Wayne, now aged 37, graduated from the Refrigeration Technologies program in October 2014. After 18 years working in another field, Wayne made a career change in his mid 30s. He now lives in Blythe, CA.
Thanks for sharing your story Wayne; tell us what brought you to RSI in your mid 30s.
I had a son when I was very young so I had to get a job fast. I went into a field [sand & gravel] that I wasn’t really interested in, but it’s what I needed to do. Because the money came fast, I never took the time to do something I liked. I was with two companies over 18 years. I moved from the shovel to middle management. I followed the money and the security was nice, but I didn’t really like it.
So what prompted the change?
I did well in that industry, but I wanted a trade and I wanted to do something that I’d enjoy. My dad was in HVAC. He was an electrician/refrigeration tech, so I grew up around it. I used to like going out on jobs with him. I thought having a trade would be a failsafe; I’d always be able to make money if something happened with my job. I knew it would be valuable here in the southwest desert. My eldest son, Isaiah, turning 18 was the catalyst really. But there were a number of things that came together at the time.
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So you worked while at school?
Yes, to start with anyway. I went to night classes; I’d work during the day and go to RSI at night. The program took nine months [six months with morning or afternoon classes]. I wanted to hang on to my job because it was convenient, but I got let go about the time my son graduated. The sand & gravel company found out I was going to school. I don’t know why, but they didn’t like people investing in themselves.
Your plans accelerated then?
Yes, it all happened a lot quicker than I’d thought after being let go. Thankfully, I’d done the best thing I could ever do, which was invest in myself. It ended up working out. It gave me time to really focus on school, do real well at it, I kept a 4.0 GPA, and then commit to finding a full-time job in the HVAC field.
What was your favorite part of the RSI program and why?
I enjoyed studying something new, stimulating my mind. The fifth phase was my favorite; we actually got to hook up air conditioning units and work on them. I really enjoyed the mechanical parts of it.
You graduated in October 2014. How long did it take you to get a job?
It took two or three months to get an HVAC role. My first job was excellent. It was a perfect placement coming from RSI because it was for a residential focused company. One of the best companies in Phoenix, and they really treated me well. It turned out to be more of a sales position because that’s what they thought suited my skills.
I stayed with them for about four months. I really liked the company and the money was great, but there were some personal reasons for moving on. I wanted to move closer to my dad who was having some health issues; he lives in Parker, Arizona. I also wanted to do more service tech work.
How did you find your current job in Blythe?
It was through RSI actually. The company – Glenn Johnson Cooling & Heating – reached out to RSI looking for qualified refrigeration graduates, and the school gave them my name. I’d let the school know that I was looking to move back to the Blythe/Parker area from Phoenix if an opportunity arose. I asked to be kept on the list so I could keep my options open.
What kind of work do you do for them?
It’s residential, commercial and refrigeration. We do it all. And we do heating of course. It’s a small company that services the town of Blythe and areas of Parker and Quartzite so we’re spread out quite a bit. I’ve been there about a year, working more on the residential and commercial air conditioning side, but they’re integrating me into refrigeration now too as we move forward
Where do you hope your career will take you?
I want to get NATE [North American Technician Excellence] certified this year. It’s a higher level of certification than a normal refrigeration technician has. Basically, I’ll be constantly learning; I’ll have to keep up on certain classes to maintain the certification. Continuing my education should give me and my company more jobs, more opportunities. It should increase my value.
My master plan eventually is to get my own registered contractor license, set up my own business, and work for my tribe on the Colorado River Reservation. But there may also be an opportunity to buy into this company as a partner, so it’s a dilemma at the moment. But I try to keep things simple. I can’t think of any of that right now. My first step is to stay where I am, start studying after the busy summer season, and take the test for my NATE certification by the end of the year.
What’s your dream job, Wayne?
I’m Native American, part of the CRIT tribe [Colorado River Indian Tribe] so I think eventually I’d like to work with them. I do have an “in” with them, but we’ll see. They paid for my whole school.
Did you leave RSI feeling you were on your way to becoming a specialist?
I was set. I was ready. There are things you have to keep learning in the field as you get more experience. But after you make it through your first summer season with the right company, you’re ready.
Did you make any good connections at school? Have you built a network?
Yes I did. Actually a good school friend of mine, Steve, got me into my first HVAC job. I also stay in touch with another guy, Kurt. He actually tried to get me to come work with him after I started here, but I’m happy where I am. He thought of me because of my GPA, and the way I handled myself in class.
What’s your favorite aspect of working in HVAC?
I like keeping people cool when it’s really hot. There’s nothing worse than coming home to a hot house. I enjoy helping people. It’s a great sense of satisfaction when you can help a family out. I also enjoy that I’m always moving around, going to this house, that house, doing something different, and meeting people.
What advice would you give to prospective students considering attending RSI?
Be fearless and invest in yourself. Find something you like, and then you have to be fearless and go after it. If you don’t invest in yourself, then you’ve only got yourself to blame. But I’ll also say that if you don’t like the heat, don’t do this job. If you like heat, then this is the job for you. Same with cold weather if you want to work in heating rather than refrigeration. Personally, I’ll take the heat over the cold. I could never work in Alaska! I’d rather be down here in the desert, but you can go either direction.
There’s a lot of money to be made if you’re good at the trade. You can make a lot of money doing this if you do it right. I personally don’t want to take any shortcuts because I want to be good at the job I do. The first half of my life I followed the money, and I missed a lot of the steps in between. In this new field I’m not going to take any shortcuts. So try to find a company where you can continue to learn.
What do you do for fun Wayne?
I live by the river so I go boating, spear fishing – anything on or in the water. In the summer sometimes after a call, if I’m on a job down by the water, I might just jump in the Colorado River to cool off!
If you were a millionaire for a day, what would you do?
Right now I’d approach the guys I work with. They’ve invested in me, so I’d like to invest in them and become a partner. I’d see what it would take for me to buy into what we’re doing here. Then I’d take the time I need to get my certifications… and I’d buy a cool boat and a nice house on the river.