The HVACR industry recently received a legislative shot in the arm as Congress reauthorized the Perkins Career and Technical Law of 2006. The bipartisan bill, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on July 27, will provide flexibility to states that allows them to set benchmarks for career and technical education (CTE) using grants from the $1.2 billion program.
The Perkins Act is the primary federal funding source for CTE programs that are critical for preparing youth and adults, including immigrants, for jobs in local and regional economies.
THREE TIERS OF FUNDING
The Perkins Act provides funds via basic state grant programs, national programs, and tech prep programs.
Through basic state grants programs (Title I), money is distributed to individual states proportionally based upon population. That money is then divvied up to high schools, colleges, and universities that offer programs that integrate academic and career and technical education.
Money is also given to national programs, specifically to certain research organizations that conduct and disseminate national research and information on best practices designed to improve CTE programs. These funds are currently used to support the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education and other activities assisting states with implementing key requirements of the Perkins Act.
Finally, tech prep programs (Title II) allow educational institutions to combine at least two years of high school education followed by at least two years of education at a college or university, which provides students with an industry-recognized credential, certificate, or degree.
The reinstatement of the Perkins Act initiates the first round of federal funding for tech-prep programs since the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) stopped providing states with funds in May 2011.
“I applaud Congress for its tremendous, bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act,” said President Donald Trump. “In the 12 years since Congress passed the last Perkins reauthorization, the economy has evolved tremendously, becoming increasingly dependent on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and other skilled labor. The White House, led by Ivanka Trump, was strongly engaged every step of the way to ensure passage of this critical legislation to provide students and workers the training necessary to succeed in a 21st century economy. By enacting it into law, we will continue to prepare students for today’s constantly shifting job market, and we will help employers find the workers they need to compete.”
The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), a national HVACR contracting association, has been pushing for the reinstatement of the Perkins Act for years. Barton James, senior vice president, government relations, ACCA, has served as one of the industry’s loudest voices and has spent countless hours defining the skilled trades worker shortage and demonstrating the importance of HVACR workforce development and the Perkins Act before members of Congress.
James said the government stopped funding tech-prep programs in 2011 because the industry’s lobbying efforts simply weren’t loud enough.
“The authorization hasn’t been there, which is one way Congress has been able to cut spending,” he said. “This is their way of doing earmark reform. If no one is passionately asking for the money, Congress is going to stop giving it out. If appropriators don’t have authorization, they simply won’t appropriate. Frankly, there are too many programs asking for money. If there isn’t a continual desire for these funds, the funds will disappear because Congress will find another way to use them.”
When it came time to determine how Congress was going to utilize the Perkins Act money, James said ACCA and the HVACR industry pushed legislators to provide individual states with more flexibility.
“We were interested in lifting the federal mandate that pinpointed exactly how this money was to be used so that more of it could be used for in-demand jobs, such as HVACR contracting,” he said. “We can point to HVAC openings in nearly every city in every state. Everyone’s looking for workers in this industry. This newfound flexibility at the state level will allow this money to be used in careers we know are viable.”
Brian McDonald, general manager, Outer Banks Heating and Cooling, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, has been to Washington, D.C., three times in the last four years to lobby for the renewal/extension of the Perkins Act.
“Visiting Washington is a real challenge that leaves you exhausted,” he said. “Very few representatives understand what we, as contractors, deal with on a daily basis to properly service their constituents.”
Over the past year, the company’s been working with its Outer Banks Home Builders Association and the local community college — the College of the Albemarle — to set up a program for high school students to be able to take advanced placement classes at the college for the trades their senior year.
“The school already had a welding program, and now we’ve established an HVAC program for this coming school year,” McDonald said. “We’re still working on the electrical and plumbing classes.
“Once the Perkins Act was passed, I forwarded it to the dean we’ve been working with, and he wrote back that they’ve already earmarked some of the Perkins Act funding to purchase an air compressor for the welding lab,” continued McDonald. “Finding qualified instructors seems to be as much a challenge for the college as finding qualified installers and technicians is for us. I’m hopeful this line of funding will help.”
Palmer Schoening, vice president of government affairs, Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), said HARDI members support this legislation.
“Reauthorizing funding for career and technical education programs gives students the opportunity to learn about job opportunities in the trades early,” Schoening said. “Increasing the pool of candidates to work in the HVACR industry with the skills and work ethic to excel will help the entire industry. HARDI is excited to see this legislation approved, and we are continuing to advocate for effective workforce development policies to help our industry.”
THE NEXT STEPS
The reinstatement of the Perkins Act is only the first step. Contractors should aim to get into their local schools and initiate partnerships with as many institutions as they can to continue nurturing the workers who will guide the industry’s next generation.
“Contractors must make sure the administrators, teachers, and staff of their local schools understand their workforce needs,” said Todd Washam, director of industry and external relations, ACCA. “They can’t rest on their laurels now that this is passed. They need to help their local schools develop their HVAC curricula to make sure the students are learning the proper skills. I advise them to bring flags, fly banners, and do everything they possibly can to make their businesses as visible and attractive as possible to students. They need to show students that wonderful, great-paying careers exist in HVAC. If they do that, the schools will be more apt to build up their tech programs to help create the next generation of blue collar workers.”