For nearly 50 years, Barron Heating & Air Conditioning has provided professional heating, ventilation and air conditioning services. From its origins in outfitting new homes, to its current mission of improving the comfort, health, and energy efficiency of existing homes, Barron has always had a need for skilled workers. And recently, as they started to see the number of new workers entering the trades fall, they created a Trades Scholarship to help turn great students into great technicians, electricians, and plumbers.
Four generations of Barrons have had a hand in the company, starting with Dan Barron, who co-founded the company alongside his wife, Vivian, in 1972. “He was commuting from the North Seattle area up to what was, at the time, the newest development in Bellingham, Sudden Valley,” Brad Barron, Dan’s grandson says. “He worked in his dining room and garage doing all of the paperwork and fabrication for those jobs, and then driving them up here every day. Working a lot of half days, he would say—you just have to pick which twelve hours.”
Brad’s great-grandfather lent a hand in the beginning, as well. “Orie was a sheet metal mechanic, and he came out of retirement from 1972 to 1975 to support my grandpa by doing the fabrication,” Brad explains. “A few years after the business was developed, my grandpa and grandma moved their family of four kids up to Bellingham, and moved the business into the now Animal Emergency Care facility on Meridian. That was where it really grew, until my grandpa and grandma sold it to my dad, John, in the late 1990s.”
Brad earned a degree in engineering at the University of Washington, and worked there in that field for seven years. Just as he and his wife were deciding to start a family, his father, John, got news that his business partner wanted to retire. “John called me,” Brad recalls, “and said, ‘I know we’ve talked in the past about the family business—if it was something you were interested in, there’s probably no better time than now.’”
When Brad joined the company, he entered at the ground floor. “I made a decision that I really wanted to get to know the trades, so I spent the first nine months to a year working within each of the different departments. I wanted to get to know it from the inside out,” he says.
And he learned something else along the way, too. “It really struck me that there’s a huge lack of young men and young women entering the skilled trades,” says Brad. “The high schools have continued to push the college route and not the trades, and unfortunately that has left a big chasm of skilled tradesmen and skilled tradeswomen that we need to fill.”
So Brad and John decided to do what they could to meet that challenge, launching the Dan L. Barron Trades Scholarship in 2019. “We award a $5,000 scholarship annually to a community member that’s looking to get in to the trades and who will be attending Bellingham Technical College,” says Brad, “and then we also award a $5,000 scholarship annually to a Barron team member that is looking to advance through schooling at BTC.” Whether it be an HVAC degree, electrical degree, or a degree in controls, they can do that within the company, and Barron sponsors that schooling for them.
While Brad sees real value in a traditional university education, he wants to highlight that not everyone learns the same way, and there are a variety of opportunities to meet career needs. “I did the four year college degree, but I work alongside tradesmen and tradeswomen that are making exceptional livings,” he says. “Some of them have six figure incomes and no student debt and they’re able to get paid while they learn.”
Barron’s goal is to get them halfway; a $5,000 scholarship in BTC’s HVAC program gets someone through the first of two years. “Or, if they’re already halfway through, we could take care of that second year,” Brad says.
They’ve also created an in-house opportunity for teaching the trades, launching their own Barron Technician School. “We have 10 or 12 pieces of equipment in our training lab where we can train technicians. We train service and installation technicians, electricians, and plumbers,” says Brad. “The idea is to bring people in as apprentices and pay them to learn so they can then represent the trades, and hopefully be a Barron representative.”
“There’s a question we always ask candidates when they come in: ‘All things being equal and money aside, what are your passions, and what trade do you feel you want to go after?’ And it’s really great to be able to give them an opportunity to step into a career where they can actually activate those talents,” Brad says. “The human component is important in making the area we live in great. We’re just a piece of that community.”