Jerry Jackson is a 50-year HVAC service technician who has worked across almost every facet of Atlas Butler Heating, Cooling & Plumbing. Ben Harris is a recent high-school graduate who just entered the HVAC industry with Atlas Butler. Here, they’re sharing their stories of entering the industry, and what’s motivating them to build a career in HVAC work.
Jerry: We entered the trades nearly fifty years apart and have had our fair share of different experiences, but the similarity in our backgrounds amazes us. We’re both Central-Ohio high school graduates, where we participated in one of Atlas Butler’s career exploration programs. We knew pretty early on that we wanted to start making money right after graduating high school, and both came to the conclusion (fifty years apart) that a job in the skilled trades would be a great opportunity.
Despite those similarities, we faced very different starts to a career in the industry. Starting with Atlas Butler in 1969 was considered a well-paying and respected job. So, you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to join a weekly three-hour class at the Atlas Butler shop. During this time, I and 14 others were able to learn the necessary skills in the industry while getting paid for our time. After the 15 classes, I was offered full-time employment and officially started on June 11, 1969.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between my experience and Ben’s was the perception around going into the trades. It’s no secret there has been a growing narrative around needing a college degree to be successful, which has led to a false perception of trade jobs being dead-end, leading to lower numbers of people entering the industry. As opposed to when I entered the industry, my class was full and it was considered impressive to get in, which is why I believe so many older generations worked the trades.
Ben: Like Jerry, I was formally introduced to the HVAC industry because of Atlas Butler. When I entered Atlas Butler’s Ride TO Decide program (which just launched this year), I was one of six individuals and the only one in my friend group. So many people in my generation feel like they need college and I’ve felt unique in the fact that I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to go to college and wanted to start a career in the trades immediately after high school.
During my interactions with Jerry and the other technicians, it’s been interesting to hear about what their experiences were like while entering the trades and what specifically drew them to it. The common thread I’ve found is that despite the varying levels of public perception that existed when they joined the field, they knew that this career would allow them to provide a comfortable life for themselves and their family.
After talking and comparing our different experiences when we first entered the trades, Jerry was able to provide the following tips that are just as useful today as they were fifty years ago when he was starting his career in the industry.
1) Feeling valued at work is just as important as the paycheck
If the great resignation has shown us anything in the past few months, it’s that company culture is important. While there is no shortage of open jobs right now, finding the right employer can be a challenge and takes time. One of the most important things I learned during my career is no matter how much you get paid, if you don’t feel valued at work or value the work you do, it will never be enough. I’m fortunate to have learned that early on and found a company that treated me like family.
Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for people to work at the same place until retirement, but times have changed. These days it’s rare for someone to stay at a company as long as I have. So when you find the right fit it’s best not to mess with it.
If you don’t like the people you work with, I promise you won’t like your job for long. One of the reasons I’ve stayed at Atlas Butler for so long is my relationship with coworkers and CEO, Mark Swepston.
Tried and True Tips for the Future: Choose the job that cares about you, which isn’t just about salary. The pay is comparable across companies, but the culture and people are not. Choose one that treats you like family and you’ll be more excited to go to work every day.
2) The industry has evolved throughout my career, and evolving with it will pay dividends later
During my fifty-plus-year career, I’ve witnessed tremendous improvements in technology that have greatly evolved our industry. While learning new techniques and skills can be a bit daunting, the rewards will far outweigh the challenge. As you’re picking up new skills and knowledge throughout your career, your earning potential will increase with it.
Taking advantage of learning the varying technologies and practices early on will help increase your value and longevity in the industry. To succeed in this industry, just like any other, you must have and embrace a growth mindset.
Tried and True Tips for the Future: Understand you’ll always have something to learn on a job site, no matter your seniority. Learn from the guys who have been there longer and when the time comes, let the next generation learn from you, There’s no shortage of technician jobs