Ken Nielsen owns AccuAire in North Reading, Massachusetts, and has been involved in PHCC for nearly two decades. This fall, he will take over the office of PHCC president during the organization’s annual CONNECT conference and trade show, held this October in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
PM: What day do you officially take over office as president of PHCC?
KN: That would be the Friday, Oct. 12.
PM: And how long have you been part of the PHCC organization?
KN: Probably close to nineteen years, if not twenty.
PM: How did you first get started in this industry?
KN: I went to college — the Northeast Institute of Industrial Technology in Beacon Hill in downtown Boston — but college and I didn't like each other, so my uncle suggested I go to trade school. So I went to trade school for air conditioning and heating.
PM: What drew you to become a member of PHCC?
KN: My son and I used to go to the PHCC of Massachusetts trade shows every year since he was about eight years old. When he started getting older and everything and would stop and talk to people, they knuckled him, and he convinced me to join. We've been members ever since.
It's funny because I joined PHCC at the trade show, then I ended up working the trade show for PHCC, and then I ended up being asked to be an officer and ran the trade show for PHCC of Mass.
PM: How did you get involved with PHCC on the national level?
KN: After I went through all the chairs in Massachusetts, the current zone director, who is from Massachusetts, was saying how he's having a hard time finding someone to be on what they call the New England Council, which is all the New England states. We get together twice a year and we discuss problems that are going on in the different states because contractors who live in Massachusetts often work in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and so on. He said he couldn't find anybody, so I'm said, “Yeah, I'll do it.”
PM: As president-elect, what have been your job duties for the past year?
KN: I've been on a ton of committees — finance committee, [PHCC] Educational Foundation committee, the foundation’s HVAC Apprentice Contest committee — and I was chairman of the task force for the HVAC apprentice contest. And then there's a bunch of committees I can't remember.
PM: As someone who's been in these very active roles within the national organization, can you comment on some of the changes you've seen in the last eight years, the direction of PHCC, and maybe what you think is going to happen next?
KN: The current executive vice president, Michael Copp, has some great ideas, and now we have the PHCC Academy, so you can go online and take all the educational courses that were offered by the Educational Foundation. We’re also adding a lot of HVAC classes we didn't have before.
PM: As the incoming president, do you have any specific goals that you want to accomplish in your 12 months?
KN: My biggest issue that I want to make everybody know that PHCC is also for HVAC contractors. A lot of people don't realize that most of our plumbing contractors also do HVAC.
PM: What do you like most about the Apprentice Contest?
KN: They're all apprentices who are working in the field at the present time. We try to give them tasks they would be doing in the field when they compete — not tasks a guy with 15 years’ experience is doing, but daily tasks an apprentice would be doing on a daily basis.
PM: What would you say to contractors who are not currently involved in any sort of apprenticeship or training programs in their areas?
KN: They should get involved because that's the next generation of HVAC and plumbing contractors. There's already a shortage of employees; the average age is, like, 55 for people in the trade right now.
PM: What are some other ways contractors can be involved in workforce development and getting people interested in the trades?
KN: They can visit the high schools and the vocational schools and talk about what it is like to be in the trade. In a lot of cases, the schools are looking for a percentage of college students to graduate from that high school — they're not looking at people who don't want to go to college, or who think college isn't for them and are good with their hands and enjoy working with their hands. That's what we're trying to push past.
When you go to college you're paying to go to college. When you go to trade school, in most cases you may be paying for the first two years, but then when you become an apprentice, your boss is paying for you to go, not you. It's not coming out of your pocket to get trained. The statistics are that the normal college graduate starts out at about $42,000 per year, whereas a vocational school, technical school, or trade school graduate is making $62,000 per year to start.
PM: What are you looking forward to, and what are you going to be keeping an eye on, over the next year?
KN: Well I'm looking forward to visiting with the different states because there still is that question, "What does national do for us?" I think you need to go out and see the people and tell them what the PHCC – National Association does.
PM: Is there anything else that you would like to add about PHCC, about your corporate sponsors, the contest, the apprenticeships, or the members themselves?
KN: I do find that of those who belong to PHCC, there's no black sheep. Everybody gets along with everyone, and they're more than helpful. They'll bend over backwards to help you with your problems.
Networking is the biggest benefit to belonging to PHCC. There's always somebody out there who has had that same problem you're having, and they know how to get out of it.
I was actually at a local chapter meeting one night and got a phone call from one of the plumbing supply houses, which gave me an error code, but I didn't recognize the error cod — it wasn't in my brain. So I went into the meeting, interrupted the speaker, and told them what the error code was.
Now, there were 20 plumbers there, and only one person had ever experienced that code. He told me what it meant and I called the guy back to tell him what the code was. The guy pulled the part for the contractor in the morning, and by 7 p.m., he had his customer's heat back on.
It’s really cool to have that pool of knowledge available to you.
This article was originally titled “Contractors ‘should get involved’ in workforce development” in the September 2018 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.