A Career in HVAC
In addition to the appropriate trade education, the skills needed to install, service, and repair heating and air conditioning systems in residences or commercial establishments consist of familiarity with hand and power tools, patience, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. ("Careers as an Air Conditioning Technician."). Moving up the chain of responsibility to mechanical engineer requires the ability to determine load calculations for building heating and cooling needs, perform system analysis in order to select appropriate options for HVACR systems, an understanding of design principles and processes, a knowledge of control systems and sequential operation, the knowledge to ensure peak operating efficiency of building systems, and the ability to perform and understand energy audits and analysis ("Heating, Venting, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR)").
The education needed to enter the HVACR field can be acquired in several ways: union apprenticeship programs, vocational and technical school programs, college certificate programs, or by acquiring an associate degree in applied science or technology. Becoming a mechanical engineer requires a higher level of education, a bachelor’s degree. As such it will require a four-year degree. Additionally, there are a variety of mechanical licenses issued by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. To perform installations, alterations, servicing, and secure permits an HVACR contractor must have a license. To obtain a license, a minimum of 3 years’ experience, or the equivalent education, is needed in each of the work classifications where a license is sought: Hydronic heating and cooling and process piping, HVAC equipment, ductwork, refrigeration, limited heating service, unlimited heating service, limited refrigeration and air conditioning service, unlimited refrigeration and air conditioning service, and/or fire Suppression. In addition to the above list, there are also a number of specialty licenses that are also available from the state: solar heating and cooling, solid fuel and vented decorative gas appliances, LP distribution piping, fuel gas piping, and fuel gas piping and venting. Each of these licenses need to be qualified for individually and each have subsequent fees necessary to maintain them over time ("Mechanical Examination, Licensing Information and Applications"). Above and beyond even these licenses, it is often useful to have additional licenses such as those for building, electrical, and plumbing contractors. Additional training is often required to meet the needs of the constantly changing field and to maintain certain licenses.
There are a lot of possibilities with the HVACR field. Those working in this field could more accurately be call “human comfort specialists” ("Careers as an Air Conditioning Technician"). Much of the work of a mechanical engineer takes place on roofs, in boiler rooms or attics, in basements or crawlspaces, and any other location where equipment might be tucked out of the way. But that is not to say that every HVACR job is hard and dirty. There are plenty of other options for a career in HVACR, the mechanical engineer can be found employed by contractors, in service shops, as sales people or estimators, as supervisors, teaching or instructing at schools, working in labs, doing project management, or as specialty writers for documentation. The field of HVAC can be a tough, physically demanding career, it demands working in out in the elements throughout all the seasons, it requires lifting and climbing ladders, and involves moving around tools and heavy equipment.
According to the EMSI Career site a mechanical engineer has a starting salary of around $48,818 and a highly-experienced worker can make as much as $98,600. They normal pay for a mechanical engineer is $70,240 per year, or $33.77 per hour ("Mechanical Engineer"). As with any of the technical trades, salary and compensation is compensatory with the knowledge, skill, and licenses that any particular engineer possesses; those with more, make more money.
The career of mechanical engineer has had 9% growth over the last two years and is projected to grow by 4% over the next 10 years ("Mechanical Engineer"). As the field of HVACR is a comfort field, and everyone wants to be comfortable, it is a growing field. And while the lower echelons of the field are full of certificate and associate degree holding technicians, mechanical engineers make up the upper levels of the pyramid and are as such in higher demand.
The career of mechanical engineer is a good fit for me for a number of reasons. First, this is a field that I started in when I was 23-years old. After doing this work for 6-years I decided that I wanted something else, but 9-years and two lay-offs later I was back in school and reestablishing my skills in the field. I have been working in the HVACR field for the past 10-years and have decided that it really is a good fit for me. Secondly, I am not getting any younger and while simply getting an associate degree in the HVACR field would nicely supplement my current certificate it would not push my knowledge base far enough up the ladder to land me a position that would take away the physical aspects of the trade. As a mechanical engineer, and with a bachelor’s degree, I have a much higher likelihood of finding a position that I can comfortably remain in until my late 60s or early 70s. Lastly, the third reason that the career of mechanical engineer is a good fit for me, is because it will allow me growth and stability in my career. As a mechanical engineer, I will have learned the skills and possess the knowledge to find work in a variety of fields that are currently unavailable to me, whether that be education, administration, or consultation. I enjoy the work and the field and I look forward to continuing my education through to my bachelor’s degree and into the continuing training that comes with this ever-evolving field.
"Careers as an Air Conditioning Technician." Careers Internet Database, The Institute For Career ResearchCareers Internet Database. , 0-www.careers-internet.org.lib.grcc.edu/members/careerpages/airconditioning.htm. Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.
"Mechanical Examination, Licensing Information and Applications." LARA Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, State of Michigan, www.michigan.gov/lara/0,4601,7-154-10575_33813_33819-45140--,00.html. Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.
"Mechanical Engineer." Career Coach, EMSI, https://grcc.emsicareercoach.com/#Search=hvac&action=loadOccupationData&Clusters=&OccID=17-2141.00. Accessed 4 Dec. 2016.