You’ve probably heard the horror stories about students who chose the wrong colleges. These students embark upon expensive training programs, many of which offer little career preparation. They then graduate to find a career market that cannot use them in any meaningful way. What a waste of time and money!
This same scenario can occur at any HVAC school; in a refrigeration training program; in an electrician school or apprenticeship program, or at any other kind of technical college. Students should only enroll in schools that teach skills applicable to the immediate needs of the job market, where they can make the change from school to a refrigeration, electrician, plumbing, or refrigeration career without needing to pick up additional skills.
There are many technical schools from which to choose, however – it can be hard to determine which ones are schools of quality, and which are not. Technical schools offer a huge variety of different programs, from electronics to HVAC to plumbing to sheet metal work to refrigeration and cooling technologies. They all have different admissions requirements and different approaches to teaching class material. Their instructors have varying qualifications and levels of direct career experience in their fields of teaching, in addition. (For example, some HVAC instructors have worked HVAC careers for ten years before they taught; other HVAC instructors only have classroom and book experience.) And, some schools accept financial aid packages, while others place education financing directly in students’ hands.
So, what should you look for when pursuing an electrical, plumbing, refrigeration, HVAC, or other kind of training program?
1. Determine whether the school teaches you skills above and beyond what you might learn on the job.
Some technical training programs are redundant: They teach you skills you will absorb on the job – but when attending a school, you’ll clearly have to pay for them. You should always look for schools that provide a combination of theory and practice. For example, when choosing a school at which to study electrical wiring or electronics, don’t pick the place that only teaches you how to wire buildings or fix radios. Pick the place that teaches you concepts in addition: how electrical wiring and circuitry works; how electrical appliances or wiring can be tested for voltage, amperage, and resistance, and how basic strength supplies work.
The best technical training schools provide a combination of lecture-based classes and lab- or shop-based classes. A good, job-focused curriculum for any given school will also include special hands-on projects, and will teach safety concepts and standards based upon current laws and regulatory code.
2. Make sure that the schools you’re interested in have good job placement rates and a strong industry reputation.
Many HVAC, refrigeration, plumbing, and electrical schools are nothing more than diploma mills. Students use expensive amounts of money on an education that is lacking in quality. Unfortunately, when they do embark upon careers in these technical industries, they have no useful job skills to speak of – just a piece of paper stating that they graduated from the school.
A good technical training school or career college is recognized by employers in the fields the school teaches to: air conditioning, HVAC, electrical work, mechanics, and so on. When you are participating in an admissions interview, ask the school representatives if you can see a list of places that hire the school’s graduates. This should give you an idea of what you can expect, career-wise, after finishing your training program.
You should also see what kinds of jobs each training school can prepare you for. This will give you good insight into how versatile the curriculum is and how far the school can take you in a technical field. Ask if the school has a career counseling department and whether or not the school is dedicated to assisting with job placement. There’s no doubt about it – the 21st century job market is tough. If a possible school can help you to obtain a job, so much the better.
3. Find out how invested the school is in you as a student and as an individual.
Many schools treat their students as numbers and not as individuals. These are the types of HVAC, refrigeration, electrical technologies, and plumbing schools that usher students by the system without allowing them to ask questions or analyze their options. If you find it difficult to acquire basic information about a technical training program – such as cost, number of credits necessary to graduate, and job placement rates – then this school is not one you’d want to attend.
Look for a school that encourages you to come in for individualized information sessions. Find schools that encourage students to participate in private education planning sessions and one-on-one career counseling. Unlike four-year schools, size does matter. Smaller technical schools are usually more specialized. They are less likely to be factories that take student money and try to get them to pass by the programs as quickly as possible. Some of these schools are family-owned. The best schools have instructors who are obtainable to talk with students outside of class time, and administrators who are present in the building every day – these schools can boast of faculty and staff who truly know their students.
You are also better off at a school that accepts student aid than a school only accepting students who are able to pay out of pocket. Many students cannot provide the entirety of their tuition in one payment, and a good school enables students to choose the financing plan that is right for them.
The best way to determine whether or not a technical school is for you is to visit it, and ask as many questions as you can think of. If you get an strange feeling that information is being deliberately hidden or your questions are being ignored, move on. There are good technical training schools – don’t let the bad ones dissuade you from your dreams.