contracting, and has a business that services commercial, industrial and cold storage refrigeration systems. The school is his main focus at this time. He conducts training with one additional instructor, and will soon be hiring an assistant.

    "We try to prioritize second-year students, since they will be leaving school soon and looking for a career, but we will extend it to first-year students if time permits. We put extra effort into getting more ride-alongs going before graduation." Eight ride-alongs were conducted from May to July of this year, with second-year students. Some have lined up interviews with employers. 

    The advantage of the ride-along training for Polar Ice is in helping students see the opportunities available in commercial refrigeration, and in Polar Ice as a potential employer.

    "Polar Ice would like to hire as many as possible," Ferrel said. "We have to do a fair amount of training, so we will take on as many as we can and keep them coming up through the program. We’ve hired two this summer who were part of the ride-along program, and we feel they have a good idea of what we do as a company and are very interested in working for us. Our hope is that it will provide long-term employment."

    A ride-along is usually a day-long event, and Polar Ice tries to put together a comprehensive sampling of what a technician tackles in any given day.

    "They may end up helping install an ice machine, or observe a refrigeration repair. For commercial ice machines it may be in the food industry, which is one of our larger bases, however, we’re also in hotels, health care, bars, and office buildings. They could be stepping in to a whole host of environments, with reach-in units and larger," Ferrel explained. "The few that we've hired have been great additions to the team."

    Polar Ice/Easy Ice services ice machines from all major brands, from small producers to up to 2500 pounds of ice-per-hour and larger. 

    Polar Ice sources described the added job security provided by essential service industries, especially during times such as the COVID pandemic. According to The Bureau of Labor statistics, only 35 percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree and more than a third of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require one. Those who are able to show their technical skills and expertise in the essential service industries can find success through alternative routes like trade schools.

    Twenty students were enrolled EGTC's 10-month HVACR program when the 2021 began in January. Training equipment includes HVAC products and for refrigeration, a low-temp walk-in unit and several medium temp training units. They have also serviced units in the student lounge as needed, for some convenient hands-on training.

    The entire EGTC HVACR curriculum includes:

    Safety Training for the Trades
    Basic Refrigeration
    Electrical Components
    Electricity for HVACR
    Fundamentals of Gas Heating
    Piping Skills
    Refrigerant Recovery Training
    Residential Air Conditioning
    Residential HVAC Troubleshooting
    HVAC&R Systems
    Advanced Refrigeration
    Hot Water Heating Systems
    AC Systems Service & Repair
    Direct Digital Controls
    Building Automation II, Service

    Langan said the college is always in need of some additional training equipment.

    "I've been wanting a condensing boiler and furnaces. Controls are always useful -- anything from thermostats to digital controllers. Also, training materials and tools. Some of this is obsolete equipment. The list is long."