The Best Ways to Start a Career in HVAC Without a College Degree
HVAC Is a Growing Industry
The HVAC Industry Needs Good People
If you're considering a career in HVAC, then your timing couldn't be better. The HVAC field is in need of good workers. This is true of all the trades today really so while HVAC is the focus of this article, it could easily be applied to the electrical and plumbing fields as well. If you're serious about getting into the trades, now is a good time.
Before we get started on the different ways different people may want to consider entering the heating, air conditioning, and ventilation industry, I think it's important to tell you that I currently work in the supply or distribution side of the business. I work with hundreds of HVAC companies, hundreds of vendors and manufacturers, and thousands of people that work in the industry with me. I see the lay of the land very well from here so when I say the industry needs good people, I say so with conviction.
"Journey"-ing Into HVAC
Where are you in the process of starting your HVAC career?
Which Type of HVAC Career Path Is Best For You?
I was inspired to write this article because I have a lot of people ask me, "What is the best way for me to get into HVAC?" and though the question is simple, the answer is not so much. Every person is in a different situation with different needs and different experience so the answer is not one size fits all. A young person just getting started in life might consider school while an older individual may be supporting a family and need income while learning. Some people are mechanically inclined while others are more business minded and not comfortable working with the type of tools, heavy equipment, and potentially dangerous environments the HVAC industry requires. Hopefully, this article will help you make a more informed decision on your approach to entering the HVAC industry.
HVAC Offers a Lot of Different Career Opportunities
In the Field
Shipping and Receiving
Sales (End User)
Large Project Estimators
Sheet Metal Fabricators
HVAC Technical or Trade School
If you are interested in entering the installation and/or service sector of the HVAC industry, trade or technical school is a good place to start. More and more companies are looking for candidates to have some form of education prior to starting with their company.
Training is a large expense to a company not to mention a risky venture since many applicants think they know about the HVAC industry until they get there and decide it's not for them leaving the company at a loss and having to start over again. Showing prior education makes them more comfortable with the idea that you know what you're getting into and after some exposure, you're still interested. Of course, they also see that you can be more productive right out of the gate too so having you onboard isn't just an expense and they won't have as far to go to profit from your employment.
Choosing a Technical or Trade School
Look for a school that offers more than a certificate of completion. Schools that offer a degree or EPA and NATE certifications are far more desirable than those that do not. Hands on training is also very valuable as opposed to schools without workshops and only teach out of books.
How to Get Into HVAC Without Formal Education
While school is a great place to start into HVAC, not everyone can afford to go to school or have the time for it while working. This applies largely to those who are later in life with existing responsibilities that dictate there be income right away. That, however, doesn't mean they are excluded from getting into the business of heating and air conditioning, they just may need to take a different path.
There are still some privately owned companies, though they are waning, who offer informal apprenticeships or on the job training while those companies who are part of a union (usually sheet metal workers or pipe fitters) offer a much more formal style of on the job training. These are both viable ways of earning money, though it may be entry level, while you get your new HVAC career underway.
What's that you say? You're not interested in HVAC service and installations? Well, then there may be even easier ways for you to get into the industry and should you change your mind about that later, offer you valuable experience you can use to do so. As a matter of fact, my career did not start with formal education or an apprenticeship either.
How I Started My HVAC Career
I started as a warehouse clerk at a local distributor loading and unloading trucks, taking inventory, learning the products, and meeting other people in the industry. That experience and networking lead to a local contracting company offering me on the job training in the new construction and residential replacement part of their company.
Working for an HVAC Distributor / Wholesaler
This is often a forgotten aspect of the HVAC industry when entering into the business. School and apprenticeships are always the first things that come to mind but starting in the distribution realm is another great way to begin.
Entry level positions on the distribution side are a little easier to come by because it's more about learning what parts are and what they are used for than actually servicing and installing equipment. The risk of you causing major damage or harm is much lower, training a bit easier and cheaper, and those things allow a distributor to be a bit more willing to hire and train with the risk of you not working out. On top of all that, this is a way to earn while you learn and perhaps even more importantly make connections with those who may be far more willing to offer you a job in the field knowing you have an idea of what's going on and getting to know you a bit personally first.
How Much Money Can You Make in HVAC?
Of course, no one is trying to get into the trades for free so the "million dollar" question is always, "How much money can I make?"
Again, the question is simpler than the answer but there is an answer and that is, if you put in the time and really get to know the industry, there is no reason you can't go in any of these directions, with or without formal education, and end up making between $40,000-$60,000 a year by year 5. You may have to start closer to the $24,000 - $30,000 range, however.
In the beginning, the guys in the field will make the most money and on the whole, they will make the most money too but if you follow a path towards HVAC sales or account management on the distribution side, you can end up making that much and far more if you're good at what you do. Mid and high-level careers on the distribution side can range from $40,000-$100,000 plus.
It really boils down to where you go after you get your foot in the door somewhere. You may just find that what your intentions were starting out will completely change as you expose yourself more and more into the HVAC world. That's what happened to me, more than once for that matter.
I told you how I started my career but after learning on the job I ended up a lead installer, became a small business owner after nearly 10 years. Eventually, my business had to fold and I took my experience into the product testing and certification industry for a couple of years. After that, I went back to the field for a short time before coming full circle to the distribution side of things where I'm now involved in sales and business development. (Funny how life goes sometimes isn't it?)
Focus on Getting Your Foot in the HVAC Door
I hope that you found something that you hadn't maybe thought about before in this article or can share with someone you know who might be considering a job in the trades, particularly those looking to make a career move later in life.
Like so many other career paths, getting your foot in the door is the most important thing. Once you get moving in the right circles, things begin to happen faster than you might think and opportunities begin to present themselves that you had maybe never thought of or found in this article.
Best of luck on your journey!
~ We're all in this together ~