Pine Ridge High opens HVAC career academy: ‘A big jump start’
Pine Ridge High School is home to the Volusia County School District’s newest career academy, which will provide interested students with the training they need to begin employment as HVAC installers and mechanics immediately upon graduation, if they wish. .
About 150 students in four classes have already signed up for the program where they learn about installing and maintaining heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air conditioning systems. Students who complete all four years of the program can get such jobs after graduating from high school with no further education and will earn credits toward an internship program to prepare for a higher-earning career in the future.
“It gives them a big jump in life,” said Leland Wilbert, the program’s principal teacher who has spent about nine years in the HVAC field.
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Although on Pine Ridge’s Deltona campus, the vocational program is available to high school students in Volusia County and is only the second program of its kind in the state of Florida, a statement from the district said.
A $531,000 grant from the state made it possible to set up the new program and covered costs for equipment, curriculum, computers and software. The district built a new facility on the Pine Ridge campus to house the larger equipment, and the school provided a classroom.
Graduates of the program come out with HVAC Excellence, EPA and OSHA certifications. Those certifications aren’t required to work, but are “like shining stars above your name,” Wilbert explained. And juniors and seniors earn college credit toward the internship program with the UA Local 295 Apprenticeship in Daytona Beach. Completion of that program after high school will qualify students for higher paying jobs and working with commercial machinery.
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Demand for HVAC jobs is expected to grow faster in Florida than in any other state. In the next 10 years, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects, there will be nearly 5,500 new HVAC jobs available in the state that already has the most HVAC jobs. That is an increase of 16%, compared to the expected national increase of 4%.
The median wage for HVAC workers in 2020 was $24.32 per hour, or $50,585 per year for a 40-hour work week. That’s significantly more than Volusia County’s per capita income of $29,623, according to the U.S. Census figure.
“There’s a very high demand and it’s only growing,” Wilbert said, adding that more than 20 local businesses have already reached out to him to see what they can do to help.
This is the district 24th professional academy, and district leaders have long been interested in expanding opportunities for students who may not be college-bound.
“Ensuring our students in Deltona have access to vocational training has been my priority,” said Ruben Colon, a member of the Volusia County School Board, which represents the area. “This HVAC program will change the lives of many families. We look forward to bringing more vocational programs to our schools. The best is yet to come!”
About 15 students showed up Wednesday for the ribbon cutting and the tour of the facilities, Wilbert said. He considers it a good sign of the coming year.
“How many kids do you think will come to the opening of a math program?” he joked. “I’ve seen nothing but excitement.”