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Taking Oklahoma CareerTech’s GSHP Program National

Taking Oklahoma CareerTech’s GSHP Program National

Jim Bullington and Jerry Pickering examine connections on aflush cart donated by Geo-Enterprises of Catoosa, Okla.

If Jim Bullington’s plans succeed, an initiative he started in his home state of Oklahoma will spread to the whole country. And the ground-source heat pump industry will benefit greatly.

Bullington, Trade and Industrial Education  program specialist at the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, has become the impetus for seeing that all of Oklahoma’s CareerTech HVACR programs include ground-source heat pump training in their existing curriculum.

But Bullington isn’t stopping there. After months of discussions with International Ground Source Heat Pump Association Executive Director James Bose, Bullington believes his Oklahoma GSHP Initiative should go national. As the assistant state program administrator for Trade and Industrial Education at the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, Bullington is in a position to help make that happen.

He is already working with Oklahoma’s CareerTech schools and his trade and industrial education instructors to beef up geothermal offerings in existing HVACR training. A number of IGSHPA allies and Oklahoma geothermal business leaders are assisting Bullington’s efforts.

Bullington’s interest in ramping up GSHP training efforts in Oklahoma is a reflection of growing national interests to ensure well-trained technicians are coming through the pipeline to match actual and anticipated growth of the geothermal industry.

Oklahoma’s unique vocational education system, CareerTech, has for years trained high school students and adults to meet the state’s vocational and trade needs for qualified workers. Now, through collaboration with a number of ground-source heat pump industry leaders and IGSHPA, they are poised to potentially help spread GSHP training to a new level.

While most states have training programs in their vocational and technical education system to provide instruction in the HVACR trade as well as other business and industry areas, Oklahoma’s CareerTech differs in a very positive way. Students from the state’s secondary education system have access to training provided by Oklahoma’s CareerTech facilities. High school students living in a technology center district attend tuition free, while adults are charged nominal tuition. Technology center students also are able to earn highly affordable and transferable college credit from area colleges in many career majors.

Tony Hise

Tony Hise, an Oklahoma Army National Guardsman, and first year full-time
student at Gordon Cooper, learns about fusion techniques. Hise will
graduate in March of 2013, and plans to have a long fulfilling career in the
HVAC and geothermal industry.  (Photo by Janet F. Reeder)

Oklahoma’s CareerTech system is often used as a model for programs across the United States and around the world. The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education provides leadership and resources to ensure standards of excellence throughout the statewide system. The system offers its programs and services throughout nearly 400 public school districts, 29 technology centers with 57 campus sites and 14 skills centers located in correctional facilities. Each technology center works closely with advisers from local industry to ensure that students learn the skills needed to be valued members of the workforce.

Bullington is banking on the strength of his state’s program to be able to lead other states into GSHP training for their HVACR components. So far he has 18 of his 20 locations ready to get more serious about the curriculum when it is released. He has spent countless hours researching equipment to assist that effort. “What I have is all optional,” Bullington says. The 100 hours or more that he has put in researching material and equipment has produced a unitary equipment list with parts numbers, prices and other information from a dozen or more vendors that will allow a program’s instructor to build the units needed to support instruction.

A “training station” incorporates three major components that when brought together allow hands-on experience for the students. For programs that do not have any GSHP equipment, Bullington has a package system available. For training, instructors need at least one ground-source heat pump, and having more than one brand is even better for training purposes. Many have been fortunate enough to have units donated from industry manufacturers such as ClimateMaster, FHP Bosch and WaterFurnace.

GSHP training unit at Gordon Cooper

The three-piece ground-source heat pump training unit at Gordon Cooper Technology Center is comprised of a ClimateMaster Tranquility 27 (TT) Series Residential Vertical Up-Flow Unit, three 500-foot 3/4-inch HD Polipro piping loops and the flush cart. The loops and flush cart were built and donated by Geo-Enterprises  (Photo by Janet F. Reeder)

Bullington says other components, are also integral to the training stations. His research has been directed toward a unitary portable system. “Training requires several pieces, not just the heat pump,” he says. Two other components are the loop cart, and a stand-aside flushing and purging cart. Additionally, the equipment for fusing polyethylene pipe and sample piping is also needed.

All of the parts that comprise the training station require different skills and different verifications. He explains that the programs are not able to include more than basic information about drilling and design software and other areas that will require additional professional training and certification when students find employment.

“We are mainly trying to get these students who will be leaving as technicians, to be able to understand the technology and get over any trepidation that they have about servicing,” Bullington said. “They will be able to at least walk up and take pressures, take temperatures, calculate latent Btus and tell whether or not the system is performing up to potential.”

Bullington says that ideally the students “will go through all of the motions that are required in commissioning a unit, troubleshooting a unit, putting the pipe together and if they have the opportunity, they are going through all of the steps to the pipe and fusion and headering of the pipe to bring it all the way into the building.”

Currently the curriculum being developed will be for 30 hours of instruction. “That is a reasonable amount of time where we could make a student familiar and fit in four or five labs,” he says. He expects the curriculum will be online and students will be able to be self-paced.

“The contractors I have talked to that are hiring these students are sending them on for IGSHPA training. We don’t know what they are going to wind up in, so we try to make them aware of everything. Then when they get on a job the contractor can decide if they are going to be a ground-source technician, they probably should go to Stillwater and get that certification from IGSHPA,” Bullington said.

Oklahoma’s Gordon Cooper Technology Center HVACR Instructor Jerry Pickering instructs a popular residential and light commercial heat and air program in Shawnee. He teaches students from 16 years old to adults, including returning military veterans. High school students take two years to complete the program, while adult students can finish in a year.

“We are full all the time,” Pickering says. “I have a waiting list.” An active lab is a bonus to his school’s program, he says. On the day that Pickering was interviewed, Jim Bullington also visited the program to deliver some donated equipment. Pickering says he has seen “fantastic support” from the industry.

Geothermal is added toward the end of Pickering’s instruction. “As they get to their air-to-air heat pumps, the logical progression is to go on to ground-source heat pumps.”

Pickering’s students are very excited about having ground-source heat pump training included in their program. “They know that it is a big deal with the contractors and that it is really catching on and getting strong in the market,” he says. “They see that in real life their knowledge of geothermal is going to make them much more employable. And of course, that is what we are all about.”

Flush and purge unit

Pickering says the equipment in his lab, including this flush and purge unit unit provides  an
“excellent setup” for teaching his students about geothermal technology.
(Photo by Janet F. Reeder)

Meridian Technology HVACR Instructor Travis Snowden, in Stillwater, Okla., agrees with Bullington that adding GSHP training to his program is a win-win situation. Students will be able to work when they finish the CareerTech HVACR programs, and adding GSHP makes them even more employable, Snowden says.

“It just makes them more marketable. And that is what we are after here,” Snowden said. He adds that students who successfully complete the program can bypass two years of their apprenticeship for their journeyman’s license. It is appealing to students that they can finish the program and then work one year under a contractor and sit for their journeyman license.

“It is something that gets them a little further along and it gives them a really good chance of passing that journeyman’s test, which is fairly difficult,” Snowden said.

Moving Oklahoma’s model for GSHP training in the CareerTech system to a national level will be well worth the effort. More information, including CareerTech state director contacts, training station material lists and information on how to contact Bullington is available at


Article by and recreated courtesy of

Janet F. Reeder  BA, MS

Geo Outlook
IGSHPA Media Relations
International Ground Source Heat Pump Association

July 12, 2013

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