On-the-job training is not enough for HVACR career success
Brent Kasner learned everything he knew about servicing heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) equipment during his four years in the Navy, on ships deployed across the oceans of the world.
“It was all hands-on training and they gave me a lot of manuals about equipment,” he says. “I read a lot.” He was just 18 years old when his apprenticeship began. “I always enjoyed this field; that’s why I chose it.”
He maintained the heating and cooling equipment for large ships and always had a lot of prep work before setting out to sea. Once the ship deployed, there were only the resources on board to make any repairs. Fixes beyond those capabilities required the ship to pull into port and came with high downtime costs.
The Navy had its own electricians and HVACR crews, but in the industry back home those specialties are rolled into one HVACR service provider. “The Navy calls in an electrician, but out in the field here, you are the electrician,” says Brent.
When Brent left the military, he knew he would have to push his education higher to stay competitive in the trade.
There was another reason Brent wanted to pursue an HVACR program. He was about to become a father. He wanted to provide a better life for the baby girl he and his girlfriend Miki were about to welcome. That’s how Brent found himself enrolling in SJVC’s Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program on the Fresno campus, just two months before Kailey was born.
As a civilian, Brent had quickly learned that being good at operating and maintaining equipment just wasn’t good enough. “My instructor (at SJVC) had a lot of very good electrical skills, and that’s very hard to come by,” he says. “Electricity is very dangerous and it’s imperative that you are trained by somebody who knows what they’re doing because of the safety factors and standards you have to meet.”
While Brent may have enrolled in the HVACR program to master that electrical component, he amassed many more points toward his eventual skill level. “You can’t learn all this on your own,” he says. “You have to go to a college that has instructors that can give this to you. You might go into this work with the basics, but they’re not going to teach all this out in the field. In fact, most guys tend to hang onto their knowledge.” To share their hard-won expertise is to create greater competition.
The classroom environment was perfect for Brent. “I had a good time every day I was there,” he says. There were challenges, but he was excited for them.
“Our instructor had me completely rebuild an AC unit, then had me walk out of the class,” says Brent. “He would do something so it wouldn’t work, then have me come back in and trouble-shoot, using the tools he had just taught us to use.” The exercise was timed, which added just a little more pressure.
Brent was working full-time while he was in school and would occasionally bring a real-world work problem to his instructor. Sometimes he would bring a photo or video for visual clarity. “My instructor would tell me step-by-step what I should do. I was always successful at my job because I could get an expert second-opinion.”
Brent took it all in and went on to earn a 3.8 GPA and membership in the National Technical Honor Society. He graduated in November last year and had begun his online job search a month earlier.
He was very interested in checking opportunities with his local county, as those jobs often will offer generous compensation and medical insurance packages. He applied for the Building Maintenance Engineer position and the day after his three-person panel interview and short quiz, he was offered the job. Another job offer came in at about the same time, but his preference was clear.
“This is a great job and I’m very grateful to be here,” he says. “I’m happy with the pay, retirement and benefits.” It means a lot to Brent to provide well for his young family. “My daughter might not thank me now, but she will thank me when she’s older. This is a necessity; it’s what you have to do in order to have a good living.”
And he is putting every bit of his HVACR training into practice. “They have a very high standard here and this job really depends on your performance,” says Brent. “This is a journeyman’s position and I’m being groomed to take the next step up, which is the lead position.”
For now, Brent is happy to spend his work days troubleshooting, maintaining and fixing heating/air conditioning, boilers and exhaust ventilation, as well as fabrication, welding and working on other equipment, such as air compressors and evaporative coolers.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had in my life,” he says.
Brent is always looking ahead to the future and is planning to add a Bachelor’s degree to the Associate’s degree he earned at SJVC. “This field is always growing and there’s always new challenges,” he says. “I’m just going to keep pursing education in this field and never stop learning.”
But Brent isn’t the only one watching his career arc. “Last week, Brent stopped in with his infant daughter to pick up his diploma,” says Juan Aldape, Academic Dean for the Fresno campus. “He talked about his commitment throughout the program to get everything he could from his instructors and the program.” The two talked about the possibility of Brent coming back to campus at some point. HVACR instructors who can pass Brent’s level of enthusiasm and knowledge on to students are always welcomed.
Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended SJVC can be found here.
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