I show up at customers’ houses.
They’re like, “You’re the furnace guy?”
I’m like, “Kind of”
Women in the HVAC Business
The field service industry is known to be a male-dominated space for years. Unfortunately, the very idea of a “technician” in the HVAC industry suggests an image of a man with a safety hat and tools. The job of an HVAC technician involves installation, repair, maintenance, and getting their hands dirty while working indoors and outdoors. It’s a years-old misconception that women can’t handle such jobs. Thus, it showcases the untapped potential in the field service business for women. As of 2017, women made up 47% of the workforce, yet only 2% were a part of the HVAC industry. It’s still an improvement from the beginning of the decade when women constituted only 0.6% of the HVAC business workforce. However, the recent trends in the field service business are challenging the stereotypes and encouraging gender diversity.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 15 percent employment increase is expected in the HVAC industry by 2026. With the growth rate and increasing shortage of employees, women have a higher potential to flourish in the field service business.
Meet Kollen from Moab Heat-N-Cool
Kolleen, an HVAC technician and dirt-biker, is all in to break stereotypes around women. She is a champion desert racer and an X Games medalist. She’s the first female to not only compete against men but win a bronze medal in a motorsport category. Living in Moab compliments her lifestyle of a curious tech by the day and an enthusiastic dirt-biker by the evening.
Kolleen’s entry into the HVAC Business
Kollen’s dad owned an HVAC company. She went to work for him temporarily, which turned into a full-time career for her. Currently, she has completed 16 years in the HVAC industry, regardless of being told that she would never be able to do this.
Challenges in the HVAC Industry
Kolleen has her plate full of challenges. Being in a male-dominated industry, earning a reputation was difficult, and she felt the constant need to prove herself. She shares her experience of being catcalled and working with men who didn’t want to answer a lady. Later, she got into an accident that shattered her ankles and broke both her legs. As an amputee in the field service industry, she received extra challenges on her way. She was asked not to climb any ladders and was out of the industry for eight years. However, even with limited mobility, her spirits never got down, and she hopes to work till her body allows her.
Kolleen setting an example in the field service business
Regardless of numerous challenges, Kolleen never gave in. She was taking HVAC courses at the time when she got into an accident. Thus, she couldn’t complete her schooling. Later, her brother, who went to a school to be a service tech, helped her with the classes. She learned from the bottom, installation, construction, and then moved up to retrofit, change-outs, etc. She loves to be on the field but knows that she’ll have to leave it behind in the future. Thus, she keeps her curiosity open towards back-office work. She is regularly growing her skills with the dynamic trends in the HVAC business. Further, she states that things have changed from how they were 10-15 years back to now. She feels comfortable in Moab Heat-N-Cool with the techs and the work environment. Being able to do tech support for her fellow employees is a big part of her day. She even has customers who request her for service and wait till her schedule is open.
Growing in the HVAC industry
Kolleen addresses the common fear in every woman’s mind – the “I can’t handle it” syndrome. Unfortunately, it has been the mindset of the industry for years. However, the number of women in the HVAC industry is increasing every day.
“They’re not going to discount you because you’re a woman, but if you can go in and prove that you’re willing to learn, and you want to have a career out of this, then you’ll probably get hired.”
She also shares a female twist that helps her at the job. The little things like washing off the handprints, making sure you leave the place clean and organized have scored her compliments. These are the things that get missed. And regardless of them being a female thing or an obsessive-compulsive thing, she feels it adds to a positive customer experience and repeated calls.
Certifications and courses available for women in HVAC
Platforms like InterCoast provide numerous degree and certification programs for the field service industry to explore. HVAC Training 101 provides many online resources for HVAC aspirants to gain certifications. Also, users can check the certification requirements for each state in the US. Many institutions, such as Airconditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), are helping women to get the right skills, courses, and networking opportunities to succeed in the HVAC Industry.
My father worked for a local electric utility and always talked about the value of learning a trade. I discovered early on I was mechanically inclined. Thus, growing up, I enjoyed helping my dad with odds and ends projects around the house. Later in high school, an HVAC course was offered, so I took the course and embraced the opportunity to continue my interest in the field. The more I learned about HVAC, the more I wanted to pursue it as a career. – Ali U., Service Technician, Walton & Company
Women in HVACR is another such platform that unites the women of the HVAC industry and provides educational, mentoring, and networking opportunities.
Kolleen’s take on HVAC certifications, experience, and knowledge-sharing
When discussing certifications, Kolleen mentions the importance of hands-on experience over anything. There are big national companies that would prefer certifications. But, knowing what one is doing will always be a game-changer, especially at times of employee shortage. Moreover, some certifications are necessary but don’t require attending a school. Most supply companies provide classes for all their equipment. Kolleen went to some ECM, motor, and ductless classes. It is essential to get an EPA certification to handle refrigerants. And nine out of ten times, the employer will set up and help the tech with it. Kolleen shares how YouTube has also added to her knowledge. Many certified technicians share their daily routine and new ways to operate things every day. It also helps her understand that there is more than a single way to do any task. Thus, one has to find what works the best for him/her.
Career opportunities for women in HVAC
There are multiple opportunities for women in the HVAC industry. Here’s a list of jobs that women can explore:
- Associate – associates can have a high school diploma or GED and assist the technicians in residential and commercial services.
- Technician – handling heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. They can work in a company or do individual contracting.
- Engineer – overseeing installation. They perform audits of installed systems, recommend improvements for efficiency, and are responsible for designing the framework of the system.
- Installer – putting the HVAC systems into homes and businesses. They require mechanical skills and have to carry heavy machinery and equipment.
- Manager – overseeing the business operations of an HVAC company. They assign jobs and track the team performance. Managers also perform hiring, interviews, and coordinate with employees in implementing procedures.
- Business Owner – having a business after gaining experience in the field. About seven percent of women in the U.S. are HVAC company owners.
Also, for any aspiring technician, Kollen adds,
“Every company right now is hiring. For every three technicians that leave this industry, there’s only one coming back. There’s a huge demand. Now is the best time to go to a company, say, “Hey, can you give me a trial week or a trial month?”. Unless you have experience, you have to start at the bottom, and you can do it.”
Kolleen’s top three go-to skills in the field service industry
- Customer service and the ability to communicate.
- Thinking outside the box.
- Being a self-starter with the ability to work without supervision.
Thus, in the end, things in the HVAC industry are not black and white. The techs might have to deal with similar situations which have different outcomes. If one is willing to learn, he or she is already standing out.
Moab Heat-N-Cool has been partners with SmartServ for over a year, where Kolleen works as a technician. Moab Heat-N-Cool has set an example, both in terms of company profitability and culture, with a 77.15% increase in revenue over the last year and encouraging favorable industry dynamics over the last decade, respectively. Kolleen’s roller-coaster journey speaks for all the women who face numerous ups and downs in the HVAC industry. We hope that her story inspires many aspiring technicians in the field service industry to start their journey with grit and dedication. Also, we would be sharing more inspirational stories in the future and encourage the field service industry folks to share their support for women in trades!