After 50 years of growing a successful business under their belts, the team at Barron Heating AC Electrical & Plumbing is looking to the future and ensuring the trades field continues to be a successful one. For every five retiring, just one individual is entering the skilled trades, leaving a gap in the industry that will only continue to grow. Barron’s on a quest to change that—both to support our community with quality services and to provide individuals with rewarding careers. That quest includes opening their own Barron Technician School, where instructor Dan Millspaugh gives students the kind of specialized knowledge they can use to build a successful life story working in the trades.
Millspaugh originally came to Whatcom County for a job at Ferry Brothers Meat Company in Ferndale. “We moved in 1998, and they went out of business in 2000, so that kind of left me stranded,” he says. “There wasn’t much opportunity here for that kind of work, but I was fortunate to be able to use WorkSource to retrain for a new career.”
As he looked at what was available to him, Millspaugh saw that a new career brought the chance to make some changes to his work life. “I spent 17 years in the meat industry, and in that industry, it was the same people in the same place every day,” he says. “So, the thought of being mobile, being in charge of my own day out in the field, really appealed to me.” That led him to study HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) and Refrigeration at Bellingham Technical College.
While still a student, Millspaugh explored employment opportunities in the county. “Barron was extremely receptive. I did a couple of ride-alongs to see a day in the life of one of their technicians,” Millspaugh says. “I got to explore what they do, how they do it, where they do it, and all the things that are important to know before you sign on to something.” In 2003, he went to work for Barron Heating and started his own Trade Story.
Millspaugh quickly became the Technical Service Manager and soaked up a lot of knowledge over his 14 years in the position. The company’s CEO noticed. “John Barron really liked how I shared information and helped to grow the technicians,” says Millspaugh. “And I like it when people have light-bulb moments; it’s gratifying to see them succeed and grow in their field. So, when it came time to actually build the school, I was all in.”
He went to work with Team Development Manager Brooke Barron to create the education system the company shares with its new hires. “She’s got a master’s degree in curriculum development, so we worked together for eight months to develop and create the classes,” says Millspaugh. “We use a mixture of textbooks and hands-on learning with working equipment.”
The Barron Technician School only takes about three months to get new technicians on their feet, something Millspaugh can support because the class size allows him to focus on each of the students. “We started the first cohort on August 1 of 2021, and they were out in the field by the second week of November. The new cohort started January 10th of 2022, and they will be out on their own in mid-April,” he says. “We have between four and six students per cohort, so it’s a pretty intimate training. We can do a really good job of it, and not leave anyone behind.”
The company learned a lot by interviewing everyone on their team and paying attention to the differences and similarities they found.
“The ones in school at the time, and technicians who had been on staff for 25 years, each one of them has their own trade story. Something in particular drove them or drew them to the industry,” Millspaugh says. “The ones that have been really successful and the ones that choose to go into our technical school, they had a lot in common: they were mechanical people, they like to diagnose and fix things. They like something that keeps their minds and their hands working together.”
The care that Barron takes in selecting students—and the time that they take to train them—is certainly paying off.
“Most of our applicants are applying online these days. There’s a short test for technical and math skills, for personality traits and customer service—the things that they’re using right out of the gate,” says Millspaugh.
He’s proud of the results that the company is seeing. “So far, we’ve had nothing but positive responses. We interview the students to make sure we’re doing it right, and make sure they’re comfortable with the process,” Millspaugh says. “And, so far, the ones that have been turned out into the field are thriving, they’re doing really well. In fact, all our apprentices have earned NATE Certification, a nationally recognized HVAC credential.”
The Barron Technician School is just one avenue to enter the skilled trades. Barron also offers traditional apprenticeships in HVAC, Electrical, and Plumbing, as well as Dan L. Barron Trades Scholarships to Bellingham Technical College, which will be open for new applications again in 2022. For a fulfilling and rewarding career visit barronheating.com/careers and Build Your Own Trade Story today.