Contributed by: Brandi R. Ferenc
How I got my start in HVAC was a bit like a game of snakes and ladders ::LOL:: The skilled trades was a late-in-life career change for me that started in 2004 at the age of 32. I was looking to invest in myself and wanted a career that would be exciting and sustainable – not something that would be obsolete in a few years. I already had the typical university / college experience and knew that I would not be happy sitting in an office. Since most of my family and friends were journeymen, I loved hearing them talk about their days at work; there was never a dull moment. My Dad is an electrician, so obviously I tried to get an apprenticeship in that first; however, he suggested HVAC. When I learned there’s a little bit of every trade in HVAC, I was sold – though I had no luck getting my foot in the door for HVAC or any other trade. I decided to take a pre-apprenticeship program at Conestoga College, and after completing the program, I worked at a residential renovations company while earning my gas fitter ticket at night. After obtaining my gas fitter 3, I was hired by a local plumbing company working on commercial construction projects. After a few months, I was offered an apprenticeship. Finally my foot was in the door, and I was officially signed up as an apprentice. While working for the plumbing company, I obtained my gas fitter 2 certification on weekends, which led me to compete at the Skills Canada competition. As the only woman to compete, I was proud to place third. Shortly after the competition, a recruiter called me from Johnson Controls. This led to an interview for an HVAC apprenticeship, and the rest is history. I’ve now been with the company for 12 years.
One thing I love about my career is every day is a new adventure. I work in HVAC service, which means I’m rolling in a service van all day. It’s basically my mobile office. My schedule can change at a moment’s notice depending on the weather and the customer’s needs. My work takes me to a different location, with a different piece of equipment every day, and though this makes it challenging, there truly is never a dull moment!
As technology gets more sophisticated, so does the equipment that we need to troubleshoot; which means we are constantly learning (especially after you become a licensed journeyman). I feel lucky to work for Johnson Controls. As a manufacturer, we receive factory training, and I’ve had the privilege to work and learn from some of the best mechanics in the industry.
I’m proud of a lot of things I’ve accomplished during my time in this industry, but I’m most proud of the work I do with young women to educate and mentor them through a skilled trade or those thinking of pursing a skilled trade. I attend several events each year to represent the HVAC industry and inform young women of the benefits of a career in the skilled trades.
Women make up 0.4% of the HVAC trade in Ontario, which brings an additional set of challenges to the table, but as my Nanny famously said to me: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I can definitely say I’m a stronger person. I believe as more women enter the skilled trades in Ontario, visibility will increase, and as a result, there will be less obstacles for the next generation.
My advice to anyone considering this line of work would be to talk to mechanics and apprentices in the industry. Try and shadow someone for an afternoon. Ask a million questions and then jump in with both feet! Or just jump in with both feet 😉 Whether it’s a residential or industrial application, the heating and cooling industry is vital for so many different facets of our lives and industrial processes. This is really the best job security you could ask for.
A typical day for me starts with the alarm going off at 5am, followed by a few curse words and a cup of tea. Then it’s off the races. I receive all of my work orders on my phone, so I hop in the service van and head to my specified job. Upon arriving on-site, we complete a pre-job safety app on our phones before starting any job to identify any hazards that may be present. #SafetyFirst
Then I will usually be troubleshooting a chiller. Troubleshooting takes a lot of skill and a little luck and definitely is one of the most challenging parts of the trade for me. It could be an electrical problem, mechanical issue or both, and sometimes it is a component outside of the chiller, like the cooling tower, pumps or the control system. Our job as mechanics is to identify the problem and get the chiller back up and running as quickly as possible for the building or facility. After I fix the issue, there is paperwork to complete, and of course the timesheet because after all we want to get paid ::LOL::
Since I primarily work in service, we don’t regularly work on large projects; however, the past few years I have transitioned to mainly work on centrifugal chillers. My favorite jobs are the chiller tear downs. We set up gantries with trolleys and chain falls and take these large machines apart piece-by-piece to refurbish them. I will never forget the first time we took out a 3,000lb motor off of a chiller; I was in awe how easy it was using the proper tools and rigging gear. If someone would have told me 20 years ago I would be rigging anything, let alone something that size, I would have laughed ::LOL::
I embrace the challenges and pressure that come with working on these machines and have the utmost respect for my fellow journeyman in my field.
Thank you, Brandi, for your contributions to the HVAC Industry! We look forward to keeping up with you through the #PumpTalk Community!