Nobody seems to know what to expect from the first ServiceTitan HVAC National Championship at the Tampa Convention Center.
What does the competition’s designer, Scott Caron, say?
The winner will have to be cool under pressure. And detail-oriented. And, most of all, skilled.
“If you're looking to win then you have to be fast, you have to be accurate and you have to make every move in a calculated way, because you’re going to get a result that you can't really change,” Caron said. “If you make a mistake, it's going to be difficult to repair it and win.”
Competitors—15 professionals and, in a separate division, 15 apprentices—will also have to deal with factors they don’t face on an everyday job: A crowd that includes family and friends watching every move, a big-event atmosphere, and television cameras recording for a Dec. 16 broadcast at 8 p.m. EST on CBS Sports Network.
Caron has worked with the Elite Trades Championship Series on the six-year-old Electrician National Championship for four years, three of them in person. He has witnessed confidence dissolved by the pressure.
“I've seen some of the coolest customers go out there on the competition floor, and I've seen everything unravel,” he said. “And I've also seen some of the most frantic people go out there and slay it because they're able to just work really great under pressure.”
From ‘basic’ to … what?
The competitors themselves are kept in the dark about what to expect almost until the lights come on. Professional competitor Trevor Sacco, of Santa Barbara, Calif., is among them. After taking the online quiz in the first round, he found the second-round task, captured on video for judges, “basic.”
“I mean, just brazing some lines and making sure they hold,” he said. “To me, that's a very basic thing that everyone should know how to do. I understand not everyone does.”
But the live competition? That will be a very different challenge. What does Sacco expect?
“No concept. Not even a clue,” he said. “My wife was asking what I think, and I'm like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I'll get there and see what happens.’”
Here’s what Caron hopes will be revealed.
“We're looking for the best of the best,” Caron said. “As far as technology is concerned, things change in the HVAC industry every six to eight months. It's just incredible. What we're looking for in this competition is somebody well rounded enough to adjust to what’s needed today, and able to get it done in a fast, neat, accurate way.”
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Making it fair for everyone
Designing the competition has been a challenge. Caron worked with experts from ServiceTitan, Trane and American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning to map out the preliminary and final challenges for the professionals, and the separate competition for apprentices.
They controlled for regional differences in the task designs. Making the competition fair for everyone and as immune from those geographic forces as possible can be difficult.
“How do we get something that is going to showcase their skills working with heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, which encompasses so much?” Caron asked. “The challenge that we face to make this competition exciting, fun, and new every year.”
And, of course, good television. Unlike Sacco, professional qualifier Jamin Deschaine, from Bristol, Conn., has watched videos of some of the electrical competitions to get an idea of what to expect, if not any specifics. He compared it to a “Ninja Warrior-type vibe.”
“After I saw that, I definitely got a little more anxious,” he said. “It's a bigger event than I thought.
“You don't even know how to prepare for it. I saw that IDEAL had electricians do service upgrades, so I have speculations. But you train your whole career for this type of thing.”
Showcasing these trades is critical. What I see is the decline in the youth going into the trades. And I've seen a big shift in the reward you can get to do the work. We're getting paid based on our performance.”
A bigger goal than the prize money
Caron, who owns Caron Electric and was featured on “This Old House” for eight seasons, has trained his whole career for events like this, too. Right now, all he’s concerned about is that viewers of the HVAC National Championship get a good look at the skill necessary to work in the industry.
Oh, and the future of the trades.
“Showcasing these trades is critical,” Caron said. “What I see is the decline in the youth going into the trades. What I've realized is that what was difficult 35 years ago to get paid to do, now they're almost pleading for us to help them out. And I've seen a big shift in the reward you can get to do the work. We're getting paid based on our performance, and it’s getting more and more difficult to get folks out to their home or business.”
His goal is to help change that by showcasing the people doing that work through the whole Elite Trades Championship Series, which also includes competitions for electricians and, in its second year, automotive workers.
“I want people to realize and understand that being in the trades is a really great way of making a career, making a life,” Caron said. “I really believe that we're on the right mission, and great people like ServiceTitan and IDEAL are helping that.”
And he wants the HVAC competition, and the accompanying auto tech and electrician competitions to continue to bring attention to the trades.
“Every year I wish for the same thing—that it just blows up, that it's just awesome,” Caron said, “and that it drives more people like me, more people like ServiceTitan, more people like IDEAL, to give the trades momentum. Because it can't be done without them.”
Greg Ballenger, Greer, S.C.
Dustin Curtis, Duncan, OKla.
Ricky Curtis Jr., Marlow, Okla.
Jamin Deschaine, Bristol, Conn.
Jeremy Harris,Chillicothe, Ohio
Bill Meyers Jr., Burlington, N.C.
Lee Morris Jr., Charleston, S.C.
Auston Pickard, Poplar Bluff, Mo.
Shawn Price, Mansfield, Mo.
Denny Purdy, Lima, Ohio
Joe Rittorno, Mesa. Ariz.
Trevor Sacco, Santa Barbara Calif.
Mack Shwert, Marlborough, Mass.
Logan Townley, Ardmore, Okla.
Dustin Zaun, Bismarck, ND
Patrick Boldt, Leipsic, Ohio
Alex Bonilla, Graham, N.C.
Ethan Boyd, Quincy, Calif.
Billy Dahmen, Niles, Mich
Chris Hoover, Junction City, Ore.
Hunter Lee, Breckenridge, Minn.
Jake Kiese, Des Moines, Iowa
Scott Kiggins, Hamilton, N.J.
Jason Knowles, Bella Vista, Ark.
Colby Meeker, Celina, Ohio
Allan Pilotte, Monroe, N.C.
Dayton Rabe, Fairbury, Ill.
Jake Sheava, Dexter, Ore.
Cesar Tinoco, Spring, Texas
Em Zelen, Edmonds, Wash.