|Heather Lawrence, technician, Air Serv of Omaha in Nebraska, was honored with Air Serv’s Service Professional of the Year Award in her first year of employment.|
When Heather Lawrence was a child, she was always interested in mechanical things. At first, she just tore things apart, but eventually, she learned how to put them back together. As she entered the job market, Lawrence found herself in traditionally male-dominated fields. She worked as an EMT and firefighter, and tried her hand as a repairperson at a RV dealership.
So, she figured, why not give HVAC a try? In her five years at Air Serv of Omaha, Lawrence has risen to become the company’s lead technician and training coordinator.
“A lot of women think you have to be Hulk Hogan to do this job,” Lawrence said. “Maybe so on the installation side, sure, but, typically, install crews consist of two to three people, depending on the job, and it’s nothing to go ask your partner for help. A woman learning the technical side of things, just like a male, you either have it or you don’t. I struggled with the electrical side of it in trade school, but after doing it over and over, it’s become second nature.”
After attending trade school, Lawrence quickly turned heads at Air Serv of Omaha with her passion for customer service. “I had no field experience when I started, so I concentrated on offering the best customer service I could; that’s what I brought to the table,” she said.
That led to Lawrence winning the national Service Professional of the Year Award from the Air Serv corporate office in 2010. The award honors an Air Serv franchise technician who has exemplified the key characteristics of a successful technician.
“To win that award in my first year, I don’t think I could do that again. I was very surprised I received it,” Lawrence said. “Not to say I wasn’t worth it or anything like that, but I was going up against technicians with years of experience. I went in there and did the best I could, striving to create a cheerleader customer the best way I knew how at the time.”
Kevin Cargile, owner, Air Serv of Omaha, said when he first met Lawrence at her interview, she wore a three-piece suit and was all about business. “She understood that this was not just a job, but a career path that she was fully committed to,” Cargile said.
Since being named Air Serv of Omaha’s training coordinator, Lawrence has flourished. Training and helping people has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember, making the new duty a perfect fit.
“When I was at the RV dealership, we had a woman who was very intrigued that I not only did that job, but did it well,” Lawrence said. “She was interested in doing it, so I talked to the owner, trained her, and she turned out to be just as good, if not better, than I was.”
That passion has carried over to her work at Air Serv of Omaha.
“I’m always trying to find easier ways to test equipment, procedures, and diagnostics because there’s a lot going on,” Lawrence said. “I love teaching the technical side of it. I would love to be an instructor at a trade school one day, and I love teaching the front-side service side of it, helping to take care of the customer.”
Although she admits it is sometimes difficult to juggle her full-time technician duties with her responsibilities as training coordinator, she makes it work. She strives to clear as much time as possible for one-on-one sessions with other budding technicians.
“This is a hectic business, especially during the summer,” Lawrence said. “I want to try to make it as easy and comfortable for our technicians as I can.”
Cargile is pleased with the decision he made and happy to see Lawrence succeeding in her roles. “She has the ability to adjust to the situations that surround her and adapt when things do not go as planned,” Cargile said. “She leads the technician trainings on how to interact with the customer in different situations and also on the technical side of the business.”
Although sometimes being a woman in the trades isn’t easy, Lawrence said if you can do the work and make the customer comfortable, the rest will come.
“We have women in the military, law enforcement, fire and rescue, and, at one time, those professions were all dominated by males,” Lawrence said. “A lot of women participate in those jobs today. A lot of people look at stereotypes and, in general, people can be very negative. The thing about this business is, there are a lot of different areas you can excel in. I’ve done replacement sales, the customer service representative side of things, and installation and maintenance.
“I think a lot of women would enjoy the field side of the industry because the majority of the time you’re answering a call, you’re dealing with the customer. I’ve had so many great conversations with customers. They happily welcome me into their homes because I make it a pleasant experience for them.”
Doyle James, president, Air Serv, said he believes women may tend to stay away from the HVAC trade because it appears more physically taxing than it really is. However, that’s not necessarily the case.
“In fact, much of what a diagnostic HVAC technician faces every day is using analytical and troubleshooting skills, in addition to good customer communication skills — at which women are typically better,” James said. “Good HVAC diagnostic skills are in high demand, and in addition to good wages, incentives are available for individuals who excel at communicating the benefits of the multitudes of HVAC products and services available.”
Lawrence, though, is extremely happy to be where she is, and is excited for what the future holds. “It’s nice to know I have people nearby who are interested in helping me grow — there’s so much experience here at Air Serv. I think I lucked out,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what’s up next for my HVAC career.”
Publication date: 8/11/2014