Vets and military personnel often have the skill set for ammonia technician jobs.
Lois O'Connor, Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation
Here’s one solution to the pervasive shortage of technicians in the HVAC&R industry: recruit from the U.S. military.
In addition to being “the right thing to do,“ hiring current or former military personnel makes business sense because “have similar skill sets for mechanical work,” said Lois O’Connor, executive director of the Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation (ARF), a 12-year-old nonprofit research and training association for the natural refrigeration industry, based in an Alexandria, Va.
Indeed, people from the military are already making their mark in industrial refrigeration. “As I looked around and met people it dawned on me that a lot of people come straight out of the military and into the industry,” she noted.
The recruitment of military personnel and veterans has become an important part of an ammonia industry apprenticeship program for refrigeration technicians, launched by ARF last November after being approved by the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship. “[The apprenticeship program] is a win-win for end users, it’s what contractors need, and it’s good for the industry as a whole,” said O’Connor.
One company looking for technician recruitment help is Nestlé, which needs to fill 100 refrigeration technician positions, she said. “[Nestlé] had no idea how to tackle that feat and is working with ARF to hire.”
The ammonia industry apprenticeship program is tied to national standards for refrigeration industry apprenticeships, which the DOL also approved last November. The standards were developed by ARF in conjunction with International Institute for Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), the Refrigerating Engineers Technicians Association (RETA), the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), Lanier Technical College and Fastport Inc., an employment-software company focused on veterans and those affiliated with the military.
The new standards will provide a basic structure for an apprenticeship, which participating companies can modify depending on their individual needs. The standards cover everything from administration and qualifications to apprentice responsibilities and wages.
“As I looked around and met people it dawned on me that a lot of people come straight out of the military and into the industry.”
– Lois O’Connor, Ammonia Refrigeration Foundation (ARF)
As part of its focus on the military, ARF has been building up a scholarship fund and working with the federal government to train transitioning military personnel on their bases. The on-base training is designed to make the transition into appropriate technician apprenticeships seamless.
“We are currently in discussions with several facilities across the USA, and anticipate training programs to begin soon,” said O’Connor. “Financial support is key to this effort – it will cost roughly $5,000 per trainee.”
Apprentices with military backgrounds may qualify for additional benefits under the GI Bill and qualify for an additional monthly stipend paid by the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Fastport also helps by partnering with employers willing to recruit military personnel. O’Connor said Fastport is the de-facto “subject matter expert” when it comes to implementing apprenticeships that follow Department of Labor guidelines.
Technician apprentices, she noted, “don’t have to be in the military. You can be right out of high school.”
ARF held a webinar last year on the apprenticeship program that drew 70 attendees. Based on that interest, O’Connor predicts the program will become a popular and important staple in the ammonia refrigeration industry.
The apprenticeship’s “driving principle,” she said, is “helping solve a national crisis in [the shortage of] trained and qualified labor for our industry’s membership, while assisting our veterans in transitioning into the civilian workforce in a growing market.”