The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association (PHCC) honored two instructors who have dedicated their careers to enriching the lives of plumbing and HVAC students during PHCCCONNECT 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Tim Rutledge, a deeply committed instructor at the PHCC-GSA Training Facility in Sacramento, California, was named 2023 Plumbing Instructor of the Year. Brian Millard of the PHCC of Iowa Apprenticeship Program was named 2023 HVAC Instruction of the Year. The awards were sponsored by PHCC Corporate Partner Milwaukee Tool.

Growing up in a family that has owned multiple plumbing companies over several decades, Rutledge’s experience comes from years of working in multiple facets of the industry. For the past six years, he has served as a PHCC plumbing instructor (teaching years 1 through 4), motivating his students, both past and present, with his “can-do attitude, creativity, and sense of humor,” claims Theresa Perez, an administrator at the PHCC facility who nominated Rutledge.

That creativity has shone in multiple ways, especially via Rutledge’s learning lab buildout, which comprises a mock house and a trenching box, both of which he constructed to give students hands-on opportunities that more closely resembled situations found in the field or on a job site. The model home has a working Bluetooth shower, dishwasher, water heater, bathtub, and more … and also is elevated to create a crawl space for his students to work on drains and venting. The trench box gives students the opportunity to dig through dirt and riprap to lay pipe and learn slope and grade.

With the increasing use of technologies and digital information in the trade, Rutledge also has implemented a paperless classroom, including programming computer LMS for student use, implementing management software to monitor students’ work on laptops, creating testing tools and scramblers, and building Excel-based electronic grading tools.

And, to help students solidify their own learning as well as provide an alternate approach to students struggling with a particular concept, Rutledge empowers students to instruct each other; this peer-to-peer method also reinforces teamwork, a necessity on a job site.

“Tim creates a safe, welcoming, positive environment for students to learn and master their craft,” says Perez. “He leads by example, demonstrating his own success in multiple career paths to which a plumbing apprenticeship can lead – contractor, instructor, inspector, examiner.”

In addition, Rutledge gives tours of the PHCC GSA Training Facility to school groups, industry partners, and elected officials. His dedication to his former and current students – and to the industry’s future workforce – makes him most deserving of this award.

With a deep understanding and expertise in the HVAC trade, Millard is known for sharing his valuable blend of both theoretical concepts and practical skills with his apprentices. “Brian’s excellent communication skills and adaptability allow him to effectively manage a classroom, and his passion, patience, and empathy help him to maintain great relationships with his students,” says PHCC of Iowa Executive Director Randi Malone. “These characteristics allow Brian to create a stimulating and effective learning environment that prepares apprentices for success in the trades and beyond.”

As part of creating that environment, Millard is known for turning to field trips, hosting guest speakers, and developing “memorable hands-on labs” to help his students grasp concepts and maximize their academic journey.

His passion for the industry also translates into his expectations for professionalism, both from himself and from his students. His goal to deliver the best information and to be the best instructor serves as a catalyst for students to not only understand HVAC concepts but to demonstrate the overall need for professionalism.

“Brian is a great motivator and inspiring role model,” says Malone. “He works hard to understand his students’ needs and meets them where they are to provide them with the knowledge and information they need to succeed … he is a true champion for all who pass through his class.”