BOZEMAN — As the population grows in Gallatin County, so does the need for new housing and commercial infrastructure. To address that demand, Gallatin College Montana State University has created a new program to fill needed jobs in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration.
The new program will consist of a one-year Certificate of Applied Science to prepare for work as an HVAC-R installer and a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree to work as an HVAC-R technician. The one-year program will start in the fall 2021 semester and the two-year will start in fall 2022.
Last year, administrators from Gallatin College met with industry professionals to discuss local construction needs. Those conversations identified a specific need for a program to train HVAC-R professionals.
“There were no specific technician or installer training in our region for someone wanting to pursue a career in HVAC-R,” said Anna Reardon, outreach project manager for Gallatin College. “There continues to be increased demand here for housing and building in general, and HVAC-R is critical to making houses livable and businesses operational.”
According to the 2020 Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Labor Day Report, from July 2009 to February 2020, Montana and the nation experienced the longest economic expansion in history. During this period, Montana workers expanded their economic output by roughly 20%, and the state’s economy added nearly 50,000 payroll jobs. And despite COVID-19, the state’s construction industry remained strong, with employment declining by only 5.4%.
Both local and national sources predicted continued and even accelerated population growth due to urban residents seeking less densely populated areas. The Montana Department of Labor and Industry has noted that HVAC-R is an under-supplied occupation throughout Montana. In the Bozeman region, HVAC-R jobs ranked in the top 10 positions that do not require a bachelor’s degree and that will be in the highest demand through 2027.
The HVAC-R certificate and degree programs at Gallatin College are designed to teach the theoretical, technical, and procedural aspects of working in the HVAC-R industry with an initial focus on residential systems and advanced instruction on commercial systems and new technology. The programs are a blend of coursework and relevant hands-on training.
According to Riley Duecker, HVAC-R instructor, the one-year installation program will include retrofits, which cover skills from furnace changes to adding new components into old systems. Students will learn general principles of the business and refrigeration theory. Duecker said there will also be an emphasis on electrical literacy, as a large amount of troubleshooting on the job involves working with electrical components, being able to read wiring diagrams, and more.
“There’s so much involved in this trade and so many areas you can specialize in, and the best technical programs are going to give people a solid grasp of the fundamentals,” Duecker said. “At that point, regardless of how complex a piece of equipment is, it’s still those same fundamentals, just stacked on top of each other.”
Duecker, who works in the industry, helped to create the curriculum for the program based on his personal experiences and feedback from industry professionals on what they want in an employee. Along with the fundamentals, the curriculum includes an ethics class and a lot of hands-on training and lab experience.
To help accommodate those with regular work schedules, classes will take place in the late afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays. Friday classes will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The program is meant to stand alone, and no apprenticeship is needed. Once a student completes either the one- or two-year program they will have the necessary qualifications, education, and certifications to be hired immediately in the field. However, Reardon added, those already in an HVAC apprenticeship can take these courses to satisfy their mandatory coursework instruction needs.
For hands-on learning, Gallatin College has partnered with the Montana Weatherization Training Center, part of MSU Extension, to give students a space equipped with HVAC-R equipment. The center delivers courses to field technicians and business owners on topics like energy efficiency, renewable energy, and health and safety. It has fully equipped training labs and field-testing facilities with boilers, furnaces, and other HVAC-R equipment that students will have access to.
“This partnership allows our students to get hands-on experience right away,” Reardon said.
Along with the HVAC-R program, Gallatin College will have offerings for plumbing apprentices beginning this fall. Apprentices must complete a certain number of hours of coursework instruction along with their hands-on work with their company sponsor. Gallatin College will offer a technical math class this fall and a plumbing code class in the spring, Reardon said.
Gallatin College MSU is southwest Montana’s two-year college, offering general education, one-year professional certificates, and two-year associate degrees. Gallatin College complements the four-year programs at MSU, with a mission of helping individuals fulfill their potential and ensuring access to workforce development that promotes a vibrant local economy.