An owner of a company that repairs and services furnaces and air conditioners was wasting money and resources training employees that left the field soon after beginning work.

Isaac Brewer, owner of Brewer Heating and Cooling in northern Johnson County, talked to other similar business owners who said that they could not find enough skilled workers to fill their open positions to install and repair heating and air conditioner systems in businesses and homes.

“There is a huge demand right now for HVAC technicians,” he said.

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Brewer called the director of Central Nine Career Center, which resulted in the eventual launch of a new program. Now, 38 students are studying in the technical school’s new HVAC program.

The technical school in Greenwood has added HVAC services this school year and is planning on adding classes in early childhood education next school year to help prepare students for careers that educators and business owners say are booming.

Programs at Central Nine Career Center have increased in the last few years, as the school that serves most high schools in Johnson County has taken advice from local businesses about which job sectors are growing and which sectors are experiencing a shortage of qualified workers, said Nicole Otte, director of the school.

“We want (students) to have a path to a career,” Otte said. “We don’t want kids with a bunch of debt who can’t find a job.”

Central Nine Career Center also has added programs in biomedical sciences and exercise science in the past few years. A program in automation and robotics is in the early developmental stages, Otte said.

It is critical that career center administrators listen to the community and business owners about what job sectors are growing so their graduates have the best chance of finding a job after they leave Central Nine, she said.

Business owners who say they cannot find enough skilled workers to fill their open positions typically contact Otte.

Otte will then study every aspect of the field to make sure it is the right fit for the students and the school’s mantra that students must be able to find good paying jobs in their field after they graduate.

She researches state and local data on the field’s job growth and talks to other business owners to see if they are experiencing a shortage of workers and if they would support a program in that field at Central Nine. Some of the business owners are invited to become a member of the program’s advisory board.

The advisory board helps set curriculum and advises the educators on the future of the industry.

Otte searches for teachers who have had at least three years of work in the field and who will get a teaching license the first year they are teaching. Presentations are made to high school students about the new program and if they get at least 30 enrolled students, the program is a go.

The idea is to make sure that business leaders are in support of the program and will have jobs available for the graduates, Otte said.

“It is extremely vital; if we do not have that we don’t operate, we don’t want to put kids out into jobs there is not a demand for,” she said.

Some of the suggested programs haven’t come to fruition.

A business owner wanted Central Nine to add a program for chiropractors. However, the demand for those skills was not large enough to justify teaching 30 students, Otte said.

And a pre-pharmacy program was shuttered a few years ago because a qualified teacher could not be found. The program that introduces students to veterinary medicine is capped, since the job demand can only support one class at a time for jobs in Johnson County, said Otte.

HVAC and early childhood learning are the two newest programs students can enroll in.

Early childhood education was added after Dawn Underwood, director of the Johnson County Learning Center, saw data that said that the need for certified early childhood educators would almost triple in Johnson County, she said.

More families are seeing the value of preschool and realizing that school starts before kindergarten.

The pressure on families to find day cares and preschools with certified early childhood educators was driving up demand for Johnson County. And existing daycare centers have to hire certified workers to compete and be seen as a quality program, Underwood said.

Central Nine is designing a dual credit and certification program that would allow students to get a certificate in early childhood development and allow the students to get college credit in the Central Nine course, Underwood said.

The certification would allow students to be preschool teachers and will allow current day cares to seek out students that have that certification, she said.

“They could have a job right out of high school,” Underwood said. “They would be able to get a job immediately.”

At a glance

Here is a look at the programs Central Nine Career Center offers:

  • Auto collision repair
  • Auto service technology
  • Aviation operations
  • Computer science: programming
  • Computer tech support and networking
  • Construction trades
  • Construction trades: HVAC
  • Cosmetology
  • Criminal justice
  • Culinary arts
  • Dental careers
  • Diesel service technology
  • Emergency medical services
  • Fire and rescue
  • Health science
  • Exercise science
  • Medical assisting
  • Nursing
  • Landscape management
  • Biomedical
  • Precision machining
  • Veterinary careers
  • Visual communications
  • Welding technology
  • Work based learning

Early childhood education will be started in the next school year.

Author photo
Magen Kritsch is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mkritsch@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2770.