Young Techs Talk Up the HVACR Trade

June 30, 2008
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Philip Schaaf of Harshaw Trane said it is important for young people to know how rewarding and challenging an HVACR career is. He believes the HVACR trade is committed to training.


In the April 7 issue of The NEWS, we introduced readers to three service technicians - one was 91 years old and the other two were 88 years old. These men represented people who spent their lives working in a trade they loved and respected. But the story wouldn’t be complete without traveling to the other end of the age spectrum and finding out what young techs - just starting on their HVACR careers - thought about the trade and their own longevity.

It’s no secret that some people enter the trade because their parents were in it, either working in or owning an HVACR business. Although they may have been free to choose a different career, the family bond had a strong influence on them.

James Foote has a one-man shop, MR. HEAT, in Hyde Park, N.Y. He said it is difficult for him to handle some larger jobs so he has developed a working relationship with a larger shop in the area, Winslow Sons and Daughters Inc., of Poughkeepsie, owned by Anthony Winslow Sr. On a recent job Foote convinced a customer to change out his oil boilers to gas boilers in six buildings he owns.



“This job was just too huge for me to handle,” he said. “I put my customer and the Winslows together. My customer was a little reluctant at first and asked me to work the initial meetings with them. In the beginning of this project, Anthony Sr. became ill. This is when Anthony Jr. stepped in. As you can imagine, this was a concern for my customer.

“But Jr. has quickly earned the respect of the customer as well as shown me what he is made of.”

Winslow Jr. said it has been a natural fit for him to work in the family business and he has really enjoyed it. “My Dad used to take me around in the truck with him as a little kid,” he said.

“I worked over my summer breaks every day with him and the guys and enjoyed it very much. I always enjoyed working with my hands and get a lot of satisfaction out of the work that I do. I get to be in a new place every day, a lot of times multiple places a day. So work never gets boring and it keeps you interested.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough offspring of HVACR business owners to fill the growing number of service tech vacancies. The industry continues to grow technologically and the demand for well-trained, motivated workers lags behind, with at least 20,000 jobs a year going unfilled. So what motivates non-family members to take up the trade?



Chris Jakobson of Atlas Air/ClimateCare enjoys the unknowns of his job - learning something new every day.

A FREE AND CLEAR CHOICE

Lewis Geer, 21, didn’t follow his father into the trade, but he certainly heeded his words. The service tech at AirRite Air Conditioning, Fort Worth, Texas, listened to his dad’s sage advice.

“My dad suggested an HVACR career because he realized the potential for good pay and an abundant amount of work, especially during the summer,” Geer said. “But a reason was also that the economy did not affect the service side of the trade.

“He offered to pay for my schooling, and I wound up getting a 4.0 in my classes with a perfect attendance record.”

Geer’s boss, Toby Taylor, said he is proud of what the young tech has accomplished. “Lewis came from a trade school (with little hands-on experience) and worked as a helper for about one year in our installation department,” said Taylor. “He was then promoted from helper to lead installer for a short period of time.

“He always had a desire to become a service technician and made that jump in March 2007. He quickly excelled at that position and has become one of our best, brightest, young technicians. We can’t seem to give him enough training to tame his appetite for learning the HVAC industry.”

Chris Jakobson is another young man who listened to his father’s advice. Jakobson, a service tech with Atlas Air/ClimateCare, Mississauga, Ont., said, “My father had a great deal of involvement with influencing me to go into the HVACR industry.”

“He was in touch with the shortage of people in trades and he suggested that I research different trades to find out what might interest me. He would always forward articles, testimonials, and any other media-related coverage that would tweak my interest.

“I felt that the industry had many avenues of opportunity. My father had expressed repeatedly to me that there was a demand for employment in the trades. After a lot of research, I found that this was the trade that best exemplified my strengths and abilities. That being considered, I figured it was worth exploring a career in the HVACR industry.”

It didn’t take anyone else to suggest a career in HVACR to Nic Wanderscheid, 24, of Service Legends, Des Moines, Iowa. The thought of sitting behind a desk was enough to make him seek other options.

“I could never sit behind a desk and answer phone calls and e-mails all day,” he said. “I know that I have an ability to work with my hands that many people would love to have. I’ve always thought I would be building rather than fixing while I was growing up.

“The reason for that change from construction to repair was made while I was working for Iowa State University. I realized that if I wanted diversity in my life, I needed new problems to solve every day. I found this in the form of my work-study position in the heating and cooling department at the college.

“I started not knowing what Freon was, and by the time I left I had accumulated enough knowledge to feel comfortable working on million dollar projects, or controlled temperature labs with years of data stored in them. I would not say that I chose HVACR, but more that the field chose me.”

Wanderscheid’s co-worker, Randall Keys, is also an up-and-coming young service tech. The former high school athlete and U.S. Army veteran chose an HVACR career over being an Iowa State Trooper after “getting his feet wet” in the HVACR trade.

“A couple years ago, I had the choice to go to the State Trooper Academy or stay as a service technician in an HVACR company,” he said. “I chose to stay a technician. I made this choice for a few reasons. The biggest and most influential reason was without a doubt to put it simply ‘I love my job as a technician.’ I wake up every day excited that I get to go and do my job and I don’t think that is common in the world today.”

Some young people start an HVACR career by accident and then realize it is something rewarding. Philip Schaaf of Harshaw Trane, Louisville, Kent., said, “In high school, I wanted to take electricity. The school was not offering that so I decided to take HVACR instead since there was a lot of electricity in it. I thought this could help. After a few months in school, I began seeing that the HVACR field held a lot of promise and that the demand for technicians would always be high.

“When I began taking classes with Rick Hall at Jefferson Community & Technical College, I saw the passion a person can have for this industry. Rick and another former instructor, Doug Riggs, both taught with such a passion that it made me want to pursue a career that I would enjoy as much as they did.”

Hall spoke highly of the 23-year-old service tech. “Philip is an outstanding representative for our industry. He is a true advocate of our trade and has the highest level of respect for the predecessors of our trade.”



Randall Keys of Service Legends could have been a State Trooper after his stint in the U.S. Army, but he chose HVACR because he loves his job as a service tech.

BEST AND WORST OF TIMES

In all fairness to the trade, not every day is a piece of cake. There are jobs that techs really love and others they don’t like so much. But that is true in any profession. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad in the HVACR trade.

For Wanderscheid, it is all about the people. “The thing I like best about my career now is the people,” he said. “I enjoy the people I work with and work for. But more so, I enjoy meeting new people in their homes every day.

“I meet about 20 people a week face-to-face that otherwise I would have never met. I hear stories I would have never heard. I learn things I would have never learned. I have always had a thirst for new knowledge and working with new people every day gives me something new to learn on every call I get to run.”

Co-worker Keys said it is too hard to list the best thing about his job, so he broke it down into several reasons. “To name one thing I like best about my job would not be possible, so I will give you a few,” he said.

“The first thing I like about my job is that all day I have the opportunity to help people with their problems and also can get them involved in fixing it as well. The second thing I like about my job is that I get to work with my hands and go back for next year’s tune-up and see that the equipment is in great shape because I worked on it. The last thing I will tell you I like about my job is my co-workers. I like the fact that I get to come in to work with people that make my environment fun, friendly, and encouraging.”

Geer, like many other service techs, likes to be a problem solver. He takes pride in troubleshooting, diagnosing, and then repairing a system. “There is some kind of satisfaction I get on making a good repair,” he said. “I can’t explain it. I just like helping the customer in their time of need.”

When asked to name what he liked the least, Schaaf said he couldn’t. “There is nothing that I dislike,” he noted. “There are days when the demands of our trade are high such as 105 degree temps but keeping up is part of the challenge of our industry.”

Extreme temperatures are not a favorite with Winslow Jr. either. “Rooftops on a cold winter day,” he said. “The elements make it tough. But sometimes it is worsened by equipment that is not designed with the service tech in mind. Those are the ones that can make you really hate life on a roof when its zero degrees out and you have to rip a whole gas train out to change a roll out switch. Manufacturers need to help us out.”

Geer said that unhappy customers are the worst part of the job. He knows that he is often brought into a negative situation where a repair or replacement can be an unexpected expense. “I really don’t like the collection part when I tell a customer that a warranty won’t pay for the repair and it will cost them money.”

Some of the other techs said that the time commitment can be a negative, too - especially when it takes them away from the family. “The one thing I like the least about my job is leaving my family during important times as well as the middle of the night to go on an after hours call,” said Keys.



Lewis Geer of AirRite Air Conditioning listened to his father’s good advice and started a career in HVACR.

GETTING YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED

There are a lot of career options for young people, many of which don’t include “getting dirty” as part of the job. “Nobody wants to get dirty anymore,” said Winslow Jr. “These days you have more younger people going to college, trying to land desk jobs.”

“There is a lack of respect for our industry,” said Schaaf. “Young people do not understand how challenging and rewarding this profession is. This is a trade that to be good you won’t be able to read a book or watch a DVD and figure it out. This industry takes a commitment to education.”

Some of the other young techs blamed ignorance of HVACR as a reason why young people aren’t interested in the trade.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” said Wanderscheid. “It’s the same reason why people neglect a heating and cooling system. That’s the reason more people don’t see heating and cooling as a career option. I would have never known a job existed fixing furnaces when I grew up. My parents never had theirs serviced and it never broke down. It was just the big, green thing next to the weight bench downstairs.”

Ignorance is also a problem among educators and professionals - ignorance of what tools young people need to make career choices. “Young people are far too limited on how to make a career decision,” said Jakobson. “There are not enough career-minded people accessible to educate students about the different career paths that are available.

“Trades are not a talked about option unless students are not doing well academically. They are advised to choose a university career over college trade or degree. Sadly, this is not always the most financially rewarding.”



Nic Wanderscheid of Service Legends owes a lot of his inspiration to the good wisdom and training he got from his HVACR instructor.

Keys said that his company, Service Legends, does a good job of reaching out to the community and eliminating HVACR ignorance as much as possible. “I feel that the way that Service Legends has promoted itself to the community is the exact way the HVACR field should go about promoting itself to young people,” he said. “Show individuals the opportunity to grow in the company and at the same time receive great benefits, pay, and encouragement.

“I also believe that the HVACR field needs to monitor who they hire more strictly because these individuals are the people who go in to the customers’ homes. I feel if the HVACR field has a strict hiring process, then it will appeal to younger, well-mannered employees.”

Schaaf noted that young people should be approached before they have made their career choices and shown the power of the trade. “There needs to be better promotion in the early years of high school about the technical nature of our trade,” he said. “If the high technical nature of our business were pointed out and stressed such as control system programming and building automation, this may attract more of the computer generation to the HVACR field.”

Wanderscheid said that young people should be shown the fun side of the trade. “I think to promote HVAC to young people we need to show them how fun it is,” he noted. “I know not many young people enjoy sitting still all day. Most don’t like summer jobs landscaping or working at B-bops. We need to show young people that you can make lots of money in heating and cooling and that it is not hard to learn. Make a video game for heating and cooling and kids could learn it.”

Jakobson summed up what he believes is the best way to sell young people on an HVACR career. “The trade has multiple avenues and options that can be taken whether it be residential, commercial, or industrial,” he said. “You are not limited with where you can go in the HVACR industry with the proper training, skills, and ambition. Each level of learning is a stepping stone for the next stage of your career.

“The HVACR trade is a career and not just a job. It is rewarding both personally and financially. It is stimulating because you never see the same thing twice, and you are continuously meeting and dealing with people.”

The young men interviewed for this article provide great public relations for the HVACR trade. For more information, contact NEWS Business Editor John R. Hall at johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication Date: 06/30/2008

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