Jacob, 23, grew up in Woodland Park, Colorado. He graduated from the Mechanic Maintenance Engineering (MME) associate degree program at RSI in October 2017, and now lives in Colorado Springs.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jacob. Tell us what you did after high school.
I worked as a server while trying to join the Navy. I didn’t get in because of medical issues, which is why I had to change my path. I had just turned 19 when I enrolled at RSI.
Why did you choose RSI and this career?
My dad graduated from RSI in the early 90s. He’s made a lot of money doing this kind of thing since he was my age. He hasn’t touched a wrench in years, but the start he got at RSI and working in the trade got him on the track into maintenance management. He became very successful, even without an associate degree. I thought it’s a path I could take. He also suggested that if I knew how to fix electrical and mechanical things, I’d never be without work. I would always have it to fall back on.
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Did you ever go out on jobs with your dad?
He actually taught me how to do residential electrical work when I was pretty young. I always had kind of a fascination with it. He also taught me how to weld when I was pretty young.
Did you enroll in the MME program or add it on?
I actually started in the Electro-Mechanical Technologies (EMT) program and then decided to continue. At first, I just wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible, but in the last month I decided that having another piece of paper that says I know what I’m doing would help in the future. I am very glad I did it.
Did you have a particular career field in mind when you did the MME?
I wanted to do facilities work at a power plant or large industrial site. That’s purely because I saw the success my dad had in that field. He stopped getting his hands dirty pretty early and rose through the ranks to management. I thought I could go that route: building maintenance, building automation.
What did you enjoy most about RSI?
The hands-on time. I went in expecting to get my hands-on stuff. How else are you supposed to learn how to fix things? But I didn’t realize just how much hands-on time there would be. It was nonstop. In one class, we were touching stuff the first day. There is so much equipment; the hands-on time is unreal.
The second thing is the instructors. They were journeyman HVAC guys and journeyman electricians. Some were both. There is so much knowledge in that building. You can go to anybody, whether they’re your teacher or not, and just ask questions and talk. A lot of the stuff they told me I still think about today when on a job. There were willing to stay after class to work through things, to set time aside to explain things. It was just unreal. You could tell they really cared, and I’ve never seen that in any other school.
Tell us about your employment since graduating.
I started working in September 2016, right after I graduated the EMT program while I did the MME program online. I got on with a small company that wasn’t that great, doing small commercial service work. But in January of 201,7 I got my first industrial job at a semiconductor plant: Microchip Technology Inc. They are based in Tempe and have fabs in Tempe, Chandler, and Colorado Springs. I couldn’t really believe my first paycheck with them. I thought the numbers were wrong! I hadn’t made that much in a month before! I had benefits, sick time, and vacation time, all the stuff I’d never had before. It was another world for me; a big kid job versus being a server! When I got my degree, they even gave me a raise.
Are you still there?
No, I was there for two and a half years. They were a good start for me. They gave me all the training in the world, they sent me to plenty of classes, I had great mentors. But really it was just prepping me for my current job which I started in July 2019.
Where are you working now?
I work for Bell Home Solutions out of Denver, one of the oldest residential service companies in the city. It’s a union shop. Thanks to my degree at RSI, and my experience in the field at Microchip, they fast-forwarded me a lot and entered me as a journeyman rather than an apprentice. I skipped a whole lot of their process thanks to my education and experience. I’m making journeyman wages. Without my degree and experience, I would have started out at the very bottom. By the way, Colorado is in desperate need of good HVAC people! I really encourage RSI graduates to think about coming out here.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
There’s a lot that I enjoy. I love going to a house and fixing the problem. I love the flexibility I have because I’m with a good company. I love the challenge. You know what some residential problems are before you get on site, but some mansions I work on have their own building automation systems. There can be a lot to it, and you have to think. It’s not so easy. Another big thing is the money. It’s great.
So you’re happy with the money?
I don’t know how many other 23-year-olds are doing as well as I am. I no longer stress about money, and I can afford further education in other areas. I’m currently working on my business degree at University of Phoenix, and I just spent a lot of money on continuing education classes in real estate investment. I’m probably not going to be turning wrenches my whole life. What I’m doing now pays for my other interests.
What is your career plan from here?
I honestly didn’t think I’d get to a place like Microchip until I was 30. I thought I’d be spending a lot of time in service trucks before I got there. I was so very far ahead of schedule. I thought, what do I do now? I’ve already reached my goal. Pretty much anyone who goes to RSI is going to have that problem. They are going to reach their goals quicker than they thought they would.
From here, my plan starts to look beyond HVAC. Right now, HVAC is a source of funding. I’m making enough money that I can do what I want. I’m looking at more business and investing-type things, particularly real estate. I’d like to stick with Bell for the foreseeable future. Worst case scenario, I’m still going to have a pension and 401k, but best-case scenario I’ll take my earned income from Bell and apply it elsewhere to build some long-term wealth in the form of real estate and other investments.
What advice do you have for new students just starting out at RSI?
Do everything the instructors tell you. Don’t question it. They’ve been there and they know what it takes. Trust them. Trust the process. Do every single reading assignment. Read every chapter not once, but five or six times until it sticks in your bone marrow. Pursue every opportunity you can. You’re paying good money for this education. It’s not like high school, so take it seriously. It’s a big deal to be at RSI, so take advantage of the opportunity. You have to try hard to not be successful at RSI!
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.