Johnson Controls celebrated National Skilled Trades Day by confirming a second cohort of schools receiving funding as part of its Community College Partnership Program. Last year, Johnson Controls agreed to fund $15 million over the span of five years to help support the community college’s HVAC, fire, security and digital academic programs.

Johnson Controls continues show its commitment and dedication to the skilled trades by providing workforce development programs amidst a national trade workforce shortage, helping to build the next generation of green-minded skilled workers. Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke sat down with Mike Schade, vice president of Human Resources for Johnson Controls, Building Solutions North America, about the company’s Community College Partnership Program and what’s next.

PM: What is the Community College Partnership Program and how does it work?

MS: Johnson Controls is committed to fostering the next generation of innovators and capable individuals who will — literally — build our sustainable future.  

The Community College Partnership Program is one of many initiatives created with the goal of supporting trade careers and bridging the skilled labor gap. Through this program, launched in 2021, Johnson Controls agrees to fund $15 million over the span of five years to help support and develop HVAC, fire, security and digital programs at community colleges across North America. We encourage recipient colleges to leverage these grants for programs, personnel and equipment necessary to recruit and retain students and ensure they are successful in completion of a certificate or degree program.

PM: What is the goal of the program?

MS: By helping to support and mentor students from kindergarten through graduation, we aim to uplift individuals from historically underrepresented groups with family-supporting jobs, help bridge the skilled labor gap affecting the U.S. economy and create a healthier and greener environment.

PM: Why did Johnson Controls decide to start this program last year?

MS: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly eight million skilled labor jobs went unfilled from 2020-2021. About half have now been filled, but an estimated four million vacancies remain in industries responsible for more transportation, construction and mechanical needs nationwide. Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce is 55 or older; as they age and retire, there are not enough people entering the trades to fill their positions.

Filling the skilled labor gap will not only positively impact the economy and infrastructure industry — it will also accelerate the creation and improvement of sustainable, safe, resilient buildings. That is one of many reasons that we stepped in to support the training of future technicians and mechanics.

PM: How does Johnson Controls determine which schools receive aid?

MS: Johnson Controls selects schools that have both a mission of inclusion for historically underrepresented groups and academic programs that are connected to our business. We choose schools in urban areas where we have a Johnson Controls location and strong business presence. This allows our employees to engage as tutors, mentors and guest speakers. We recognize that students benefit not only from financial support and tuition relief, but also from support and attention from professionals in their field of interest. Our philanthropy and our employee volunteerism are closely tied.

PM: What is the program doing in 2022-2023?

MS: Expanding our impact. We have selected a second cohort of 10 schools who will be receiving funding based on their individual needs. This year, we selected our first school in Canada in addition to nine U.S. cities where Johnson Controls has a significant customer base and employee presence. In addition to the initial investment they receive, each college is eligible for a renewal grant for three years, allowing them to expand and serve future students.  

“Filling the skilled labor gap will not only positively impact the economy and infrastructure industry — it will also accelerate the creation and improvement of sustainable, safe, resilient buildings. That is one of many reasons that we stepped in to support the training of future technicians and mechanics.”  – MIKE SCHADE

PM: Why are programs like these important for the skilled trades?

MS: The skilled trades industry relies on technical talent like plumbers and mechanics. As building owners and managers seek greater sustainability, safety, comfort and resilience in their facilities, demand is skyrocketing for new construction and retrofits. In order to meet the moment and create the smart, healthy, net-zero carbon buildings of the future, we need to usher in the next generation of skilled workers who can engineer, fine-tune and execute better buildings for all.  

Through the Johnson Controls Community College Partnership Program, as well as other workforce development initiatives, we are furthering the industry by encouraging individuals — especially those from historically underrepresented groups — to enroll and graduate from local technical college programs. As a result, these students earn thriving career paths, spur local economic development, narrow the global skilled labor gap and change the trajectory of their lives.

And CCPP is just one example of our initiatives to further the development of technical careers. Take, for example, our “Train the Trainer” programs to assist client instructors, assistants and students with equipment, courses and other tools, or our partnership with the STEM 101 program, which bridges the STEM career awareness gap for students through the development of competency-based career exploration and skill-based resources.  

PM: Is this something Johnson Controls will continue once the initial five years are up?

MS: Johnson Controls is committed to the furthering of skilled trade careers. Whether through another version of this program or through other initiatives, we will always continue to support and invest in the next generation of skilled trade workers with mentorship, training and support, from elementary school through employment.

PM: What else do you think needs to be done to further workforce development in the skilled trades?

MS: Our society values four-year university graduates, and that’s a fine thing. However, we need to start in middle school and high school to demonstrate that there is more than one path to build a fulfilling career where one can support a family, such as in the skilled trades. Initiatives like our STEM 101 partnership are doing just that — connecting young learners to new career pathways.

Today, technicians and mechanics in the building industry are doing work that is literally saving our planet from carbon emissions. That sense of fulfillment and drive toward the greater good is yet another factor making skilled trades careers worthwhile and rewarding.