HVACR instructor trains students on the ins and outs of the industry

by Nyla on March 15, 2018 · 9:00 am

Gary Dover did not plan to be a teacher. “It never occurred to me,” he admits. His dad Bobby had a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) business and he fully expected to follow those well-placed footsteps.

“From 12 years old until I was 18, I worked on jobs with him,” says Gary. And, as expected, that experience became the springboard for his own life’s work.

Shortly out of high school, Gary went to school nights for two years of specialized education and training in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. During this time, he worked for a string of commercial and industrial HVAC companies. He worked at the first company for 7 years; long enough to know that he wanted to start his own business.

Gary got his contractor’s license and launched Desert Pacific Air in 1993.  He provided commercial and residential services, while his wife Anita managed the office. Their business took off. But before they could get too comfortable, Gary fell off a ladder and broke his arm.

“When that happened, Anita stepped up and started being my arm,” says Gary. “I’d tell her what to do and she’d do it.” Then a funny thing happened. “She realized she liked being in the field better than being in the office.” They made some adjustments to their business plan.

“She rode with me for a couple of years to continue to learn, and we both took classes to keep up on new technology,” says Gary. “Then she got her own truck and tools, and she also oversaw other employees we had by that time.”

Over the years, their children Christopher, Tracey and Brandon all took their turns riding shotgun, then solo, in the truck and “crawling around in attics with ductwork,” Gary says. “All three of my kids worked for me while they were in college,” he adds. “I enjoyed showing my kids, teaching them, and everyone who worked for me.”

That seed in him that enjoyed sharing what he knew with others was about to get some more water.

About a year ago, a friend asked Gary if he knew somebody who might be interested in teaching Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration at SJVC’s Victor Valley campus in Hesperia, CA. When he got home, he pondered that question out loud. Anita immediately suggested that he give it a try.

Gary’s qualifications and experience made him the perfect choice for the position, and he climbed on board. He had some powerful ideas to bring to the table. He wanted to emphasize not just the mechanics of this industry, but the soft skills of learning to listen and communicate effectively.

“Some students have come here from dead-end jobs and they don’t have much confidence,” says Gary. “I listen to what they want to do, and most of them just want to make good money, have a little family time and want their kids to be proud of them. They want to build that up and be an example.”

Gary is determined to help his students find the focus and confidence to succeed. “I want to teach them how to talk, answer straight-forward questions and how to listen. I want them to have the confidence that they can have anything they put their minds to and can pursue any job they want.”

He helps his students get there with a two-part curriculum. “I look at what they need to master by the end of the class and guide it so that they are through that in the first half, and then use the last half to teach them what it is like out in the field – how to use what they’ve learned.”

The class’s 7 non-operating A/C units with broken gauges are humming along in no time. A roof structure was built to simulate actual attic crawl spaces at roof-access heights.

“Everybody does the work – no one is watching,” says Gary. “Students are at different levels, so I have them classified as A, B, and C, depending on how long they’ve been with me. They are working with high-voltage, dangerous machines, so they have to focus on what they’re doing.”

Before students complete the HVAC-R program, they must pass their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification.

“Gary expects of the students what he would expect of his own employees,” says Richard Matley, Campus President, SJVC Victor Valley. “His students respond to his teaching because they know and trust that he has the integrity of truly knowing what they need to be successful in the industry. His mastery of the profession has enabled him to carefully think through and break down the learning process to ensure the students truly master the skills and concepts.”

Gary is proud of his HVAC-R students. His company Facebook page features photos of his students working on projects, individually and in teams. “Other contractors can see what we’re doing here and it’s good exposure for my students.”

The contractor who never aspired to be a teacher is finding a comfortable fit. “I didn’t know I was going to love it,” says Gary. “I’ll be here until I retire – as long as they want me.”

Gary lost his dad 11 years ago, but a little bit of his spirit is surely passed along in the work ethic Gary instills in his students. “Dad used to tell me, ‘What you’re doing out on the job is a picture of you, and that’s how people are going to view you.’”

Gary’s vision of his father is easily recalled. “He was like a superhero, walking into places with his tool belt, gauges on the side, to the rescue. He had a swagger to him. He knew he was good at what he did.”

The legacy continues with each Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration graduating class. Gary makes sure they have the work ethic – and the swagger – down.

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