Riley, age 46 from a small rural town in West Virginia, graduated from the Refrigeration Technologies program in October 2018. Riley moved to Phoenix about 12 years ago.
Thanks for your time, Riley. Was this a career change for you?
A complete change. I have a restaurant and customer service background. The lack of income and benefits made me decide to make a change. I was in my mid 40s with no career. I first signed up to community college to become a dental hygienist, but a life situation happened which made me pause that.
What made you choose the HVAC/R path?
I have a great friend who is very mechanically inclined. He always frustrated me because he seems to know everything! He says the only reason he knows so much is because he’s made a ton of mistakes, done a ton of research, and seen a lot more than I have. But being around him made me realize that I pick up mechanical stuff pretty well. I’m fascinated by little secrets and tricks to things. Once you discover those tricks and have the proper tools, what seems impossible is pretty easy. It’s like magic almost and it’s fun.
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Why refrigeration and not another mechanical career?
With refrigeration, although there’s a variety of equipment to work on—ice machines, giant industrial chillers, A/C units—you’re still using the same basic four principles. These machines are typically well designed. Plus, the pay can be fantastic! It was also a quick journey from beginning to graduation.
Why did you choose RSI?
I don’t remember. I just know that when I was ready to get some education, RSI was on my list. I did my research. I got a lot of bang for my buck, the tuition was quite reasonable and it’s a short program.
What was your favorite part of school?
Every day, from day one, we talked about refrigeration, electricity and the skills I’d need, and nothing else. We didn’t talk about Shakespeare. In college you often have to take pre-requisite courses. It takes a long time to get to the career skills you need, but not here. My favorite classes were when we were troubleshooting, the hands-on applications. I also liked that the teachers had been in the industry; I could ask for real-world examples because they’d been on the job for years.
Were career services helpful in getting you your job?
Absolutely. We had a career fair on campus during my last days of school. I was well prepared. I brought my résumé and talked to as many people as I could, but I didn’t find the match I wanted. Shortly after, Rick White [Director of Career Services] called to say he had a great opportunity. I’m so fortunate that the career fair didn’t pan out because I got this job.
Where are you working?
I started at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix as an overnight HVAC technician last week. It’s great pay, I’m going to one property every day and working with people who know all the equipment in the facility. It has worked out really well. I have a steep learning curve, but there’s consistency. We know our ice machines, chillers and units. We know how things are going to act, so when things misbehave, we have a baseline. I’m shadowing someone for the first three weeks, but then my shift will be 10 pm to 8 am. It is a challenge every day, but when I look back, I’m sure it will seem pretty easy once I get it.
The nightshift will take some adjusting to.
A little, but I’ll take it. I won’t have homeowners breathing down my neck because it’s boiling hot. I could be on the roof at 3 am or in the chiller. Either way, I can take a step back and really think things through.
Have you had your first pay check yet? Was that exciting?
I have not, but last night I dreamed it was fantastic. The pay is great, and they provide tools and uniforms. I will have fantastic benefits after 90 days: health, dental, vision. There’s a cafeteria where they feed us well—Hyatt resort food. There are travel benefits, too; I can stay at any Hyatt for free if they have availability.
You sound excited by this new career.
This is going to be life-changing for me. I have enjoyed not being well-off because I learned so much: how to scrimp and save, how to fix things. But when you’re well-off, you don’t have to fix things, you just buy new. Now, at 46, I’m ready to be well-off. I will live frugally, but successfully.
Did you make some lasting connections at RSI?
Yes, we were a band of brothers and sisters. We helped each other and explained things to each other. Not everybody hears the same thing when the instructor speaks. Sometimes when someone else explains things, it just clicks. Talking with my friends helped a lot. I had friendly competition with them, mostly in my mind, because I wanted to be the top tech. It was all helpful to keep me on my toes. I talk with them about once a week to see how they’re doing and how their jobs are going.
What do you enjoy most about your new trade?
First and foremost that it is a trade, I have a career now. I have options. If this job doesn’t work out, although I’m sure it will, there are four other opportunities available tomorrow. I’m proud that I do something that people say “Oh, wow” when they learn what I do. What’s behind that cold air is a mystery to most people. It’s nice to have skills that not many people have, and it’s nice to be a ‘go-to’ guy because I’ve got those skills. That’s a great feeling.
What’s your career plan?
One of the things I’m grateful for about this job is that lots of people I talk to have been with Hyatt for at least eight years, many over 20 years. It’s hard to find a company these days where people don’t job hop all the time. I’m comfortable with what they are paying me now, but I can only assume that in five or ten years my salary will have increased. I don’t see any reason why I’d want to leave Hyatt.
What advice do you have for new students just starting out?
I’m not smarter than anybody else. I’m not amazingly talented at this stuff, but they say this to you when you start at the school: do your best to show up every day and be present in class. I showed up a minimum of 30 minutes early each day. I wasn’t sitting there going over notes, I was just getting settled, getting prepared, getting in to the mode to be there mentally. I think my grades and my attendance record are what made Rick White think of me when he was talking to Hyatt.
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.