HVAC testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) pioneer Jack Webster was inducted into the TABB Hall of Fame in 2004. Webster has spent his career teaching the next generation of sheet metal workers about HVAC service, but he didn’t finish his own higher education until 2005, the year he retired.
“It only took me 44 years to graduate,” he says. Since then, he’s been busier as a retiree than he was an employee. He feels now as he did a decade ago at TABB’s inception: it’s his job to “keep the program moving forward.”
Shortly after Jack Webster began his sheet metal apprenticeship in 1966 in Columbus, Ohio, he realized his true passion was in education. In the mid-1970s he took special interest in testing and balancing, and his career took off in an unplanned, but satisfying, direction.
In 1986, he went to work for NEMI training technicians to perform energy audits and propelled himself from the local to the regional office and finally to the national office in 1994. In 1997, he went to work with ITI to establish the training necessary for the HVAC service industry. He returned to NEMI in 2000 and was appointed the Director of Certification, assisting in the creation of TABB.
“It’s still gratifying to be involved in the industry,” he adds. “I started in ’66, and I think once you’re involved in this part of the industry, it never leaves you. I’ll continue as long as I think I can contribute.” Here, Webster shares his thoughts on the HVAC industry's acceptance of testing, balancing and adjusting and encourages other sheet metal workers to find a role that works for them in the industry.
What brought on your interest in testing and balancing in the mid-1970s? What was it about testing and balancing that appealed to you over other concentrations such as duct installation and fabrication?
Having been a sheet metal worker for about 10 years after my apprenticeship, (which included fabrication and ductwork) our local union offered classes in testing, adjusting and balancing of HVAC systems. My first thought was that it would be another tool that I could put in my toolbox, so I signed up and took the class, which lead to further classes. My first experience in teaching TAB was to develop a 60-hour class that could be offered to our local and other locals in the state of Ohio. The class was based on material produced and developed by the National Training Fund (now the International Training Institute). We had over 30 members from around the state attend. Most of the attendees came from Local 70 in Akron, Ohio, two hours away. The class was held on Saturdays for a period of 10 weeks, 6 hours a day. Remembering back, there were very few members absent during these classes. This was the beginning of my teaching career and I think back fondly on it often.
You’ve been an instructor in various forms for some years. Has the source material changed much? Or would you say the way you teach the material has changed?
The real answer is that both the material and methods have changed. As HVAC systems have become more complex, the testing procedures must change to reflect the system design. More and more computer-based programs have entered into the teaching process. We need to determine the best approach to teach the information, so the membership can get the most use from it without having a hands-on, in-person program.
Testing and balancing is still a little-known segment of the HVAC industry. What do you think it will take for it to start getting the attention and importance it deserves?
As an industry, we need to collectively continue to market the TABB industry to our local unions, our contractor associations and other industry groups and educate them on the importance of maintaining a well-balanced and clean building. It has been proven that a building with stale air and poor maintenance is hard to rent out and less likely to be free from the contaminants that affect indoor air quality. Sick building syndrome and building-related illness is real. The need is there, and our message should continue to bring home the fact that our industry is the one industry that can address these issues.
Another area of the HVAC industry that seems to not get its proper due is teaching. Why did you feel you would be more effective as a teacher over working for a contracting company?
Teaching is another tool that you can have in your toolbox. Once you develop a passion for teaching, you try and encourage others to pass along the knowledge that you have, so that future generations of members can benefit from that knowledge. It creates a domino effect that can carry on from generation to generation. Not that working for a contractor isn’t important, but if you have a talent for teaching and genuinely love teaching, you possess the ability to reach many more members that could carry the torch to the future.
Finally, how does it feel to be inducted into the TABB Hall of Fame? Did you ever think you would stay in the HVAC industry for this long?
The Hall of Fame was indeed an unexpected honor, because I had always felt that I was only one spoke in a big wheel that just wanted to help others gain the knowledge that I had been given from all those in the past. The idea to share with others so they had my knowledge would help members also become passionate about the industry so they could also pass it on. Once in the industry, you are always in the industry. I have had a very gratifying and blessed career to have good health and have so many others that have helped shape me into what I am today. I will continue to help as long as I can contribute. One final note, if you ever find a career that you are truly passionate about, you never work a day in your life.