Every day the industry is discussing ways to replenish the soon-to-be-retiring talent. Johnson Controls and nationwide vocational college Lincoln Technical Institute are getting to work to solve the problem.

The two have partnered to provide expanded career opportunities for graduates of Lincoln Tech’s HVAC and electrical systems training programs, including in mechanical engineering.

Johnson Controls and Lincoln are developing curriculum that will provide Lincoln students with specific skills and knowledge to repair and maintain Johnson Controls equipment in the field.

Johnson Controls will provide training equipment and sponsor classrooms at 10 Lincoln Tech campuses throughout the U.S., including Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, Georgia and Illinois. Two of those schools (Chicago and Indianapolis) already have held ribbon-cutting openings, but more work still needs to be done.

When Johnson Controls President of Building Solutions for North America Rod Rushing stepped into his current position, he began overseeing the company’s massive field operations. He knew the time was coming when he had to know where its future workforce was going to come from.

“This has been an issue for 20 years,” he says. “When the economy heats up you tend to have labor issues. Over time, people’s attention and interest in the trades has been diminished.”

Rushing admits the challenges stem from the competitive nature of the industry and workforce, as well as having significant growth expectations. With the recent merger of Johnson Controls and Tyco, Rushing knows the time is now to develop talent. He notes Johnson Controls must hire between 1,500 to 2,500 people to meet its growth and attrition benchmarks.

“You have to meet the growth you have in your business,” he says.

Lincoln Tech President and CEO Scott Shaw says his desire always has been to give students “the quickest path to employment.” This isn’t the first partnership that Lincoln Tech has developed, but he notes these agreements have been more frequent over the last five years.

“We have around 90 high-school representatives that go around the country into the schools and explain career opportunities to people about the industries we train for,” Shaw says. “By being able to partner with Johnson Controls we believe that will help the whole industry attract more people into these fields.”

Rushing notes the partnership for this endeavor took a different development path.

“Rather than taking from your competition or pulling from learning institutions, how could we get in front of this?” he asks. “Working with a partner would hopefully be more of an attractor into the trade schools. Then we could have our brands, products and curriculum in the schools and hopefully be more attractive to the people graduating (Lincoln Tech).”

He adds: “Lincoln Tech speaks for itself. It has great credentials and great locations. We’re starting with 10 locations, but we probably will need 30 to broadly meet our needs across the country.”

Shaw notes that changing the stigma of the trades and trade schools won’t occur overnight or even in one year, but he sees the message getting out there.

“The good news is more people are talking about the benefits of having a skill and a trade, and this is helping to change the negative perception,” he says. “This is a cheaper, more direct path to an education and a successful career.”

Rushing adds: “We didn’t find ourselves here overnight. This is an opportunity for us to connect with folks, even people who are going after four-year degrees. Once we get out there and tell our story they’ll see there’s a progression here where you can have a career with a global company. But, I’m not naïve. It’s going to take a while.”