A nationwide Immersion Program allows students to conveniently complete a combination of online instruction and hands-on learning in as little as 10 weeks with courses in the HVAC, plumbing or electrical trades.
“Contractors know that customer acquisition is never an issue,” says Chris Roth, CEO and owner of National Technical Institute, Henderson, Nev. “The single biggest bottle neck is finding skilled labor.”
Roth, a licensed HVAC contractor in Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, New Mexico and Colorado, is a seasoned entrepreneurial executive with more than 30 years of experience in acquiring, integrating and developing HVAC businesses.
Taught by experienced industry professionals, the video curriculum is broken down into modules with mandatory tests at the end of each lesson. After completing the online instruction, students attend a concentrated one-week training session at NTI’s campus in Phoenix or Las Vegas. The in-person training is included in the tuition and covers airline travel and hotel costs for the week.
“These sessions bring the online course to life by reproducing the video lessons through hands-on, in-person practical applications that reinforce the course syllabus conducted by NTI’s instructors who have decades of experience in their industries,” Roth adds.
Upon program completion, NTI grads will have learned the essentials of their chosen trade and be capable of maintaining HVAC, plumbing and electrical equipment to ensure proper function, inspecting and testing systems and its components, discussing system malfunctions with customers, repairing and replacing defective parts and more.
Additionally, course study teaches students “soft skills” – helpful information on how to interact with clients and market themselves that successful service techs need to be valuable employees or run a business. Graduates of the Immersion Program can also take advantage of NTI’s career placement services that help students secure employment with contractors across the United States.
Contractor and Teacher
Roth began his career in the trades at 16 when he began working for his dad’s HVAC business while attending a vocational high school in Las Vegas where he studied HVAC skills during his junior and senior years.
But he was also building a second career practically at the same time. At 19, he began teaching at the College of Southern Nevada as an instructor, something he would stop doing, but return to in 2013.
“During my time as an HVAC contractor, the problem of finding good employees was so bad,” Roth adds, “I made a drastic decision to go back to teaching at night so I could ensure that the courses the students were taking would prepare them for the ‘real’ world, and then I would hire them.”
A year before he returned to teaching, Roth launched Climate Control Experts in Las Vegas as a one-van operation. As he built his business, he found teaching was a great way to identify talented new techs. In fact, he made a point of teaching the final semester of CSN’s HVAC program, which gave him a great chance at recruiting students before they had even graduated.
Finally, with a passion for both skilled trades careers and teaching the next generation, Roth acquired NTI in 2018 with the initial plan to use the business’ facilities to grow talent for his own business.
While Roth’s place in the classroom was typically standing in front of it, sitting in a classroom at MIT’s Executive Education Center toward the end of 2019 proved to be a huge turning point.
The first class assignment, day one of a five-day Birthing of Giants Fellowship Program, was to send emails to 10 colleagues in his network asking one question: What am I best at?
Roth sifted through his replies and found a consistent answer. His colleagues thought Roth was better suited to grow the trade school business. In fact, many of his business associates considered the potential of growing NTI to be much greater in the long run than continuing to grow Climate Control Experts.
Roth already knew an interested buyer. So later that very same night, he set in motion a plan that resulted in the sale of Climate Control Experts a few months later. By 2020, Roth’s business was one the largest residential services providers in the Southwest, serving six states and generating sales and profits that put it in the top 10 percent of the industry. By then, Roth figures his business installed more than 50,000 HVAC systems and completed over a half a million service calls.
He then shifted his attention to the fledgling trade school business, National Technical Institute, in particular focusing on expanding its digital learning platform with an ambitious goal of building a $100 million business in five years.
“The school has one thing in common with an HVAC business,” Roth explains. “It’s a regional business that needed to open in more and more cities in order to grow. I quickly realized that the way to scale my school was to get it online.”
Of course, a few months into those big plans, the world slowed down considering following the early stages of COVID pandemic. But that did not slow down NTI.
“When the pandemic started and jobs were lost due to the lockdown,” Roth adds, “many Las Vegans saw it as a chance to consider training for a new career in an essential field. This drove enrollment to unprecedented levels.”
Within a year, NTI had exceeded every goal Roth put in place. For example, he reached his five-year enrollment goal by the end of year one.
Due to his college-level teaching experience, Roth believes the NTI learning experience is more in line with what contractors need the end result of education to be in order to employ the next generation of skilled trades pros.
Colleges and universities are tied to Title IV funding. That allows students to receive financial aid, but comes with a lot of strings attached.
“If you were to sign up for an HVAC program through a college or university,” Roth explains, “you’re likely signing up for at least a two-year associate’s degree. That’s just how the funding works, but it isn’t necessarily what an HVAC student needs in order to be gainfully employed in the HVAC industry.”
The funding also dictates the minimum hours of instructions, all of which means the program may take too long to complete or include far too much in the way classroom training at the expense of hands-on learning.
“Those schools work for the government,” Roth adds. “I wanted a school to work for the contractors. Our customers are the contractors, and the students are the products we ‘sell.’”
Roth also relies on an advisory board of contractors to develop a fast-paced and career-ready curriculum to get students employed in the shortest time possible.
“What I found in my own teaching experience was the need to base training on what techs on actual job sites and service calls are faced with,” Roth explains. “There’s nothing wrong with academics in trade schools, but I do think, if they don’t solicit input from professional tradespeople and incorporate their suggestions, it’s a disservice to their students and ultimately the companies that hire them.”
While the new program is largely digital, Roth still makes good use of his brick-and-mortar locations. The 9,000-square-foot flagship location in nearby Las Vegas includes a 3,000-square-foot training lab filled with functioning equipment.
In planning to roll out the immersive hybrid plan, the campus now includes a two-story
building adjacent to its main building that will house
portions of its HVAC and plumbing courses with additional, newly built labs and classrooms.
“I would like to get the message out to the high school guidance counselors and high school students that college is not for everyone,” Roth sums up. “We have lost an entire generation of younger people entering the trades. For some reason, the trades have been looked down upon. Today, there is a huge deficit of skilled workers. These jobs are essential. Careers in the trades provide phenomenal opportunities for a great living, gratification, travel and a healthy sense of self-worth.”