Program trains women for HVAC careers

LARAMIE (AP) — As Morgan Thrasher considered a new career in the HVAC industry this fall, she found herself drawing on her background in cosmetology.

“It’s actually pretty similar to this field, which sounds pretty crazy,” she said. “But the more I think about it, the more I can relate.”

In her new job as an HVAC technician with Laramie Mechanical and Heating Systems, Thrasher works on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The company also works with sheet metal on projects ranging from furniture to siding, reported the Laramie Boomerang.

Thrasher said she loves working with her hands instead of sitting behind a desk. Like cutting or coloring a person’s hair, her work requires precision and problem-solving. She also likes working on different projects every day and interacting with customers.

“I’m more tired now, but life’s good,” she said.

Thrasher is one of the most recent graduates from Climb Wyoming, and she’s part of the first Laramie class to receive training to work in the HVAC industry.

Participants completed six weeks of training led by Aspen Valley Heating and Air Conditioning, Artech Services and Laramie Mechanical, which introduced them to a variety of skills used in the industry. Other Climb participants have found jobs with Albany County School District No. 1 and the University of Wyoming.

Climb Wyoming, a nonprofit organization that offers intensive job training for low-income single mothers, is designed to prepare them for long-term self-sufficiency in well-paying careers. The program operates six sites around the state and has been in Laramie since 2004.

Climb Wyoming has been honored in recent years by the Wyoming Department of Family Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its work to move families out of poverty.

Laramie Climb Director Katie Hogarty said her office is always doing research to make sure they’re offering training for careers that are in demand. Traditionally in Laramie, the program has trained participants to work in offices and as certified nursing assistants. But office jobs aren’t as plentiful these days.

“The way the economy is right now, these nontrade jobs are growing and office jobs are stagnant or not as available as they were,” Hogarty said.

At the same time, Climb works to find jobs that are a good fit for the interests and strengths of participants. Hogarty said one participant found a job with Aspen Valley about a year-and-a-half ago as a way to apply her creativity, problem-solving skills and customer service ability to a non-desk job.

“She was really successful,” Hogarty said. “Without any training, she was ready to go.”

The success of that participant inspired Hogarty to pull together a training program using local companies.

Thrasher said she had known about Climb for some time before deciding to apply, in part because she couldn’t see herself being content sitting behind a desk. The prospect of HVAC training, however, piqued her interest.

“It was definitely something I could see myself enjoying, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” she said.

Josh Brummond, who owns Laramie Mechanical, said he was looking for a new employee earlier in the fall because the company has grown in the past year. The company currently has 12 employees.

“We got to the point where there were a lot of things being left undone, and that’s one of the reasons we really targeted Morgan,” he said.

During the Climb training, Thrasher’s work caught his eye.

“I could tell her attention to detail, and that’s what got me interested in hiring her,” he said.

Brummond said he prefers to hire employees with no experience or minimal experience, which makes training them easier.

“Finding someone that’s trainable and that pays attention is a huge bonus for us,” he said.

The HVAC industry is not a traditional field for women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.7 percent of HVAC installers and mechanics and 4.5 percent of sheet metal workers were women, as of 2015.

The bureau also reports the HVAC industry is expected to grow by 14 percent through 2024, driven by an emphasis on energy efficiency in commercial and residential construction.

Hogarty said the women she works with are ready for their new careers.

“Women are so talented in this area,” she said. “They’re an untapped resource.”

Once a woman is hired, Climb pays the first six weeks of wages while meeting with the employee and the employer to talk about performance, expectations and communication.

In addition to job training, Climb participants also receive training in areas such as parenting, nutrition and relationships. They work on executive functioning skills such as planning, goal-setting, emotional regulation, organization and decision-making. These skills can suffer under chronic stress, but they’re necessary to be a successful professional.

“If you have experienced trauma or the stress of being a single parent in poverty, it’s hard to exercise those executive-functioning skills,” Hogarty said.

According to Climb statistics, 46 percent of participants are employed before going through Climb, making about $12,600 a year and usually working in food service or retail. Two years after graduating, 70 percent of graduates are working, making almost $30,000.

In Laramie, 59 percent of single-mother families live below the poverty level. Climb has worked with 242 mothers and 435 children, and families have increased their average income from $11,400 to $22,400.

Hogarty said the Laramie program will conduct another session in the spring. Training will either prepare participants to earn a commercial driver’s license or prepare them for light construction with an HVAC component.

“Those are high-paying careers that are in demand,” she said.

Thrasher, who has a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, said she found herself in recent years sometimes working four jobs at a time. She couldn’t afford to take her children swimming, let alone on a vacation.

“For a while there, I was to the point where I was just getting up and going through the motions,” she said. “I wasn’t really looking forward to the future. I wasn’t excited about next week or what’s going to be happening a month from now — I was more dreading it than anything.”

Now, she has a job she likes, where she’s appreciated, and maybe a family vacation can be part of future plans.

“It’s a pretty awesome place to be,” she said.

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Copyright © 2015 The Sheridan Press or Sheridan Newspapers, Inc..