When air conditioning breaks down on those sizzling Rio Grande Valley days, leave it to heating, ventilation and air conditioning technicians to come to the rescue. More of the technical superheroes are needed in the region and throughout Texas.
“Right now, we are getting job offers from different companies,” said Jorge Cabrera, lead instructor in Texas State Technical College’s Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Technology program in Harlingen. “I don’t have the people because those that are graduated are working. There is a shortage of trained technicians. Companies are going more for the educated technician than just off the street.”
Cabrera said students should come into the program understanding how to use basic hand tools. Safety is at the forefront of the industry.
“As they come in, we let them know what they are getting themselves into,” Cabrera said. “This is not an easy job. You are not going to be in air conditioning all the time. You are going to be fixing something that is not working.”
Value in Education
Matt Cyphers is director of Region 5 in the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association and operations manager at Cytech Heating & Cooling in Edinburg. Cytech has more than 20 technicians and eight support and office staff working with commercial and residential customers throughout the Valley.
Cyphers said while he has seen an increase in applications from those who are aspiring to join the HVAC industry, those who have more professional experience are highly valued.
“The higher-level technicians who are working and experienced are few and far between,” he said. “If you have them, you need to keep them.”
Cyphers said people entering the field need to have good communication and interpersonal skills. They also need to know how to peacefully resolve conflicts. It also helps for workers to have technology skills for using laptops and working with mobile apps, some of which can determine refrigerator settings and calculate air flow.
Cyphers said to inspire more people to join the HVAC field, it takes businesses to step in and be more visible. He said this can involve companies offering advice to HVAC programs on what students need to know that is happening in the industry. It also helps to emphasize that employees need to be patient and learn from others in the field.
“They need to understand that you went to college and have basic knowledge and cannot expect to get stuck in a service truck running calls by yourself instantly,” Cyphers said. “You are going to have to work from the bottom up.”
Flexible Paths to HVAC Careers
Starting this fall, TSTC’s HVAC Technology program will teach classes and labs using performance-based education. This allows students to have flexibility with their schedules as they master set competencies. Faculty members will guide students as they take courses, which will be taught in a hybrid format. Campus computer lab hours will be extended into the evenings to accommodate students, Cabrera said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers make a yearly median salary of more than $48,000 in Texas. More than 32,000 workers will be needed by 2028, the third-highest number in the United States.
TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in HVAC Technology. Students may also pursue an HVAC Technician certificate of completion or a Basic HVAC occupational skills award.
“There are different paths you can take,” Cabrera said. “You can be on the residential side, commercial side or do refrigeration. You do not get away from working in the heat.”
Registration continues for the fall semester, and scholarships are available.