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Training, efficiency and cost savings: Fostering the next generation of facilities professionals

By Richie Stever / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
August 13, 2018

Meet Chris McClintock, a University of Maryland Medical Center employee and building automation apprentice. For the past three years, he’s earned straight A’s in every class, excelled at his job and settled into his apartment in Baltimore City. Today Chris is on track for a promising career in a high-demand field.

But just a few short years ago, his story was very different – stuck with a barely-passing high school transcript, Chris was working at a local aquarium store and pursuing his passion for video games in his spare time. While that experience helped Chris build some valuable skills, including a basic understanding of mechanical systems and the ability to predict chain reactions, he never felt traditional school was his forte and was struggling to find a career path that made sense to him.

Stepping up at UMMC

Students like Chris, who have the innate skills needed to thrive in a trade but are not served by a conventional academic environment, need programs that better align with their life and learning style. That’s where the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)’s accredited Skilled Trades Apprenticeship Program comes in. The program was designed specifically to serve those with non-traditional learning styles.

UMMC established the Skilled Trades Apprenticeship Program in 2014 in partnership with Automated Logic, a leading manufacturer of state-of-the-art building automation systems like UMMC’s, and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). The program offers one apprenticeship each year in several high-demand trades, including building automation, electronics, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning).

Leveraging existing curriculums and courses, each four-year apprenticeship combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction, including field work and a competency assignment. Apprentices are UMMC employees who are paid throughout, with wage increases every six months or as a training module is completed. In addition, by focusing on advanced training in these high-demand fields, UMMC is also promoting energy efficiency and cost savings across its operations by increasing its ability to leverage the latest technologies.

Meeting the demand

Beyond serving the needs of nontraditional students, UMMC’s program is responding directly to a need within the industry itself. Increasingly, trades find themselves with a labor shortage. Experienced professionals are retiring in large numbers, while few qualified candidates are there to take their place. A recent survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America found that approximately 70 percent of construction firms in the U.S. reported difficulty finding employees trained in plumbing, HVAC and electrical work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that meeting the HVAC industry’s labor demand through 2022 will require 115,000 new trained professionals.

Meanwhile, relevant training programs are increasingly harder to access. Just a third of U.S. high schools currently offer vocational education programs, according to the Association for Career & Technical Education. Budget limitations have driven many academic institutions to reduce training programs or shut them down altogether – overall funding for career and technical education programs nationwide dropped nearly 20 percent between 2011 and 2012.

The need to build the next generation’s skills is even more pressing given the rise of modernized systems and energy-efficient technologies. Today’s trades are distinguished by automation and integration, requiring highly-trained staff proficient in advanced building controls. If potential employees have the training, the jobs are there waiting. In the “green jobs” sector alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an annual growth rate of about 4.4 percent, well above the 0.5 percent rate for the U.S. job market as a whole.

Shaping the next generation

UMMC’s apprenticeships are great news for businesses impacted by this skilled labor shortage – and even better news for students like Joshua Butzner, an HVAC apprentice. After realizing that his limited HVAC experience wasn’t enough to be hired at the large institutions where he hoped to advance his career, Josh eagerly accepted admission to UMMC’s program. His apprenticeship has allowed him to gain a deep understanding of both the pneumatic control system and digital controls on campus – a proficiency that positions him uniquely in the department and with future employers. Joshua has also served a valuable role at UMMC by fortifying the medical center’s HVAC maintenance program.

“This apprenticeship program has had a big impact on me. I’ve gone from just having a job, to having a career. I’ve learned so much from the help provided by the guys I work with and management being there every step of the way. I couldn’t ask for better mentors providing me with knowledge and answering any questions I have,” Joshua says.

Another UMMC apprentice, Darren Simmons, was recruited from his job at the medical center’s receiving department after a manager took note of his drive and ambition. Despite his lack of trade experience, Darren’s plumbing apprenticeship has allowed him to develop in-demand mechanical skills and grow both personally and professionally. He has since leased his own apartment in Baltimore City and forged close relationships with two master plumbers through the program, preparing him for a career track he’d never previously imagined.

“I like the program because no two days are ever the same. I plan to use the skills that I have learned when I begin my own business,” Darren says.

The newest apprentice is Jordan Davis, who became an electronics apprentice in March 2018. He works on the pneumatic tube system, fire alarm and suppression systems, and the synchronized clocks system. “Thanks to the apprenticeship, I now have skills to use for years to come,” Jordan says.

Driving powerful results

The four have benefitted significantly from UMMC’s apprenticeships, but the medical center has also been positively impacted by the program. Chris has assisted facility staff in identifying system issues quickly, addressing anomalies in the building automation program, and improving operations and maintenance efficiency by adjusting automation schedules. Meanwhile, Josh’s HVAC apprenticeship has shifted UMMC’s maintenance program from reactive to preventative as it relates to pneumatic thermostats, valves and equipment. Josh has identified necessary parts to replace and air leaks to repair, preventing wasted energy.

These apprentices have been a vital part of the work that has allowed UMMC to achieve overall energy cost savings of $1.6 million from its 2012 baseline, freeing up funds for other projects. As the Skilled Trades Apprenticeship Program evolves, UMMC plans to introduce an in-house succession plan, with apprentices taking over positions held by retiring employees, that will enable a continuum of growth and development in the trades.

Focusing on the future

UMMC’s apprenticeship program is just one piece of the medical center’s comprehensive efforts to increase sustainability and operational efficiency – a commitment demonstrated by its aggressive goal to reduce energy intensity by 20 percent by 2020 from a 2012 baseline as a partner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge. To meet this target, UMMC understood the importance of bolstering in-house technical capabilities to optimize the performance of all building systems, from HVAC operations to the innovative system developed by Automated Logic. The Skilled Trades Apprenticeship Program serves that purpose and a whole lot more: it creates a new generation of skilled professionals prepared to tackle the next phase of building energy challenges in stride.

“The apprenticeship program affords us the opportunity to train future employees, which enhances the quality, dedication, and commitment of our workforce and in turn increases the quality of the care and service we provide to our patients,” says Georgia Harrington. MSHA, UMMC’s senior vice president of operations.

“We value our partnership with the Better Buildings program.  The guidance and resources they provide really pushes us to achieve our goal to be more energy-efficient.”

To read more about UMMC’s implementation model for the Skilled Trades Apprenticeship Program, please visit the Better Buildings Solution Center.  

Richie Stever is the Director of Operations and Maintenance, University of Maryland Medical Center.

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