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Pioneer Heating and Air’s Gordy Noe speaks to students at Halls High School.

Pioneer Heating and Air President Gordy Noe, who is also president of the Knoxville Chapter of the Plumbing – Heating – Cooling Contractors Association, gets excited every time he talks about a new pilot program that Pioneer, PHCC and other organizations are sponsoring. And these days, that new Ride and Decide Pilot Program for high schoolers is something Gordy is talking about everywhere he goes.

“I can’t go anywhere where someone doesn’t ask me about it, and once I start talking about it, I can’t shut up,” he says with a laugh. That’s because it’s a promising concept, offering high school students the opportunity to try working in different skilled trade industries over summer break.

Since he became president of the PHCC a year and a half ago, Gordy and other members have been looking for ways to revive flagging interest in vocational training programs. Last summer, as Gordy welcomed in a high school student to work at Pioneer Heating and Air – something he has done periodically over the years – it occurred to him that this was the program model they wanted.

I said to myself, ‘This is what high school kids are missing,’” Gordy explains. “Bring them in, show them different aspects of the business and let them try it out for themselves for a month or two in the summer.” Gordy believes Ride and Decide will be a win-win for everyone. It helps reinvigorate schools’ vocational programs, gives high school students more options after graduation, and potentially provides industry with more skilled workers. This last point is a major concern to construction industry leaders, as the PHCC estimates that only one skilled worker enters the trade industry for every four that leave it.

And the PHCC isn’t interested in restricting the program to plumbing, heating, and cooling contractors alone. “Welding, trucking, electrical – we need all trades well represented so the kids can choose one they like,” Gordy says, adding that he is currently working to recruit enough businesses to meet students’ needs. He calls that his biggest hurdle right now.

But that hurdle is being overcome, and students who enter the pilot program will submit their top three choices of industries. Then they can either be matched to one industry for a four-week session in June or July or try out two industries in two four-week sessions. To qualify for the Ride and Decide program, students must be at least 16, have completed their sophomore year of high school, maintain at least a C average and have an excellent attendance record, among other requirements.

Go to to read the full criteria, get more information, and sign up for the program. Businesses and schools interested in participating in the program can sign up at the site as well.

However, the local program is just the first step. The Knox County Schools System has come on board in a big way, already sharing information about the program with other area school systems. The state and national PHCC organizations also strongly support the pilot program idea. After Ride and Decide is tested and tweaked here for two years, Gordy hopes it will expand to every state. So even as he characterizes Ride and Decide as “getting legs and growing fast,” Gordy’s task in the short term is to keep talking about the program everywhere he goes. And that’s something Gordy Noe doesn’t think he’ll have any problem doing.

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