Penn Commercial has joined forces with heating and air conditioning company Lennox to address a growing demand for HVAC technicians in the area.
During a brief program Thursday at the technical school on Oak Spring Road, attended by about 200 students, alumni, Lennox executives and local HVAC dealers, the school also showed a 17,000-square-foot space that is being constructed for teaching HVAC and electrical courses, as well as the addition of another classroom for its welding program.
According to Penn Commercial president and owner Robert Bazant, the school’s 22-year-old HVAC program currently has 22 students, but has an enrollment target of 80.
There’s good reason to believe that goal is achievable.
Frank McLaren, Pittsburgh area district manager for Lennox, said the company’s contribution includes its latest models of heating and cooling equipment for the course, with units that are solar and wi-fi ready.
The technical team from Lennox also will teach the school’s instructors how to use the equipment.
“The kids are going to go into the real world in a year or two,” McLaren said. “We want to be sure they’re exposed to what’s current out there.”
He added there are about 50,000 openings in HVAC positions nationally, and the average age of an HVAC technician is 56.
In the midst of the labor shortage is a housing construction market on the rebound.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported recently for all of 2016, seasonally adjusted new housing stood at 1.2 million units, with the most starts for housing and apartments since 2007.
Bob Fink, owner of McMurray Heating & Cooling, who attended Thursday’s event, said he sees the need for technicians firsthand.
“It’s real,” he said of the shortage. “We are constantly interviewing and adding people.”
Henry Kleiner, finance executive for McKean Plumbing, said his company has hired graduates from the school’s HVAC program for many years, adding it’s a pipeline the company depends on.
“The students who are going to be joining the workforce in the near term are going to be a key to our success,” he said.
Bazant, who said construction on the new tech center is to be completed by Feb. 15, told the audience Penn Commercial is the second school in the country to be selected by Lennox as a recipient of its equipment for providing hands-on experience for students.
It also brings another dimension to teaching that otherwise wouldn’t be available, he said later.
“Schools can’t afford to keep that technology in the classroom.”