Should I Go to HVAC School or Get Hired as an HVAC Apprentice?

Trade School or Apprentice

People entering the trades question whether they should start their journey out by going to an HVAC trade school or by trying to get hired on with a company as an apprentice.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world.  The answer to that will differ based on the company you’re trying to get on with, and what YOU want as a future employee. 

I think after reading this blog post you’ll have the confidence to start your way into the trades by figuring out this question.

Intro

My intention for this post is not to suggest whether you should or should not go to trade or vocational school to start learning your trade.  There are a lot of my audience reading this in a classroom right now.  And really, there’s nothing preventing you from doing both.  You can never have too much training and education.  In fact, my company offers continuous training on a weekly basis.  New information, best practices, and advanced technology are constantly updating in this field.

But if you’re reading this, you’ve decided that working in an office setting is not for you.  You’ve decided you want to work in a different setting.  One that changes on a daily basis.

An HVAC technician that learns installation and service is really diversified and becomes proficient at more than just HVAC skills, but plumbing, gas, electrical, construction, framing, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, roofing, structural engineering, etc.  Where are you going to learn all of this?

My Story

I was a mechanic in the air force after graduating high school, but I don’t think that really played much of part in my first company hiring me, other than I was manageable.  I went to a job fair they had and listened to their job descriptions and everything they had to say.  I deciphered that they really needed install helpers, so that’s what I told them I wanted to do. 

The next day they called me for an interview.  I went in with a polo shirt, jeans and some clean black boots, and breezed right through an interview that basically was held just to see how I spoke for myself.  It was more of a conversation to determine what kind of personality I had.  And, they hired me with no HVAC knowledge at all! 

I started learning how to install HVAC equipment, run gas pipes, line sets, handle high and low voltage, frame out a new return can, and how to run ductwork properly – all while getting paid, and learning some valuable fundamentals for later on in my career as a service technician.  I got some good overtime hours, and pretty much doubled my starting pay within a year.

But is it that easy for everyone?  It can be.

Going the Apprentice Route

Most local companies in your area provide either residential or commercial HVAC services.   Some companies do both.   It really seems like companies who value their employees have no problem training them, or paying for them to go to training after they’re hired.  The benefit to you as a person looking to work somewhere is, these companies get someone trained up the way they need them to be.  It’s also more efficient for you because it saves you a lot of money and you get trained for the job you’ll be performing.  So, you get your training in the classroom either at the shop you work at, or at a school they send you to.

I found most HVAC company owners I speak with would rather take on a new employee who doesn’t have any experience, but has a great personality, than taking on a skilled technician who has no class, can’t hold a conversation, or has no teamwork mentality.  The reason is that they can be trained in the way that the company wants them to be trained.

Early Spring

Bigger companies typically hire more techs per year than smaller companies.  So, if you’re looking to get on with a company, I tell people to start with the bigger companies around town.  Also, February to April, (early spring) is the best time to try because companies are looking to ramp up their staff to get ready for the busy summer season.  And that’s a great way to get on to prove yourself to the company that hires you. 

But I’ve heard that some of those big companies will also lay off folks when it slows back down after the summer.  And that really saddens me.  It’s got to be frustrating for those techs.  But I think everyone makes their own way where they work. 

My company and the company I worked at before don’t practice laying people off.  Some techs might lose some hours because their employer is slow and didn’t have the work for them, but either way, when it did slow down (like every HVAC business does during the off-season) my employer kept me busy because I was out there proving myself worthy of being on the clock every day.

During that first couple of years as an installer, working hard, staying busy, and getting the job done in a timely manner kept me busy all year.  That’s what employers like to see. 

The Facts About Trade School

There’s no such thing as too much education.  Look at the people who check out channels like mine.  It’s because they’re seeking more input about the HVAC field.

An apprenticeship you’ve been given can be shortened significantly with a degree you earn at a trade school.  Completing an organized class dedicated to the HVAC field is a huge help.  The teachers of those classes are typically seasoned veterans who have been out there and done that for years.  Getting the opportunity to learn from these experts is a great opportunity for you to learn and pick up some really good knowledge.

Getting Hands-On Training

Taking classes after you’ve been hired on deepens your understanding of the HVAC industry even more.  And going to a trade school puts you in a setting unlike a university because you’re not sitting in a big lecture hall.  Typically, these training centers have air conditioners, furnaces, heat pumps, ductwork, and other HVAC equipment already set up, so you get hands-on-training while going to class.  It won’t be the same intensity as learning it out in the field, but it’s a great start.

A lot of trade schools have connections with HVAC companies in your area, too.  So, it’s nice to have that in your back pocket as you approach graduation.  That’s the point of it all anyway, to have a job when you get out of school.

At a trade school, you get your degree faster than going to a university.  They will likely require that you take classes that may not have much to do with the HVAC field.  A trade school can get you in and out in about 6 months, which means you have a good start to finding your first HVAC job.

Entering the Real World

Once you do have your diploma, its time to go out and face the music.  Which is what you could have done rather than going to a school anyway.  I’m only saying that because the company that gave me my chance literally taught me everything I knew before going out on my own as an HVAC contractor.  But if you choose the route of getting hired on as an apprentice somewhere or if you graduate from school, you have to go out and find those companies.  You have to take the step to go face to face with the companies you want to work for.  Whether you choose to face them with a diploma in your hand or not is up to you.

Finding a Company

But there are definitely HVAC companies who will hire you right now, with no experience.  It just depends on where they are in their demand for technicians at the time you’re trying to get on with them.  If they’re not hiring, they’re not hiring and that has nothing to with you having a diploma in your hand or wanting to earn your way on with an apprenticeship.  I have had to turn down good people just because I didn’t have room on my team at the time.

Find some companies in your area that have a good reputation.  You can find them by looking at their reviews online.  Try these companies first, because they are doing something right.  They obviously take pride in their company’s practices, so they very likely care about their employees.

My Road to Success

I wanted a real job.  Being an HVAC technician has been the avenue which has gotten me to where I am today.  A husband, father, homeowner, and someone who can afford to go out and do the things I want to do with my free time.  I’m able to save money for my retirement and take care of my medical needs with the insurance I’ve been provided.  It’s a long way from the previous jobs I had which really didn’t offer these extras that a real job provides. 

Summary

Hopefully this has helped you on your way to deciding whether to go to a trade school or to try and go straight for an apprenticeship with your local company.

Please leave your comments down below and tell us if you went to school or not.  If you could, tell us how that went for you so those who are reading this can learn from your experiences.  See you on the next post!

Don’t miss our video on this topic:

Recommended Posts