Updated: Dec 14, 2020
How an HVAC Professional Transitioned Careers
Serendipity brought Gabe Vazquez to a fulfilling, well-paid and stable career in the construction industry. A recruiter from a union, Sheet Metal Workers Local 124, was distributing information about a registered apprenticeship program at his wife’s place of work. When she told Vazquez about the program, he knew it was the right path. Today, Vazquez is near the end of his apprenticeship and works as a licensed mechanical journeyman. Vazquez’s primary responsibility is building the ductwork that safely heats, ventilates and air conditions industrial buildings. His role in a construction project ensures those inside are breathing clean, well-ventilated air. It takes precise measurements and calculations to fit the ductwork properly, which Vazquez learned to do as part of his program’s classroom work. The math Vazquez uses each day is repetitive, so he got used to taking measurements quickly. It is extrapolating those measurements over hundred inches throughout industrial buildings that gets difficult. Vazquez finds the challenges exciting. In fact, it was his desire to continue learning and developing his professional skills that motivated him to join the apprenticeship program. After working for several years in welding at a job where he felt he had stagnated and was no longer learning new things, Vazquez turned to an apprenticeship to accelerate his career. He is now nearing the end of his fifth and final year of the program. “It was helpful to be able to build a resume and get credits in classes while making a living,” said Vazquez, “I went to college before I started this program and I’m paying down debt from it. If I could do it again I would do this first.” As construction needs change, HVAC professionals evolve their work. Technological developments toward energy efficiency and building adaptations due to climate change have grown the HVAC industry. The industry projects this growth to continue into the next decade. Vazquez says the opportunity to learn many different styles and perspectives on the industry set him up for a successful launch into his career. “You get lots of different mentors and learn lots of different styles,” said Vazquez, “I’ve been lucky enough to work with several different foremen and journeymen so I think I have a well-rounded education in the field.”
Outside of classroom work, apprentices are assigned to certain work sites, where a foreman will then supervise. In charge of the larger site, a foreman works with and closely monitors the journeymen who take on smaller individual projects within the construction site. The foreman observes a journeymen’s progress over time. Vazquez says the new types of work apprentices get to try is based on their relationship with the foreman and journeyman. Vazquez was motivated to constantly learn more and work harder in order to prove himself and have additional training opportunities.
To aspiring apprentices, Vazquez says go for it! Registered apprentices can start making a livable wage right out of high school or as folks seek to continue their education. The flexibility of apprenticeships allow for credits earned during classwork to go towards a college degree if they so choose. The apprenticeship pathway does not prevent anyone from pursuing a degree later. All the while, you are paid to advance into a career.