This is NOT Your Father’s HVACR Industry

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write an article for a special Women in HVACR edition of the HVACR Distribution Business Magazine. Talk about flattered! I was speechless. Giddy. And FREAKED OUT. See, there’s a HUGE difference between self-publishing a tiny little blog and writing for a respected industry magazine. I expected writer’s block, but found that I had exactly the opposite. It was writer’s diarrhea. TONS of stuff came out of my brain, but it was all – well, let’s just say – poop. I wrote, re-wrote, deleted everything, and re-wrote again. I emailed my friends (sorry guys, but thanks millions!) and then re-wrote again. I haven’t re-read my article since it was published. I fear that I will be overly critical and mentally red-line the whole thing, but I am sharing the whole article here for you to check out, because I am SO proud to have been asked. It was incredibly awesome, humbling and exhilarating.

Please make sure to click through to the magazine to read the other fantastic articles as well. I join more than twenty other women in writing about what we love, HVACR, in this very special issue.

First time I've ever had my face on the cover of anything!
First time I’ve ever had my face on the cover of anything! Can you find me? Hint: I had a pretty significant haircut. OK, you give up? Second row, fifth from the left.

This is NOT Your Father’s HVACR Industry

For years, people asked me if I would be joining the family business, and I always laughed heartily and said, “Never!” I had zero interest in HVACR. My plan was to be an environmental activist — head of several wildly respected non-profits who did nothing short of saving the world — and eventually President of the United States. HVACR was not on the radar screen. So, imagine my surprise when I not only ended up in the industry, but also ended up one of its biggest cheerleaders!

Though I would not hesitate to recommend the HVACR industry to anyone, I would not necessarily recommend following the path that I took. I joined my father’s HVACR company after it suffered a massive blow — when a long-time and trusted employee was discovered embezzling funds, crippling the company’s financial status.

It was a scary time to make a career change. When I think back to my decision, it scares me to think of the huge risk that I took, not only changing careers, but joining a company in financial trouble. I wonder now what I was thinking, but at the time, it just felt like the right move. Thankfully, the employees not only stayed, but pulled together to help Advance Air survive and even thrive at a time when the economy was forcing many HVACR companies in our area to close their doors. I’ll never forget the loyalty of every employee who proudly stuck by us through those dark days.

It is now 12 years later; my father is mostly retired; my brother and I have taken over the responsibility of running the business. Though succession in a family business is rarely an easy transition, I wouldn’t change a thing about my decision. Surprisingly, within the HVACR industry, I have been able to achieve all of the original goals I’d imagined for myself. I am able to be an environmental activist by implementing environmentally friendly procedures and products to lessen our environmental impact and that of our customers. I have the great pleasure of volunteering for several wildly respected and world-saving non-profits. And I even get to be president!

The HVACR industry is so diverse and multi-faceted, that I believe anyone can find a rewarding role in one or more of its many different areas. Far beyond the most obvious role of the traditional field service technician or installer, HVACR also includes great opportunities in sales, software development, dispatching, DDC controls service, which requires equal parts technical skill and computer programming genius, or running an HVACR company, which requires equal parts of just about every skill you can possibly think of!

The HVACR industry keeps growing and demand for quality people is ever present. It’s an exciting industry that promises to continue to challenge those within it with greater technology and heavier requirements on being environmentally friendly. I see the future of HVACR requiring a wider breadth of skill sets than ever before. Gone are the days where you could get by on simple mechanical skills. Though still important — vital even — if mechanical skills don’t come with some level of computer savvy, people skills and sales ability, you will find yourself limited. Rather than seeing this as a negative, I see this opening up the industry to bring in new talent that seeks to be challenged in all of these areas.

If you are looking for a career in HVACR — and you should be — there are a number of ways you can start. Most folks start in the classroom. Though training is an important piece of the puzzle and something that you should never stop doing even after years in the industry, it is just one piece of a very big picture. In the trades, even if your position is not directly technical, you will learn best by doing.

By combining classroom training with hands-on experience, you will learn faster and better than with either one alone. For that reason, I recommend seeking employment in the industry as soon as possible, even if it’s entry level or not exactly in the area that you are interested in.

Simply mastering the terminology (or what I like to call the Alphabet Soup of HVACR) is daunting. By being in any part of the industry, you will begin to get comfortable talking about HVAC and hopefully have the opportunity to see in action that which you’re learning in the classroom. That experience will make a big difference down the line.

However you get started in HVACR, you will not be disappointed. It’s a great place for anyone to find their passion. I know I did.

Joining the HVACR industry in 2002 as second generation co-owner of Advance Air & Heat Company in Southeastern Massachusetts, Karen Lamy DeSousa has become an enthusiastic advocate for women in HVACR. Karen maintains a weekly humor blog, Confessions of an HVACR Chick, about HVACR and life as a woman in a man’s field. She is also a proud member of Women in HVACR, supporter of the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Mass and organizer of the Annual Women’s Business Forum.