What do a 23-year-old female, 13 men, and a Hampden trainer have in common? They were all in the same HVAC technician classroom participating in Lennox Industries’ BuildATech™ program. Hampden trainers and 13 men one would expect in this four-week training HVAC facility in Nashville, Tenn., but the presence of 23-year-old Allison Scalchas might take a little more explanation.
TECHNICIAN MOTIVATIONPossessing an inner drive to help others, Scalchas’ initial post high school intention was to enter nursing school. With the school counselor’s blessing on her career choice, she graduated in 2004, and began attending a local college concentrating her studies in nursing and pharmacy courses. During this first year of college, her father, Jim Scalchas, purchased from her uncle, Cline Heating and Supply, a 50-year-old HVAC company located in Schererville, Ind.
As her education progressed, getting into nursing school continued to be the goal, but overcrowded programs and lack of instructors left Allison without access to the nursing school education she originally had desired. Meanwhile, her father’s business was growing and they began to discuss the possibility of Allison entering the HVAC field as a technician.
“Once I started looking into the trade, I found a new career option that could let me see instant results when working on a project as well as help people,” she said. “My dad also pointed out that there was plenty of HVAC work out there and that I would never be laid off. In this day and age, I’m finding that job stability is hard to come by and that assurance offered great value.”
It was decided, HVAC technician was her new career goal.
CLASSROOM EXPERIENCEWith her new career goal in mind, Allison headed to Nashville, Tenn., to begin a four-week technician-training course. Her first week of class was spent strictly in the classroom. Poring over diagrams, manuals, and texts, Allison first learned the basic refrigeration cycle and a host of other HVAC technician basics.
During the second and third weeks, she continued to add new lessons to her textbook knowledge foundation in the morning hours. The afternoons, however, were spent in a hands-on lab practicing the new theories and techniques she had been taught along with her male classmates.
“The guys were nice, but it was intimidating at times,” noted Allison. “I was in a class of 13 men and I was the only female. There have been 20 or so classes of 12 people or less in that training school over the years and there have only been three other females; all of which were at least 10 to 20 years older than I was when they attended.”
The fourth week provided the students with extra lab hours to practice and improve their skills as they worked toward passing various certification testing. This final week ended with a practice North American Technician Excellence (NATE) test.
“I didn’t pass the NATE test this time, but I finished towards the top of my class,” said Allison. “I was very proud of this fact because unlike many of my classmates, I had never done a service call or anything related to the HVAC industry.”
FUTURE PLANSHaving graduated Oct. 15, Allison returned home to help her dad Jim’s growing business. What was once an HVAC service and sheet metal shop had become strictly a sheet metal shop in the years before Jim purchased the business. Now that he is running service and install calls again along with the sheet metal, Cline Heating and Supply has experienced approximately 20 percent growth per fiscal year.
No longer a one-man shop, Allison works full-time with her father making regular calls installing, troubleshooting, and servicing residential equipment. Originally, she was concerned the reaction she might receive upon arriving at a customer’s home.
“I thought for sure a day would come that I would go on a service call and the homeowner wouldn’t want me to work on their equipment because of my gender,” explained Allison. “But that day hasn’t come. In fact, many of the women are relieved and some actually excited to see a female technician walk through the door.”
Filling her time off the clock with HVAC manufacturer factory tours and NATE practice books, Allison plans to take and pass the NATE certification test in the first part of 2010. Jim, who holds multiple other certifications, is studying to take the NATE certification test as well. Together, this two-person shop could soon be 100 percent NATE certified.
“I really love this job,” said Allison. “I would recommend it to any woman looking for a new career, especially those girls in high school looking to set their own career goals.”