Scott a Retired Air Force Veteran
by: Troops to Trades
April 13, 2015
“Everything changes with a phone call,” stated Scott a retired Air Force veteran who recently went through the Troops to Trades program to become a heating and air conditioning (HVAC) technician. After serving in the Air Force and building a career in the security industry, Scott was called to serve closer to home. His mother was ill and he was needed at home. This need turned into a tough but rewarding two year commitment caring for first his mother as she struggled with cancer, then caring for his father.
He eventually moved his father to Colorado where Scott reunited with his wife who had been stationed in Korea, and their children. It was time to get back into career mode. Unfortunately this did not go well, and he found it difficult to compete since he had been away from his career in security for a length of time. He was told that he interviewed well, was polite and well spoken, but since he had no current related experience, the jobs were always awarded to someone else.
After several attempts to get back into the field of security, Scott and his family were faced with financial crisis. Keeping current with the household bills was difficult and they were barely making ends meet each month. One day, Scott’s daughter came to him and asked for lunch money for school. There was just nothing left to give.
“We were paying our bills, but just barely keeping our noses above water. That’s when I connected with Troops to Trades.” At that point, Scott made the decision to change careers. He was willing to dig ditches or become a Walmart greeter if it meant a positive impact for his family but he was also looking for a career. He did his research and networked, wanting to make the best choice. He had met with a friend who was a career counselor at a Nexstar company, who helped him learn about careers in HVAC and connected him with the Troops to Trades program. He applied for the Troops to Trades scholarship, was awarded a training grant and attended the BuildATech program in Dallas. Scott integrated the life skills he earned while serving in the Air Force and combined them with knowledge learned in the Build a Tech program to move into a solid career in the HVAC industry.
Scott credits the military with making him an excellent fit for a HVAC career. Scott’s father was in the Army, and his remembers his father saying, “If you are ever looking for training and need help to grow up a bit, military is always an option.” After high school, Scott found himself drifting. “It was time to go, time to get my life started so I joined the Air Force, based on some good advice from my father.” The Air Force provided employment and Scott enjoyed a solid career in security. His 25 years in the service offered him experiences that ranged from simply writing tickets to working in highly protected nuclear areas and providing personal protection including a 4-year detail protecting a top general in Europe.
The most powerful lesson learned from this career was how to interact with people, how to read people, body language, facial expressions, that sort of thing. “There is a time when you need to give orders and there’s a time when you need to smile politely and just listen.”
Scott uses this skill when going to a customer’s home as a heating and air conditioning representative. “Sometimes you show up and they are not real happy.”
Recently Scott was called to do a client follow up. A thermostat that had been installed was problematic. Through no fault of the company, the part went bad. The customer was not very pleased. Scott approached the situation with empathy and said “Ma’am, you are right, you have a reason to be upset.” She was blown away that he didn’t walk in the door and make excuses. “I completely understand. The best thing I can do for you is to fix the problem. The company I work for stands behind our products and our services. I am not leaving until you are happy! If it takes until midnight, I will be here until midnight. You tell me when I am done.” She was very thankful and surprised by that. She had expected that I would tell her that it wasn’t our fault.
Experience in the military in dealing with people when sometimes they are not at their best, whether injured or just not very happy with being what to do, directly correlates to his current interactions with clients. “If I am on a routine call and they expect a $20 tune up and I find a cracked heat exchanger which turns into a $2000 to $5000 repair and by the way I have to shut the furnace down & you won’t have any heat until you replace the furnace can make the situation uncomfortable. It takes tact to let them vent, redirect and come back to the issue at hand.”
Scott has found his career in the HVAC industry to be very rewarding.
“The thing I enjoy the most about the job is the problem solving. It is not monotonous by any choice of imagination. Every time you walk into the door, it is a different situation. You’ve got to figure out the puzzle. Why is this machine not doing what it is supposed to be doing? I enjoy this mental exercise, figuring out the problem.”
Secondary to that, dealing with customers. “I like meeting new people and making new friends. Yes, I am there to make money. I am there to make money for my company. It is rewarding when they are happy at the end of the call. I give them my card at the end of my visit and I tell them that I want to be YOUR HVAC person. If I have done a good service for you, please ask for me. Nothing feels better than when they say, “Oh absolutely! You’re my guy!” That tells me I was successful. That tells me they were happy with the service they received. That they were happy with the professionalism. They are a satisfied customer. That is what I am shooting for. That is what I enjoy about the job.”
On the other hand, the job isn’t always glamorous. Scott is not very fond of crawl spaces. “Hauling a tool bag and bucket of parts through a tight space under a building is not fun.”
Sometimes the hours are not the best. It can be hard to leave home before the family gets out of bed and not return until after dark or even the next day. “It takes commitment to your career when you are tired and it is 8pm and your dispatcher tells you that there are more calls on the board.”
Scott suggests that if you feel that the service industry might be a good fit for you, to do your homework. “Research the internet. Talk to guys who have been in the field for a year, 5 years…20 years and see what they have to say. This is a rewarding career but requires commitment and you need to know what you are getting into.”
Scott encourages other veterans to research and learn about the industry. If itfeels like a good fit, he highly recommends it and the job market is wide open. He has seen studies that show the plumbing, electrical and HVAC trades are losing anywhere from 8-15% in labor over next 10 to 15 years. At the same time, polls of young students asked if they have considered going into the trades, only about 6% acknowledge that it is interesting. Scott’s company is looking and recruiting for plumbing, electrical and HVAC techs continuously! There are not enough quality techs to go around!
“Computers or robots are never going to take your place. Opportunities in HVAC are becoming more and more technical, and more specialized. If you want to become a controls specialist the market is wide open. Interested in commercial or residential? Sales, installation, service? There are so many opportunities.”
“And you can go pretty much anywhere in the country with this training and find a job! Only like AC? You can find a job. If you only like furnaces, Minnesota might be your place.”
Troops to Trades was very helpful in transitioning Scott into the HVAC industry and he feels strongly about the organization. “I can’t recommend Troops to Trades highly enough!”
He is also very protective over this organization that he considers family. “It is a quality organization doing a really good thing. The commitment from people that really don’t have a dog in the fight is astounding to me. So before submitting your application, make sure you are committed. Do your research! And make sure you are serious about it.”
Scott’s HVAC career and customer service is something that he is proud of and he is very grateful to Troops to Trades for their assistance in helping him achieve this goal. “I appreciate them for what they have done for me…and for my family. They have helped my 4 year old, they have helped my 10 year old. Now they are helping my dad who is living with us due to his health.”