BRUNSWICK — The $250,000 expansion of a technical trade center that specializes in HVAC training will double the number of students the school can handle once the project is completed in April.

The center, which was established roughly 10 years ago and is funded in part by energy companies, gives students a three-month intensive course in an HVAC Professional Certification program. The expansion of the Maine Energy Marketers Association’s Technical Education Center comes at a time when demand for HVAC professionals is high, and memories of extreme cold temperatures and technicians working long hours are fresh.

“Technicians and drivers are in super-high demand,” said Matt Morrison, director of engagement and education for the marketers association.

Currently, the school in Brunswick can only accommodate 21 students at a time, and typically each three-month course on heating, ventilation and air conditioning is full. Morrison said the school often was turning students away because of a lack of space.

The expansion will double the student capacity, allowing two programs to be taught at once.

The school was founded by industry professionals, who saw a need to offer hands-on, industry-led training in their relevant fields.

“When employers in the field know that you’re an MTEC graduate, they know you’ve been taught by the industry,” Morrison said.

That claim is backed up by the school’s 95 percent job placement rate. Many students have jobs lined up before they’ve even finished the course. The training, coupled with the high demand for qualified employees, often allows graduates to find a job anywhere in the state.

Virtually every company involved with HVAC or other trades is desperate for qualified employees. Reports from the Associated General Contractors in 2015 indicated that almost 80 percent of respondents to a workforce survey were having trouble filling hourly positions.

Local companies can attest to that.

“It’s any kind of trades. You talk to anybody and we’re all screaming,” said Bill Morgner, president of Mid-Coast Energy Systems in Damariscotta. The company has managed to get state approval to start its own apprenticeship program to increase its ability to generate qualified employees.

Matt Poole went through the MTEC program and is now CEO of Colby & Gale fuel company in Damariscotta. He said the HVAC industry is a great one to get into, with room for so much growth. “It’s a great industry to grow, the possibilities are close to endless,” he said.

Poole said that for years now, a gap in the education system has left skilled trades by the wayside. With many schools pushing for four-year college degrees, students who aren’t traditional learners can be left behind.

Students who are hands-on learners and don’t do as well in classroom settings can often thrive in the trades and end up making a great living, Poole said.

“We need some of these kids, these kids that fit that mold, we need them to start hitting some trade schools,” he said.

The education at MTEC is mostly hands-on. Bryan Champagne, senior instructor at MTEC, has students taking things apart and reassembling them in the laboratory.

Equipment ranging from old-fashioned boilers to state-of-the-art heat pumps and thermostats controlled by iPhones are all on hand to give rounded training.

Often, students will come into the classroom after he has deliberately sabotaged things, so they can practice diagnosing equipment in a real-world scenario.

“It’s all real-world stuff,” Champagne said.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Chris Chase can be contacted at:

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