Company opens technician school to boost workforce
MOUNT VERNON — When a company is struggling to find the labor it needs, sometimes the best thing to do is to take matters into its own hands.
That’s what Barron Heating and Air Conditioning is doing with the founding of Barron Technician School.
“It was pretty obvious that the number of applicants coming in just wasn’t up to what we needed,” said Brad Barron, the company’s director of operations.
Some of that shortage, Barron said, is a result of less high school students choosing careers in the technical or apprenticeship fields and instead aiming for four-year degrees.
But four-year degrees aren’t for everyone, he said.
“You can earn a living wage for a family (and) you can be part of a family without having to go to a four-year college,” Barron said. “We have a lot of different options.”
With that in mind, about 18 months ago the company decided to take a more proactive approach and train its own workforce, Barron said.
That meant building classrooms and installation labs at its Ferndale location, and bringing in lecturers and teachers.
Now, Barron said, they’re looking for students to fill those classrooms and labs.
At Barron Technical School, students aren’t just students, they’re also employees — meaning the company pays for and provides all the necessary training.
“We are truly treating this as a learning opportunity coupled with an apprenticeship,” Barron said. “It was worth investing in. I do not think there are a lot of other companies out there doing this.”
In the installation labs, Barron said, students will have the opportunity to learn the skills they need as if they were on a job site. It’s one thing to read how to do it in a book, it’s another to squeeze into a closet-sized area and do it.
“You are learning the on-the-job skills that sometimes don’t exist in the classroom setting,” he said.
As one of the first to enroll in the school, which officially opens in October, electrical apprentice Brian Anderson knows that first hand.
“When you’re working in the field, it can be very challenging if you don’t have a base,” he said. “When you first start as an electrician, you’re just pulling wires.”
Being able to advance in his career without having to take out additional student loans, Anderson said, is a big help to his family.
He already has 16 hours of classroom time, he said. His biggest takeaway from his first hours at the school came when the instructor intentionally broke some of the equipment and Anderson had to learn how to put it back together.
Now, he said, when he sees a similar problem at a job site, he’ll have a better idea of what to do.
“I’ve seen this before, I have an idea at least where to start,” he said. “With the school, you learn the theory. You’re able to understand why you’re doing things. You’re going to be able to do things very well the first time.”
The science behind the systems, Barron said, is a main focus in the school.
“(It’s) teaching the technician that the equipment is part of it, but how (the equipment) lives and breathes and functions in the house is another aspect,” he said.
Getting that kind of experience, Barron said, will help customers and reduce the number of times a technician has to return to a site to complete the work.
“We prepare our guys before they even go out to the house to fix something,” he said. “We should be able to diagnose things faster now.”
After enrolling into the program, students will participate two months of classes, then will be partnered with a journeyman to go out to jobs.
Anyone, even those without experience in the services offered by Barron, can apply for the program, Barron said. The classes are held mainly in Ferndale, but the on-the-job training can occur in any of the five counties Barron serves.