LOUISVILLE — The name Steve Austin will bring back a few smiles from some readers as they recall “The Six Million Dollar Man,” a TV series that ran from 1974 to 1978. Now, there is a new Steve Austin who will make you smile. He is not quite bionic but he does use modern technology, which has propelled him to stardom in a different sense of the word.

Austin is a 22-year-old HVACR technician employed with Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors (MMC) Inc., Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a division of APi Group Inc. Like his bionic namesake, Austin’s hearing is perfect; however, he has no voice. Therefore, communication was one of the first challenges he overcame in life. Currently, he works for MMC as a helper, but will eventually move to diagnosing HVAC equipment problems after he gains more experience. He also recently competed in the SkillsUSA National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

Austin first won the Minnesota post-secondary competition, earning him the right to make the trip to Louisville with his instructor, Mark Arens. Austin had recently graduated his two-year program at Hennepin Technical College – Eden Prairie when he and Arens packed up for the SkillsUSA National Championship contest.

“Every year there is one student that you really hate to lose, even though their career is moving them forward,” Arens said. “Steve is one of those people; the other students always looked to him when they needed to ask a question.”

Given Austin’s lack of voice, one might think a question and answer session could get a bit tedious. But, in addition to his top-notch diagnostic skills, Austin has pretty fast thumbs. He uses an app on his smartphone that allows him to type his answers in rapid-fire fashion, click a button, and playback in a voice of his choosing. He told The NEWS that he introduces himself to customers as he is able to say “Hi” in his own voice, then plays his prerecorded introduction explaining how he communicates.

Asked how he might handle a problem diagnostic situation up on a roof when he needs to seek technical advice, Austin said, “In the past I have texted coworkers to ask them, and if they don’t know the answer I call tech support for the manufacturer. I’m able to call them using a TTY [Text Telephone] app on my phone. I am communicating with you now using a very simple text to speech app with voices from Acapela because I like their voices the most. There are several different companies that make the text to speech voices.

“When I make a phone call, I use an app called Sprint IP,” he continued. “An operator reads what I type and relays it to the other party. Then the operator types what the other party says and I read that. I can hear fine, but this particular app doesn’t allow for Hearing Carryover Calls (HCO).”

Sprint IP Relay uses an Internet connection, a computer or mobile device, and a relay operator. You type what you want to say to the operator, then the operator relays the message to your caller and types their response back to you. Hearing Carry-Over (HCO) allows those that can hear but have a speech disability to listen to the person called. The HCO user types conversation for the relay operator to read to the standard telephone user.

During his non-work endeavors, Austin is an avid bicyclist of both paved and off-road trails in the warm months, and a snowboarder and skier in winter months. Obviously, he likes the outdoors.

“After high school, I framed houses for a little more than three years,” Austin said. “I enjoyed being physically active during my work days, but I wanted to do something at a higher skill level. I thought a lot about several career options at the time, and I chose HVAC for a variety of reasons including because I like to troubleshoot equipment and figure out what’s wrong.

“I was framing houses during my first year at Hennepin Tech,” he continued. “But in my second year, I was working as a full-service tech at a small residential shop called Twin Cities Heating & Air in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. They immediately let me be a service tech on my own, and so I gained a lot of valuable experience working there from June 2017 until January 2018. I began working at MMC in mid-May of this year.”

In the meantime, Austin also joined the Minneapolis and St. Cloud Pipefitters Local 539, in order to further his career aspirations. With his experience, education, and tenacity, after his apprenticeship, Austin will be earning far more than the median income in Minnesota, which is about $58,476. The apprentice base rate is $20.73/hour, and journeyman base rate wage is $40.99, according to the current Minnesota wage scale.

Though Austin will soon be surpassing the median Minnesota wage earner, it would take him more than 70 years to amass enough wealth to also be called a ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ in the financial sense. However, for Austin, everything seems within the realm of possibility.

Visit www.skillsusa.org for more information.

Publication date: 7/23/2018

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