Students prepping for hot career keeping community cool

Published 4:16 pm Monday, May 16, 2022

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By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

As summer draws closer in Alabama, air conditioning is a major thought as everyone tries to stay cool.

LeCroy Career Technical Center is training the next generation of professionals to service these essential systems through its HVACR program.

“Most of them, if they want a job, can find one now because everyone is hunting for employees,” instructor Jimmy Chastain said.

He said he knew of five regional companies that were currently hiring in the industry.

Many times, any additional training needed can be done on-the-job.

Students do have the opportunity to complete an internship with a local company while in the LCTC program.

High school students start the two-year program in their junior year.

The first six weeks of the program focuses on safety.

“Everything is flammable around you,” Chastain said. “You have to know where your torch is at all times.”

The copper being worked on also heats up to scorching temperatures. The refrigerant used in air conditioners can also be dangerous.

This is demonstrated for students by using liquid nitrogen to freeze watermelons or grapes to show how it would damage one’s skin.

Students are also taught how to avoid getting electrocuted.

“When you take the panel off, you got to think about what you are doing before you do it,” Chastain, who has taught the course for 13 years, said.

Wearing the right protective gear is also emphasized.

“You have to take your time when you’re doing it, too,” Elijah, a junior in the program, said. “Otherwise, you will screw up.”

After safety comes learning how to braze, which is how the copper components are welded together.

“The first thing we start with is teaching them how to braze because that is what they are all interested in,” Chastain said.

While students are learning about how the copper is connected, they are also introduced to how the unit should perform and how an air conditioner works through their textbook study.

Some students become interested in the industry because of family members working in the profession.

“My uncle does HVAC, and I really liked what he did, so I just decided to give it a shot,” Elijah said.

James, a junior in the program, said he became interested in HVAC while helping his aunt’s grandfather while he worked.

“How to braze properly” is the biggest thing he has learned so far.

“Brazing is one of the first things we learn, and it is fun to do,” James said.

Electronics practice starts on a training device that the program built.

Installing the wiring for a unit was a part of the juniors’ final project for the year. Elijah said wiring was one of his favorite parts of the course thus far.

Chastain said the more students do the different components, the more they will understand how it is all connected.

The moment when the material clicks for a student in the practical application is the best part for him.

“When … they make the link between what I have been telling them and what they are doing, and they figure out this is why he has been telling me this, and they are able to apply it without me standing over the top of them, and … they say, ‘I understand this,’ is what I like to see,” Chastain said.

Skills learned have also been used to build or fix other machinery, including a soda machine and a rolled ice cream machine.

Students also gain leadership experience as the seniors in the class help teach the juniors.

“I try to get my seniors to teach because if you can teach it, you understand it,” Chastain said.

Students complete the qualifications for the OSHA 10 and certification and the EPA 608 refrigeration certification federally required to be able to work with refrigerate. Most students will take the certification test their senior year, although some do take the tests as juniors, Chastain said.

“The two-year HVACR program is aligned with the most current NCCER (National Center for Construction Education & Research) modules relevant for this geographic area and industry needs (and) trends,” LCTC assistant principal Alfredia Shavers said.

These include NCCER certifications related to electricity, oil heat, gas heat, air conditioning and commercial air conditioning.

James plans to have a career in HVAC, potentially owning his own business one day. Chastain said several of his students go into industrial maintenance jobs. Chastain said three former students went to work at the Mercedes plant because their ability to be able to work on air conditioning helped them stand out to the employer.