A Novel Idea: Train Your Own Workforce

What the world needs is more HVAC technicians

Alexandria-based Michael & Son is establishing a vocational school in Richmond to train its workforce in plumbing, electrical and HVAC trades. The first class of enrollees is expected to start in the next few weeks, according to Richmond BizSense.

Said President Basim Mansour:

We’re probably not going to be fully running for another four to six months, but when the school is finished, it’s going to be the most state-of-the-art trade school in the nation. We’re going to be able to create and build incredible, talented people that we can farm just for our use.

The reality is that nobody’s going into the trade anymore. What we need as a company is, first, great people, and then second, tradespeople. It’s easier to find good people who don’t know the trade, so we’re going to take those good people and teach them the trade.

Michael & Son

spent $1.9 million to buy the old Wyeth Pharmaceuticals building and another $1 million to convert it into a dormitory to house up to 74 students. Classrooms at the school will replicate a home where students can get real-world work on plumbing, electrical wiring and HVAC systems. The company will pay students $300 a week to attend class — in contrast to some trade schools that charge up to $20,000 to attend. The 12-week program is followed by six weeks of field work. The company currently employs about 900 people.

Bacon’s bottom line: Why don’t we see more of this? Building tradesmen make good middle-class wages, and there aren’t enough of them. Why aren’t more businesses — at least the big ones which can afford to spend $3 million on facilities — training their own workers?

How has it happened that U.S. industry has come to rely upon the higher education establishment to provide the training? When you own your own shop, you teach exactly the skills your workforce needs, and you teach up to your standards. Other than Newport News Shipbuilding, which has one of the top apprenticeship programs in the country, I can’t think of any other enterprise in Virginia that does this.

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10 responses to “A Novel Idea: Train Your Own Workforce”

    1. Looks like a good program… run by Fairfax County Public Schools. I’m wondering why there aren’t more industry-run programs like Michael & Son’s. Why didn’t Michael & Son use the FCPS program?

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think they’re recreating the wheel – duplicative and expensive and no guarantee their trained folks won’t go elsewhere anyhow.

    besides VocEd – the state has a program


    The Virginia Registered Apprenticeship is a training system that produces highly skilled workers to meet the demands of employers competing in a global economy, through a combination of on-the-job training and theoretical classroom instruction. It is a “win-win” approach to workforce development for more than 13,000 apprentices (employees) throughout the Commonwealth.

    Eligibility and Requirements

    As a full-fledged employee of the sponsoring company, a registered apprentice completes a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training and a minimum of 144 hours of related classroom instruction for each year of apprenticeship.
    Apprenticeship terms are occupation specific, but the average term is four years.
    Successful completion of the registered Apprenticeship Program earns the apprentice nationally recognized state certification as a journeyperson.
    All apprentices are registered through a Department of Labor and Industry apprenticeship representative.
    Finding a Program

    Speak with your employer to see if your place of employment is a registered apprenticeship sponsor or if there is interest becoming a sponsor.
    If you work for a registered apprenticeship sponsor, have your employer contact a local Virginia Department of Labor and Industry apprenticeship representative to register you as an apprentice.
    On-the-Job Training

    The apprentice’s sponsor provides on-the-job training through qualified journeypersons.

    Related Instruction

    Related instruction may be provided through your local community college, a vocational and technical center, electronically or, in some instances, at your place of employment.

    but the more fundamental problem is that with today’s HVAC – and other systems – the trainee has to have good English and Math skills to start with…

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    you have to wonder where Michael and Sons is going to get an extra 3 million dollars – over and above their existing profit …. without their prices being higher than their competitors.

    I’m suspecting there are some other dollars , incentives, etc.. unless M&S DO CHARGE much higher rates!

    that would be the issue with ANY competitor – who chose to spend extra on training instead of utilizing what is already available from other funded sources like VocEd, Community College, etc.

    STILL if you THINK ABOUT IT – if someone borrowed even 10-20K to get a certificate – why would that be any different than someone borrowing money for a 4 year college?

    You’d think in either case – whatever govt assistance made available – should be equal to both… the idea to get an education that allows them to make a living – and not need entitlements.

    I’m totally in favor of equity availability of resources for those who want to get the education needed for a job but not a 4yr flavor.

    It”s probably got a much better ROI…

  3. A company should not be able to enforce a non-compete agreement against a former employee unless the company can demonstrate that it made a significant investment in the employee during his or her period of employment. Non-competes represent restraint of trade and are anti-competitive. States like California which ban almost all forms of non-compete agreements have proven that they suffered no decline in innovative employment because of this policy. I’d like to see a situation where an employer offers an employee an choice – significant training in return for a reasonable non-compete or no / minimal training with no non-compete.

    Two companies in the same field aren’t allowed to agree to not compete. Why does the government allow a company and an employee to agree to not compete?

    Once again it’s the elitist overlords vs the individual.

  4. Jim-
    Since you asked, I’d like to mention Moore’s Electric near Lynchburg, a large service company with more than 600 technicians. The owner created the Virginia Technical Institute ( http://www.govti.org/ ) more than five years ago in the office space that lane Furniture vacated years ago. The graduates of such programs are likely to earn more than many college graduates, even though they are filling blue collar positions. The program is robust and allows for a college education while receiving technical training. Things like this do happen in the not oft mentioned hinterlands- they just don’t get the press!

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Looks like Virginia Technical Institute is part of the Central Virginia Community College.

    but let me give an example of how even basic blue collar jobs have required higher and higher levels of education.

    I signed up for a “smart” thermostat – from my electricity provider (REC)… out came their guy to install and configure it. He went as far as he could on what he knew -but he did not understand the HVAC. So called the HVAC folks … well even though they have certified Master Techs – not a one was certified to configure the Smart Thermostat.

    Then I got to reading the manuals and discovered that there is a whole separate world of technical knowledge – associated with HVAC as well as SMART Thermostats.. and yet – the “industry” has not caught up… I finally asked the maker of the thermostat if they had a list of companies with certified techs. They did -and it was no one who was well known in our area. It was a smaller company with ONE GUY who went to HVAC and Smart thermostat school!!!
    Perhaps that is not the case with commercial systems ….

    Now – there are JOBS for people but they have to be able to read and understand fairly sophisticated technical manuals – and the concepts they describe – and then be able to take that knowledge and use it to troubleshoot to a resolution.

    If you get a smart thermostat – find a certified tech – because once you install the thermostat – if your HVAC “breaks” – you’re gonna have trouble finding someone who can fix the HVAC but understands how it works with your smart thermostat!

    these are high-dollar jobs – going wanting…

  6. Larry- Gotta give credit where credit is due. VTI collaborates with both CVCC and Liberty U, but it is a private school started by a company that had a hard time filling jobs. These types of collaborations will become more important as the need for technical training increases. Just trying to shine light where many people never look.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Indeed it is private and ” Total cost of the CORE & Level 1 trade class is approximately $1758 or $1858 for Welding.Costs per class per semester:Tuition -$700 each for CORE & Level 1 Tuition -$1400 each for Levels 2-4CORE & Level 1 Trade Lab fees -$99 eachWelding Lab fees -$199 for Level 1Welding Lab fees -$299 for Level 2-4Trade Lab fees -$199 each for Levels 2-4Books –vary from $80 -$110

    Currently, we do not have tuition assistance.We do offer a payment plan”

    so do folks who graduate gets a recognized/widely accepted certificate that they can use to get employment ?

    Govt tuition loans are available to virtually any Education entity – as long as they are accredited… so that appears to be a potential issue.

    If they do offer a legitimate certificate – it’s a bargain by any measure…. and a way to a decent income job without going into debt up to your eyeballs for a “college” degree that if generic often is not a guaranteed path to a job.

    What exactly does Liberty teach there? Is it occupational ?

    I assume that VTI use on-call adjunct-type instructors more so than full-time professors…in residence… which is good – if the instructors are folks who actually do that kind of work – also.

    there is very little info about VTI in terms of who they are, how they are funded, how many work there, their enrollment, etc.

    as long as they deliver industry-accepted certificates that are a real path to a real job – that’s all that really matters and they ought to give the 2/4 yr high-dollar guys a real run for the money.

    I still have some skepticism that needs a little more soothing though.. not 100% convinced about VTI just yet.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” How has it happened that U.S. industry has come to rely upon the higher education establishment to provide the training? ”

    Are you ALSO talking about 4-yr institutions?

    Are you essentially advocating that higher ed be not publicly funded but instead privately – by students, parents and industry?

    Or are you advocating that certain fields of study or industry be publicly funded and others not?

    I’ve always felt that if we publicly fund formal higher ed on the premise that it was in the best interests of business and commerce that ANY form of higher (post K-12) would be similarly viewed.

    Is there some rational way to divide the types of higher ed into those that would be publicly funded and those that should not be?

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