HVAC Program Scholarship Recipient Pivots Into a Promising Career Path

By on October 3, 2019
Two men working on HVAC system

When Jessie P.’s employer asked him to create the training manual for his work that was being automated, he immediately saw the writing on the wall. He had already rebounded from two layoffs in recent years, and he didn’t see a long-term future in his current career path. He was ready to take his job stability into his own hands.

Jessie had considered pursuing a Bachelor’s degree so he could advance beyond his entry-level role, but the cost and time investment were not realistic for him.

“Getting a degree would take me many years, but that’s the only way to have stability in my current field,” he said. “I just want job security. I want to know that I can pay my rent and buy my groceries. Simple, basic stuff.”

Just as Jessie was thinking about pivoting into a new profession, he overheard a friend who had taken up a skilled trade speak enthusiastically about the many benefits of a trade career path.

“He talked about what a great effect his job had on his life and his ability to provide for his family, and he’s much happier now,” Jessie said. “He talked about how it’s good, solid work, and it’s called a ‘skilled trade’ for a reason. You have to have a skill to do it, and you can get paid good money to do it and have a stable career path.”

Inspired by his friend’s perspective, Jessie decided to explore trade professions online to see what appealed to his personal interests and abilities. The information he uncovered about a career in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry really resonated with him.

“HVAC seemed like something I would enjoy because with HVAC you have to be kind of a jack-of-all-trades as far as the skilled trades go,” he said. “You need to have a little bit of electrical know-how, a little bit of plumbing know-how, a little bit of carpentry know-how. There’s definitely an appeal to being a master of one thing, like a master electrician, but I think it’s a bit more mentally interesting to be able to dabble in all of them. I thought it sounded cool.”

Jessie was concerned that an HVAC training program would be out of reach from a time and expense perspective until he came across St. Louis Community College’s (STLCC) HVAC operator training program. Not only did the program timing and location work for him, but he was especially thrilled that the 8-week class schedule would allow him to keep his day job and funding options were available.

“It was like my wish list had materialized completely,” he said. “It was amazing, a really great fit.”

One of the scholarships for which students could apply was the Roy and Gloria Luber Scholarship for Technical Training, which was established to encourage students to pursue a technical career training program at STLCC. Jessie submitted his application, including the required 500-word essay explaining why he was pursuing a technical career.

“I was just absolutely floored that STLCC not only had the exact program I was hoping to find somewhere in this area, but they also had the scholarship opportunity,” Jessie said. “It just seemed like it was really meant to happen.”

He could hardly believe his luck when his heartfelt essay secured him the scholarship.

“I don’t want to get overly sentimental or mystical-sounding, but it really felt like a gift from the universe. I thought maybe if fate thinks this is a good idea, maybe, possibly I’ll manage to get this scholarship that would allow me to afford it and give me a chance to actually do it,” he said. “I’m looking at very likely getting laid off, and I’m living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t really have the disposable money to up and try a new career path, so being given the opportunity to do this, it’s going to make an enormous difference in my life. It’s a huge deal.”

Jessie’s good fortune continued as he found himself genuinely enjoying the HVAC training even while juggling his many other commitments.

“It has been awesome,” he declared. “I’ll be honest, taking a night class on top of working full-time is extremely exhausting, but it’s only eight weeks and it’s really flown by.”

Jessie was impressed by the breadth and depth of the coursework and how much he learned in such a short period of time.

“The amount of knowledge that they can cram into eight weeks is really phenomenal,” he said. “I walked into this program really knowing absolutely nothing. I had watched some YouTube videos of guys in the field talking about it, and that’s it. By the end of the class, we literally set up an entire system. We did all the wiring and the plumbing, we set up the air ducts and everything, and it felt incredible. I’m like, I can’t believe I am actually doing this already. It’s just amazing how fast they can get you up and on your feet doing this stuff.”

He credits the class instructor with providing the right balance of textbook and hands-on experience at just the right pace.

“The teacher’s a great guy. He really seems to understand that when you’ve got this kind of entry-level program for people who are just wanting to learn as much as they can as fast as they can to get out and actually enter the workforce, the best way to approach it with folks in that kind of scenario is to cut straight to hands-on, showing how it’s done, getting real world kind of experience,” Jessie said. “So I appreciate that he gives us the reading and handouts so we can approach that at our own pace, but when we’re in class, we’re actually putting our hands on the equipment and learning by doing, which is how I learn best. I really appreciate his approach.”

Jessie also found a lot of benefit in learning alongside a group of individuals who had varying levels of exposure to the industry already because of the alternate viewpoints and contributions they offered in class.

“There’s a good mixture of folks like me who have never done anything like this before but also guys with actual related work experience who have more relevant knowledge,” he said. “For example, when we were doing an install, the teacher was dividing his time amongst the groups that were working, and the experienced guys were able to come over and give me some advice while the teacher was working with someone else.”

STLCC’s HVAC training program brought extensive, meaningful value to Jessie and his classmates that will help them as they launch their new careers.

“I feel like I legitimately came out of this program employable, which was the big goal. I wanted to be able to get something that would get my résumé considered and through the door, and I feel like it did that,” Jessie said. “If and when I get some interviews, not only do I feel like I’ll be able to answer their questions competently and be the kind of candidate they’re looking for, I also feel like the professor is going to be a good reference as well because he really seems genuine about wanting to help us get started. So just being able to have someone who is willing to be a solid reference for me is a big help.”

More broadly, Jessie feels like the College provides great value to the community, offering accessible opportunities for people to obtain the skills they need to enter productive careers.

“It’s awesome. Not everybody can invest the time and money into a big program at some of those really pricey technical colleges,” he said. “I really appreciate having an option where if you don’t have that many hours in your week and you don’t have that many thousands and thousands of dollars, you can still get educated and get the kind of experience you need to be employable, and get a foot in the door in the industry. I feel like that really provides opportunities to folks who want to work and want to be productive tax paying members of society but just don’t have the kind of opportunities that some other folks have. It’s a big deal to open that door to people.”

As far as the future goes, Jessie is currently evaluating the multitude of options now available to him, including apprenticeship opportunities, union membership, mentorship and more. He feels secure in his ability to find the right opportunity in his new HVAC career and finally attain the job stability he has always wanted.

Are you ready to start your career in the HVAC industry? Check out stlcc.edu/hvac for information about upcoming cohorts, funding options and more.

About Rebecca Rutherford

Rebecca Rutherford is Marketing Communications Coordinator of St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group, which delivers non-credit continuing education opportunities, corporate training and community services to the St. Louis region.

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