While the current season lends itself to open windows in homes and offices, the coming change of seasons will soon bring colder temperatures and people thinking more about their home heating systems. With weather events like the polar vortex the Chicago area experienced in January 2019, maintenance of these systems is critical. Fortunately, there are people who are trained in this field. The Waubonsee Community College Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Program prepares students for careers in this in-demand industry.
“It teaches the fundamentals, the theory of how the systems work. It prepares you so that no matter what is thrown your way [on a job], you’ve got a way to navigate,” said Rodolfo Maldonado, a Waubonsee alum who earned a certificate in HVAC in 2018. While enrolled in Waubonsee’s program, Maldonado also earned second place in the 2018 SkillsUSA® state competition in Springfield and third place in the 2019 state competition.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 15 percent increase in job growth between 2016 and 2026. This rate of growth is much faster than the average of seven percent for all occupations. In 2018, the median pay for HVAC mechanics and installers was more than $47,000 per year.
The typical entry-level education required for this field is a certificate and not a bachelor’s degree. Students at Waubonsee can earn the HVAC certificate in just one year and there are three industry certifications included in the coursework leading to an associate of applied science degree. These certifications are critical to students as they enter the workforce as HVAC mechanics and installers.
Renee Tomlinson sees Waubonsee’s HVAC Program through a different lens. As the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the ESCO Group, she works with HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) educational programs from across the country. She also serves on the board for HVAC Excellence, which is a standards organization that works to improve the technical competency of the HVACR industry.
“The faculty and administration at Waubonsee understand that the HVACR industry is and will continue to undergo rapid technological changes. As a result, they wanted to validate that their program met nationally-accepted standards and was aligned with what the industry requires for a technician to be successful. To accomplish this, they voluntarily pursued third-party programmatic accreditation from HVAC Excellence,” said Tomlinson.
According to Tomlinson, Waubonsee’s HVAC Program is one of only five programs in Illinois that have been granted accreditation by HVAC Excellence. As an example of the quality of the program’s instructors, Joe Kloke was invited to serve as a judge in an international apprenticeship contest hosted by the ESCO Group.
There are benefits to both students and employers of this accreditation. One is that it gives prospective students assurance that the program is of the highest quality. It also provides employers in the field the assurance that the program’s graduates are well trained.
Tomlinson participates in the Waubonsee HVAC Program advisory committee meetings and shares information gathered from other programs across the country.
“It is our goal to continue to work together to maintain a level of excellence in the education students are receiving,” said Tomlinson.
Mark McCarney, a current student in the program, had an entirely different career in a different industry for 23 years when the facility he worked for closed in 2018. He decided that he wanted to learn a trade and chose HVAC. He started in the program at Waubonsee in January 2019. As a non-traditional age student, he appreciates the support of the faculty.
“I was 35 years removed from any classroom. I was terrified and didn’t know what to expect. The transition was quick and smooth, though. Joe [Kloke] made it easy on me right out of the gate. He said we’ll work with you. You’ll get through this.”
In addition to the faculty support, he already sees great value in the training he is getting.
“It’s something I can take with me if I decide to move somewhere else. And the program’s been good to me. I’ve met a lot of great people. Everyone helps each other. The camaraderie is very high,” said McCarney.
In addition to his own educational and career benefits of being in school, McCarney sees another benefit.
“It’s been an inspiration for my kids, seeing me go to school.”
Visit www.waubonsee.edu/hvac to learn more about the HVAC Program and career opportunities.
L-R: Ms. Rebecca Oliver, Waubonsee Board of Trustees Chair; Mark McCarney, current Waubonsee student; Ne’Keisha Stepney, Waubonsee Dean for Business and Career Technology; Laura Swarts, Account Executive at R.J. O’Neil Mechanical Contractors; Joseph Kloke, Instructor of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning; Renee Tomlinson, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the ESCO Group and board member of HVAC Excellence; Dr. Christine Sobek, President of Waubonsee; Dr. Diane Nyhammer, Waubonsee Vice President of Educational Affairs; Rodolfo Maldonado; Waubonsee alum