Phil, 31, from Jacksonville, Florida, is a graduate of the seven-month Refrigeration Technologies program at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville. He graduated in October 2018.
Thanks for your time, Phil. Was this a career change, or were you already working in HVAC?
I had been working off and on for a guy doing mostly residential HVAC work. He was a small-time guy and not the best employer. After four years or so, I got tired of dealing with him and his issues, so I quit. But I did realize that he had taught me a lot, and I did like the field, so I decided to pursue it further.
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How did you get into HVAC, and when was that?
It was about five years ago. I got into it through my dad. My former employer got a DUI and needed someone to drive him to jobs. My dad volunteered me because I needed work. Basically, I was getting paid to be this guy’s driver, but I decided to go further into it. I found it interesting, and it seemed pretty simple. To give the guy some credit, he gave me some good on-the-job training.
The only reason I put up with him as long as I did was that he paid well. But toward the end, he started messing with my pay. That’s when I decided I’d had enough. Plus, we weren’t working every day like I am now, so while the hourly rate was good, there weren’t enough hours.
What did you do before getting into HVAC five years ago?
I mostly just floated around, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My dad and I tried our own advertising business for a while, but it just didn’t work.
What made you decide to go to HVAC school with the experience you had?
For starters, I wanted my EPA certification, and there were holes in my knowledge. I wanted to take a step back, get the fundamentals, and learn from the ground up to supplement what I already knew. It really did help a lot. When I got in to the program, stuff started really clicking.
What was your favorite part of your experience at TWS?
There was a lot of hands-on time. We really got our hands-on stuff, which really made a huge difference.
Did you have to retrain yourself, unlearn some stuff?
Yes, there were a couple of things that I learned I should not be doing. Nothing too serious, though!
Who do you work for now?
Snyder Heating and Air Conditioning in Jacksonville. I started after Thanksgiving 2018. I do residential maintenance; that’s where everybody starts here. They have maintenance, service and installer teams.
Briefly tell us the difference between maintenance and service.
A maintenance technician goes in on a regularly scheduled visit to check the system, clean everything, do minor repairs, and make recommendations according to what we find. It’s all designed to keep the system running optimally. A service technician is only called out when there’s a problem. They are typically more experienced and can handle more complex or rigorous issues.
How did you get the job?
After school, I took a break to get some personal affairs in order, but I told Career Services that Snyder was the company I was looking at. About a month later, when I was ready, I applied to Snyder first. I interviewed the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They told me I probably wouldn’t hear anything until the following Wednesday because of the holiday, but Monday morning they called and told me I had the job.
Why were you looking at Snyder?
They came to the school for a little Q&A session with students, questions about what we could expect to see in the field, how they do this, how they do that. I was just really impressed with their answers. When I went in to interview, the guys both recognized me from their visit to the school. I’d sat up front and was the first to ask a question. I asked some pretty good questions. I guess I had more of an idea than some of the other guys because I’d been in the field for a few years.
Are you happy with the money you’re making?
Absolutely. While my former employer paid more per hour, I wasn’t working enough and I got paid every other week. With Snyder, I work 40+ hours each week, and I get paid every week. I also get commission. I’ve had an $800 check already. That was for just one week.
How do you find working a commission job?
It’s pretty relaxed, although we do have goals they like you to hit. But I’ve had no issues at all so far. I’m comfortable because I don’t feel super-pressured. Because our company has such a good reputation, our customers tend to go with what we recommend, and I don’t sell anything that the customer doesn’t need. When it comes to parts we replace, we take the old part back to the shop. They actually test it, and if it’s not within an acceptable range of what they call “replaceable,” they will refund the customer’s money, because otherwise that’s stealing. That keeps everyone on their best behavior.
What’s your career plan from here?
To be honest, I’m not really sure yet. I like what I’m doing. I’m just taking it one step at a time. I’d like to stay and grow with this company. I wouldn’t mind a supervisor role one day! They take care of you here. As long as you show up, do your job, and don’t make a fuss, they have your back. As an example, another guy from TWS works here. He started before me. He had a kidney problem and had to get dialysis. He was out of work for months. When he came back to work, he still had his truck and he still had his job.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
For one, it’s pretty easy! I’ve done a lot of things, and this is a pretty easy thing to do! It can be challenging sometimes, but not to the point where it gets frustrating. Secondly, I feel really good about helping people. Florida weather can be really nasty, especially with the humidity, so it’s great to keep people’s systems up and running. I enjoy getting to meet different people as well.
What advice would you give to students considering TWS?
When you take the first step, stick with it. It may seem difficult or challenging at first, but stick with it. It’s what you make of it. Be positive and go in with a willingness to learn. If you’re willing to learn, then you will learn.
If you’re a TWS graduate and would like to share your success and be an inspiration to others, please email Social@StrataTech.com to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), program, and campus name (Tulsa/Jacksonville/Houston).