Mike Murphy

Toni cuts my hair about once every four to five weeks. Of course, before Toni and I develop a long-standing rapport about my thinning and graying hair I am certain that she will be off to greener pastures, as are most young hairdressers when a pay raise awaits them. But, for now, she acts like she knows what she is doing, remembers my name when I walk in, and gives me a pretty decent haircut.

I used to go to the barber shop and hang out with the Saturday morning crowd, but the barber always cut my hair one way, no matter how many times I asked him for my standard, “High and tight on the sides with a little attitude on top.”

But, I digress. Allow me to tell you about this young professional who parlayed career and technical education into a career and education strategy. I think her plan might be a good model for young people entertaining thoughts of preparing for the HVACR industry.

Toni is about 20 years old. While in high school she attended career and technical education (formerly known as votech) classes in the Cleveland area. Upon graduating from high school, she immediately got a job working as a hairdresser. Did I say immediately? Yes. At a time when many college graduates can’t find work, Toni the high school graduate, began earning a living. Next on her master plan is college. She worked the first year out of high school in order to earn enough money to attend the local community college where she will be enrolled in the fall semester of 2011. She expects to work toward a two-year degree, and then decide if she wants to pursue a four-year degree afterwards. And, of course, she expects to keep her day job all the while.

Aside from being quite impressive as a professional hairdresser who reviews a computer database of customers’ profiles before seating them, Toni impressed me with her overall game plan. In this day, when employers often grumble about the difficulty in finding skilled new employees, or the lack of good old-fashioned work ethic in the younger generations, this young woman is proof that there always have been, and always will be, young people who know how to get things done. Young people who have determination and enough common sense to use their education wisely.


I wonder who influenced Toni to consider career and technical education, and when she first heard about such an opportunity. Perhaps her parents encouraged her to strive toward early independence. Perhaps a teacher recognized a go-getter attitude and reviewed trade career options with her while she was in junior high school.

Young people who have an entrepreneurial spirit or who have an artisan/craftsman aptitude may want to consider Toni’s career and education strategy. A lot of people get into the routine of thinking: Get an education, get a job. Toni took a different tact: Get an education, get a job, then get more education.


In a perfect world, to be successful in the HVACR industry of tomorrow would require exposure to the concepts in high school, hands-on technical education, and some higher education. Maybe I am being somewhat naïve - it is actually close to that level of requirement today.

A problem this industry has encountered is too few young people coming into the ranks. Maybe it’s time this industry had a good plan - we’ll call it the Toni Plan.

Under the Toni Plan, junior high school children would be exposed to HVACR as part of an ongoing career counseling service; one that does not create lopsided demands on guidance counselors to send kids directly from high school to four-year colleges, with no consideration being given for career and technical education.

Under the Toni Plan, high school graduates who have also completed a strong career and technical curriculum would be employed immediately upon graduation.

Under the Toni Plan, these new employees would be encouraged to continue their education and work toward industry certification.

Back to that idea about getting a job: Toni had that one figured out very early. While some of her friends who graduated in her high school class are still hunting for employment alongside some college graduates, Toni has been making money.

That has got to be attractive to young people getting out of school. This industry needs a plan that employs high school students in the business as soon as possible and then nurtures them into the career.

Publication date:06/20/2011