Joe, aged 22 from San Diego, CA, went into RSI straight out of high school in 2014. He graduated from the nine month Electro-Mechanical Technologies program in May 2015. He is now a building engineer.
Thanks for sharing your story, Joe. Tell us how you chose a career in HVAC.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do out of high school. I researched a lot of steady jobs, looking at what would make a good career. I heard a lot of horror stories about four- and eight-year colleges, where students spend a lot of time and money but graduate with huge debt and no job prospects. Honestly, it scared me a little.
So after talking with my parents and some really successful business owners, they all suggested an HVAC program because it’s always going to be necessary, and it’s a great career.
Living in San Diego, why did you choose RSI in Phoenix?
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I’d heard that RSI was the best place for HVAC programs, so I came to Arizona. It’s a lot cheaper to live in AZ, so I got a studio apartment about two miles from school. My dad had saved some money for my college tuition, but I won one of the Mike Rowe Works Foundation Scholarships that year, so he paid my rent. I got a basic $10-an-hour part-time job in a vape store for spending money.
Was there a particular part of the HVAC field that interested you?
One of the main reasons I wanted to get into the trade was that you deal with parts of everything. There’s a certain amount of plumbing involved, as well as electrical and mechanical. I grew up watching my dad doing everything; I wanted to be like him do stuff around the house, like change out a sink, fix plumbing and work on the air conditioning. There’s a lot you can learn from it.
What was your favorite part of the RSI program and why?
I think the class that helped me the most was Introduction to refrigeration. It gave me the biggest overview of HVAC. The most fun part was Phase 1 – Introduction to Electricity. Dave—the instructor—made that class really fun; he taught it with a sense of humor, so we learned a lot but still had a good time. It was a good way to start the program.
The last phase—Advanced Troubleshooting—was the most stressful, but it was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. The instructor kind of scares you half to death, but he does a very good job of teaching. When that Final comes and you pass it, it’s life changing. It was the greatest feeling ever.
Tell us about your work.
I really wanted to get into building engineering because it involves a bit of everything. You’re on the management side of things; you manage the property and do what you can mechanically. But it can be very difficult to get into; they often require lots of experience.
One of the main things employers look for in building engineering is HVAC experience, so I worked for a commercial air conditioning company for a little over a year after RSI and got a lot of experience under my belt. I would have liked to have worked there a few more years, but during the winter that specific company got kind of slow, and I got let go.
Before I even had a chance to put in my résumé for this building engineering job at Paragon Services Engineering in San Diego, they called me. Property managers hire Paragon to provide building engineers to manage their properties. It was a three-month project, but after it ended, they asked me to stay!
So what kind of building is it?
Right now I’m managing an office park and two two-story office buildings. On a typical day I might be doing anything from working on A/C units, to replacing ceiling tiles, to fixing plumbing or electrical issues, to working on security systems. It’s pretty much everything.
What do you enjoy most about your trade?
The variety. It’s not a cookie cutter job where you put your eight hours in and go home. It’s always something new and different. You’re never just stuck on one thing.
What was it like getting your first paycheck?
It was overwhelming, honestly. My first check was more than I knew what to do with. I was just a year out of high school, so I was ready to spend the whole thing. I had to actually sit down with my dad to figure out a budget. I wanted to figure out how much I needed to save and how much could I spend.
You have friends still doing degrees. Do you feel you made the right decision?
Going to that trade school was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made. Most of my friends are still in college, working part time at basic student jobs, while I’m already into my career. I have about $30,000 in the bank, I just bought a $40,000 truck, and I’m working on buying a house in the next year. I’m making $20 an hour, and hopefully getting a raise soon. With all the benefits, it’s a lot for my age. I also get overtime at time and half. Plus, I’ve just been put on the on-call list, so any after-hours calls at any Paragon properties will be my responsibility for one week a month. I’ll get extra money that week on top of my regular check, plus time and a half for every hour. And every call is a minimum of four hours. It’s definitely significantly more money.
What advice would you give to new students considering RSI?
As long as you pay attention and study, you’ll go a long way. For kids who are very hands-on and good with mechanical stuff, it’s a very good program. But it’s also great for kids like me who don’t have mechanical skills. I sat in my room playing video games and didn’t know much about anything, but RSI pretty much taught me everything.
Another thing I would say for students right out of high school: Don’t wait! If you have the chance to jump into a career, do it as fast as you possibly can. The cost of living is going up, so you can’t afford to wait. If you can get out there, get your education get a good job and start making money, it pays off ten-fold.
If you’re an RSI graduate and would like to share your success story and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), and program.