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New air conditioning, heating program draws a full lab

HVAC instructor with student beside air conditioning unit.

Career education program at Palomar’s Escondido Education Center gives students the option of a “workforce ready” certificate in as little as six months, a full Certificate of Achievement, or an Associate of Science.

Inside a new classroom and student laboratory at the Palomar College Escondido Center, dozens of students are learning how to maintain and troubleshoot the complex—and increasingly high-tech—systems that keep people comfortable every day.

Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration (ACR) is Palomar’s newest career education program, and it aims to provide students with the skills they need to enter a thriving job market as soon as possible. Certificate options start with a “workforce ready” endorsement that requires students to take four classes, potentially in as little as one semester.

“Every building and every home has at least a refrigerator and an air conditioner,” said Ed Kirk, one of the ACR instructors, who has 45 years of experience in the trade. “It’s a large job market out there. And it’s wide open. Talking to contractors, one comment I get pretty regularly is that they can’t grow their business because they can’t find enough technicians to do the work.”

The ACR program launched during the current Fall 2019 semester, with enrollment of more than 120 students across four classes covering mechanical, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems. The new classroom and state-of-the-art lab are in adjoining rooms and are outfitted with the latest technology for students to develop cutting-edge skill sets.

“Demand is really quite high, because there’s very little training out there,” said Kirk. “And these are transferable skills—you learn electrical systems, automation, and controls involving computers.”

Lisa Profeta, one of the first students to enroll, came to Palomar already employed full-time as a facilities manager for a local biotech company. She said she learned basic maintenance on the job—with some 53 HVAC units under her care—but sought out Palomar’s ACR program to make herself more valuable in the workforce.

“I now have a marketable skill that looks good on my resume and gives me wider job opportunities,” Profeta said. “I love the program so far. It’s a mixture of lecture, theory and hands-on. Both of my instructors have been in the field for decades.”

“In my field, there are all types of systems that require refrigeration,” she went on, explaining that she enrolled to learn more about how these commercial units work: “How to diagnose, troubleshoot and repair them, which ultimately will save my company money.”

Kirk said the technical skills have become increasingly important in the HVAC industry in recent years: “Now, everything’s automated and you work off your iPad or iPhone, so it’s a high-tech industry that requires a lot of skills. Most people really underestimate what we do.”

Kirk has taught in the heating and air conditioning trade for two decades and helped design the new ACR program.

“I love it,” Kirk said of being in the classroom at Palomar. “The new generation is hungry for knowledge and to learn the skills. It’s a good group of people.”

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