Momma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys…Tell Them to Go to HVAC Trade School!
I was one of those kids that could ace every test in school without even trying, especially if I liked the subject. I remember learning that I had been automatically placed in classes titled “Advanced”, and “Accelerated” in multiple subjects when I reached Jr. High…and being quite unhappy about it. As far as I was concerned, that just meant the work would be more difficult and there would be more of it, which didn’t sound so “smart” to me!
I had no interest in being a star pupil, in fact quite the opposite, I rather enjoyed being a bad boy. As a result, I acted out in class when I wasn’t skipping it completely. I went from having “a lot of potential”, to being “in danger of expulsion” per the letters and phone calls my parents would receive from teachers and school administrators.
How a Career in HVAC Changed My Life
In an effort to give me structure and keep me out of trouble (which didn’t always go as planned – wink), my parents arranged for me to get a job with a contractor they knew from church.
The company was fairly large and performed electrical, plumbing, heating & air conditioning, and appliance repair for both residential and commercial clients. I was only sixteen-ish at the time and remember the two things that stuck out to me most from the experience.
- The work was interesting, exciting, and challenging.
- There were guys not that much older than myself (early twenties) that were making very good money.
Every day the work we were doing was different, we weren’t stuck behind a desk, and I was learning how to operate cool tools and equipment. I could care less when Wyoming officially became a state, but I loved learning how to use an acetylene torch!
The service technicians I was riding along with, had nice cars and motorcycles, lived in nice apartments – some already owned their own homes, and had pockets full of cash. Even though I was only a teenager, I was fully aware of the perception that blue collar work was for those that couldn’t make it in college. We were taught it was best to go to college and then get “better” white collar jobs. I was also keenly aware of the pay these blue-collar guys were taking home (most were eager to boast about it), while many of those “college kids” were still living with mom and dad.
Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I suggesting learning a trade is better than earning a professional degree. What I really mean to convey is that by no means is pursuing a trade any less admirable or lucrative then becoming an accountant, attorney, or doctor.
Ten Years in the HVAC Industry
Case in point: Fast forward ten years from the date I started that job; I started my own contracting company, purchased my first home, and had paid off all of my trade-school student loans already…at twenty-six years old. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I owned two homes and a commercial building, employed over twenty people, and both the business and myself were debt-free.
More notable; never in the thirty years I’ve been working in the trades have I ever been laid off or out of work.
Tradespeople like HVAC Technicians, Plumbers, and Electricians are always in high demand and that demand only increases as the last of the Baby Boomers retire.
Just as a doctor can live nearly anywhere, and his or her skillset will always be needed, the same can be said for an AC technician, electrician, or plumber. The difference being the tradesperson will not be strapped with $150,000 in student loan debt from medical school and can be earning six figures already by the time the doctor is in residency.
There are no Lay-Off’s in the Private Sector for Good Tradespeople!
I learned a valuable life-lesson when I was in my twenties after witnessing a close family member lose his long-time white-collar job.
Several of my close family members work in the financial industry. They all seem to do pretty well for themselves. One in particular is about twenty years my senior. From what I understand, he is highly esteemed and is considered per someone I know that works with him, “The best in the business”. It’s easy to see that’s probably true as he is a pretty wealthy man now as he approaches his retirement years.
Twenty years ago, when he was in his mid-forty’s, he was a senior level manager of one of the largest banks in the world and had been there for over twenty years. One day he was unexpectedly handed a pink-slip along with dozens of other people that worked in his department…after twenty years of loyal service!
When talking with him about it he said it really boiled down to the fact that he made too much money, and he and the others would be replaced by people who made less. The lesson I learned was two-fold: First, there was no loyalty when it came to shareholder dividends in the corporate world, even for the “best in the business”. Second, in some sectors there are more people for the job than there are jobs, making you expendable.
HVAC Service Technicians, Plumbers, etc., are in High Demand
The opposite is true when it comes to HVAC or any of the other trades. There is a huge demand for HVAC service technicians and installers, plumbers, electricians, welders, etc., and not enough people to fill these jobs. And the gap grows larger and larger every year!
I’m not just talking about “front line” or “boots on the ground” tradespeople either. There is a shortage of Supervisors, Department Managers, Salespeople, and so on.
In the trades, there’s room for advancement, so someone with twenty-years in isn’t handed a pink-slip – he or she is given a promotion – especially the “best in the biz”!
I can think of a number of our own long-time employees at Magic Touch Mechanical that were not only retained to train, supervise, and manage our younger or newer staff members – they were given promotions and more money. These “old-timers” are invaluable to me and the company as their breadth of knowledge and hands-on experience cannot be easily replaced with a new “body”.
The proof: In 21-years of business, Magic Touch Mechanical has never had a layoff!
Magic Touch Mechanical is ALWAYS hiring!
We employ two people whose main role is new employee recruitment and helping maintain employee satisfaction with the company. That’s right, it is so difficult to find qualified tradespeople, that we have an in-house, full-time, year-round, department dedicated to not only finding new people to join our team…but to make sure our existing team members are happy and stay with us. What’s more, we spend tens of thousands of dollars every month in help-wanted ads, headhunters, employment software, Human Resources payroll, etc.
Why? Not only can we not grow without the “right people on the bus”, we can’t maintain the current demand from existing customers without keeping the people we have happy and satisfied with their job!
Let’s look at some facts:
Magic Touch Mechanical is located in Mesa, AZ a suburb of Phoenix.
- Phoenix alone has over 1.5 million people
- Mesa another .5 million people
- Our service area covers these and many other large cities
- Every home has central air conditioning in Phoenix
- It’s supposed to be 110°F today in Mesa, AZ
- Air Conditioning is not a luxury in 110-degree weather
New home permits, housing starts, and people moving to central Arizona is on the rise again so demand is increasing. Supply of tradespeople is decreasing rapidly. What do we all know about supply and demand?
The Cost Difference Between Arizona State University (ASU) and Refrigeration School Inc. (RSI)
Using Arizona State University as an example, the average total cost of attendance is $27,530 per year In-State, $44,110 per year Out-of-state. If we were to subtract room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses and just look at tuition and fees alone…$10,792 In-state, $27,372 out of state.
ASU tuition and fees alone for 4-years = $43,168 In-state / $109,488 Out-of-state
Using RSI (Refrigeration School Inc) in Phoenix, AZ as the comparison example, the entire cost including books and supplies is $19,125 total to complete the Certificate Program, and $29,420 to complete the 2-year Associates Degree Program.
In my opinion, and I think the owners of most HVAC Companies in Phoenix would agree – the Certificate Program is more than enough to earn someone a position as an entry-level technician. So, after 1-year, and $19,125 total schooling, you can be working in the field and already earning a pretty good living.
By way of comparison, it would take two-years before being able to join the work force with an Associate’s degree from ASU. Adding books and fees back in (to be comparable to RSI) would cost approximately $55,060 for an AZ resident, and $88,220 for an out-of-state resident.
That’s a difference of one-year before being able to join the work force …and depending on in-state or out-of-state, an additional $35,935 to $69,095 in student loan debt…at the start or his or her career!
A motivated individual could actually have his or her trade-school loan fees paid off completely before the university attendee even completed school!
The Best and the Brightest Should Start Training for the Trades
There was a notion when I was growing up that the kids that maybe weren’t the best students were the ones that should consider a trade …as “a last resort”. The funny thing about that is I work with these people every day …they are all what most would consider very bright.
Take an HVAC Service Technician as an example, to be good at their job requires:
- Advanced math skills
- An advanced comprehension of science and scientific principals
- Average to above average reading and writing skills
- Average to above average interpersonal communication skills
- Above average mechanical aptitude
An individual with these skills has the real potential to earn more than $50,000 right out of school. A stellar individual can climb the ladder in a company like mine and earn close to, or more than $100,000 within two to three years (some sooner).
Don’t get me wrong, you still need to be a good employee, true “team player”, dependable, ethical, etc., to land a spot in the company, maintain that spot, and advance. The technical ability alone will not get you a job at Magic Touch Mechanical – or keep a job for that matter – and I’m sure most other AC company owners would say the same. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of any industry or career where bad employees maintain employment, do you?
HINT: I see some trade-school graduates post on social media that “nobody will hire them straight out of school.” Remember, training alone doesn’t get you a seat on the bus. It all starts with the interview!
While it’s true that most companies, including my own, have more immediate need for experienced people than non. Most, including my own, are almost always hiring entry-level candidates they can train…but there’s only so many seats on the bus…who do you think gets the seats there are less of?
For the “job hoppers”: Even if you get a seat on the bus – you have to contribute to the team. If you aren’t advancing within the company, move from company to company, read the “hint” again, maybe it’s not the companies? That’s not to say there aren’t bad employers out there…I know of many. If that’s the case you need to choose your next employer more wisely. Too many short-term jobs can kill your chance of getting hired with a good company.
How do I know? In thirty-one years working in the trades – I’ve never been out of work. In twenty-one years owning and operating Magic Touch, we’ve never had a lay-off …but, we’ve “parted ways” with more than a few.
This is where the best and brightest come in!
If your child (no matter their age) considered learning a trade (or trades) a viable option as a lifetime career choice and:
- Was extremely sought after no matter where they lived
- Had many options of what they wanted their “role” to be within that trade
- Could potentially earn more than their peers
- Could start their careers with little to no student loan debt
…would you be happy for them? I know my parents are for me!
Magic Touch Mechanical is hiring – I don’t even care when you read this, that statement is practically infinite!