Sole Education Spring 2020: Safety Standards

This week,  we asked Tod to discuss what safety protocols he has to follow and/ or learning about in his classes and internships, any safety training that he was tasked with completing in an effort to stay safe on the job!

Things I have learned:

On my first day of class, during our first hour, one of my classmates was in front of us demonstrating how to correctly operate a fire extinguisher. He called the method he used the “PASS” technique. That stands for Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep –  a skill he learned while serving in the Air Force. We’ve all seen them hanging on walls in buildings and schools, most of us have them somewhere in our homes, boats, and RV’s, but do we know how to use them?

One by one, our instructor had each classmate who wanted to try, go through the PASS training steps using a live working fire extinguisher putting out a “pretend” fire in an abandoned BBQ grill. When we were finished with the exercise, I realized that it isn’t enough to just understand how a safety device works, you must be able to execute properly to get results.

Since that first day, we have learned countless safety rules and protocols. From wearing steel-toed shoes, to safely lighting an Oxyacetylene torch. There’s eye protection needed for welding, proper setup of a 24-foot ladder against a building, correct operation of a chop saw, and always wearing safety glasses and gloves when required.

Slow Down, and walk through the procedures

We’ve learned so many safety steps that you can’t commit them all to memory, so you have to slow down and walk through the procedures before you start your project each day. We also have a responsibility to keep classmates safe as well, so always be looking out for the person beside you. Remember that one loose wire, one stray shard of scrap metal, one oily rag, or one slip on a ladder, can change your life forever.

Stop and walk through your safety steps every time you start at your job site, and always be aware of anything that doesn’t look safe.

Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.


Sole Education Spring 2020: False Assumptions

False Assumptions

In today’s society, we are all becoming increasingly aware of the skilled trades shortage that is coming our way. Decades of misrepresentation in pop culture and in high schools, coupled with shop classes and other programs being cut from public schools have led us to the skilled labor shortage.

There’s a lot of opportunity for growth and job security within the trades!

However, they can carry a variety of false assumptions. It’s dirty work. There’s no money to be made. It doesn’t require an education. It’s a male-dominated field.  You name it, we’ve all heard it.

This week, we asked Tod to talk about false stereotypes and assumptions that he faces within his field, and what he is doing to combat them. Every field has them, so let’s learn about what Tod has noticed so far.

I think many people see HVAC repair technicians as a bunch of “C” students that never made it to college

They believe us trade technicians have somehow managed to learn a skill by chance or working beside family already in the trade. Usually, these same people watch technicians very closely, making sure we show some signs of knowledge on what we are about to fix before they pull out their credit cards. They might even ask us a few quick questions (researched on Google), to try to determine if the technician knows what he or she is talking about before jumping into the service call.

If they only realized how precise and sensitive the HVAC equipment is that we work with today, they would understand there is a lot more to repairs than just turning a wrench or banging a hammer.Sole Education Spring 2020: False Assumptions

Before we begin to make repairs, we must diagnose the problem, and we better be right!

Customers are not going to pay us to fix the same problem twice! Beyond the solid-state circuitry, the safety devices such as pressure switches, hi-limit thermostats, and flame sensors, there are standards that must be met. Standards set by manufacturers for specified gas pressures, refrigerant charges, proper airflow, and proper exhaust and condensation installation. Safely designed equipment can become dangerous if improperly installed or poorly maintained.

Soon I will have earned my degree in the HVAC field and continue to an apprenticeship in my field. It hasn’t been an easy process, there’s a lot to it, but it has been a rewarding experience. There’s something about being able to take a broken piece of equipment and revive it and getting it operational once again that gives one satisfaction.

Am I one of those “C” students?

No, I’m currently on the dean’s list with a 4.0 GPA. Could I have gone to college? I did go to college, and I received a bachelor’s degree in accounting -which is also a degree I can’t currently find employment with. Am I learning a skill by chance? No, with the help of experienced instructors I’m determined to learn how to perform daily HVAC technical skills, on my own. In another year I will have the tools and resources to become an asset for any company in the HVAC-R field of trade. At that time, I will be much better off with a learned trade, than the diploma I earned years ago.

Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.


Sole Education Spring 2020: Trades Fascination

Sole Education Spring 2020: Trades Fascination

This week, we asked Tod to discuss what fascinates him most about his field of study, and explain in more detail why he is choosing to pursue a career in the trades. Read on to see what he had to say! 

The opportunity to do a job I love doing, and help people in need is a career to be proud of!

I’ve always been amazed that I could walk over to my thermostat and hit a button and magically make my house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. How easy is that? How does that even work? When I was young I slept in the basement of my house. My bed was right beside the Blue Monster (our furnace). That old clunker made lots of strange noises, metal clanging, gas igniting, flames dancing around.  I could see off the glare of the tile floor in the night, very scary stuff for a 9-year-old!

Then in the summer there was that big square thing outside that had a big fan on it. It was always full of leaves and bugs and sticks, but somehow that made our house cool inside? I never really learned how it worked, I just knew when it wasn’t working, we had to call a repair shop. That’s about what most people know about their heating and cooling, to call a service company when it’s not working.

Two years ago …

My wife and I bought a house out in the country. I started tinkering around in the basement and I started working on the HVAC system. I started sealing Sole Education Spring 2020: Trades Fascination duct leaks and insulating trunk lines and cleaning outside condenser coils, changing filters and draining condensate traps. All with the help of YouTube videos, showing how to do small DIY projects. Soon my tinkering went from just a hobby to a craving to learn more. When I saw an opportunity in my small business to add refrigeration training to my skill set, I jumped at the chance to enroll in HVAC-R program at my local Community College. There is no class available for just refrigeration, you must take HVAC-R to get the refrigeration part.

Now, well into my second semester, I have already diagnosed furnace problems, and with professional help, I changed out a 90% efficient furnace for my friend Harri last December. Our class is getting ready to install a new 80% heating system in my next-door neighbor’s garage next week! She has two old hanging heaters up in her ceiling that both quit working and the service company couldn’t get repair parts.

In just a few short months I’ve been able to help two people get squared away on major heating issues. The satisfaction of being able to help people like that is hard to put into words. I can say for sure that it’s a big reason I’m excited about continuing through with my studies in the HVAC-R field.

The opportunity to do a job I love doing, and help people in need is a career to be proud of!

Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.


Sole Education Spring 2020: The Future of HVAC-R

This week, we asked Tod to discuss any trending technology topics that are going on in the HVAC-R field at the moment.  Read on to see what’s trending! 

The HVAC-R field has been forever changed by technology

From thermostats that you can set and adjust instantly on your smartphone, to furnaces that heat your home in specified zones the industry is changing. Ultraviolet systems can eliminate bacteria in your home air, and air handlers can manage the amount of humidity in your home.

Technology, yup…we got that!

On my first day of class last fall, my instructor pulled out his smartphone and projected his app onto a TV monitor. The screen read: temperature 75 F, Humidity 41%. “Wow,” I thought, “Instant access to your home HVAC through your phone!” Nowadays, building managers can control every piece of their HVAC equipment from their phone or iPad without ever venturing onto a roof.


New construction has zoning system options for homes. These zone systems control each room through smart circuits, sensors and electronic dampers in the ductwork. Now, you can heat your living room when using it, and then shut it down to save energy as you turn up the bedroom temperature before you head off to sleep.

Motion sensors are being integrated to detect movement in individual rooms and turn on HVAC systems when people are detected in a room. It will also turn that same equipment off when it detects no movement in the room.

Variable refrigerant flow or VRF technology for short, allows the HVAC system to control multiple zones with specific heating and cooling operations.  In fact, you can cool down (air condition) the kitchen, while you warm up (heat) the bedroom at the same time! This gives the homeowner complete control over every zone in the home.

Zone systems also reduce energy costs by only conditioning the zones required at the time instead of conditioning the entire home.

So, what’s around the corner?

Well, how about a Wi-Fi controlled board in your HVAC system that communicates directly to your local HVAC service company?  When your system has an issue, the service company will call you and schedule an appointment to service your heating and cooling system, and will already know what needs to be repaired!  With this advancement, there’s no wasted time diagnosing the issue, and they will have the correct part with them when they arrive!

Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.


Sole Education Spring 2020: The National Crisis

Sole Education Spring 2020: The National Crisis

The number of candidates entering the trades has been dropping in recent years.

Add to that a record number of baby boomers starting to hit the big red retirement button on their dashboard and you start to realize the shortage problem: More skilled workers are leaving than are coming in to replace them.
Recently 91% of more than 2700 contractors report having difficulty in hiring skilled workers and 79% reported steady or increased backlog (1).

When the recession hit back in 2009, a lot of tradesmen in Iowa were unable to find work and had to scramble to find new careers or leave the state to find work in their specialty. Once those employees were gone from Iowa, they’re gone…they are not coming back.

That has put even more pressure on contractors and service companies here

in the Midwest. I see a lot of effort being placed on high school graduates and getting them into vocational programs. That’s a good idea –  but it’s in direct competition with colleges and degree programs which tend to be better supported by the parents.

Most high school graduates are going to view college as a lot more fun and glamorous than learning how to weld metal, troubleshoot a refrigeration system, or clean out a plugged drain.

What if our industry focused on various types of candidates?

Many of the students in my class (18 this semester) are not right out of high school. They are people that recently completed military duty, married a tradesmen and want to work beside them, truck drivers that want to be home on nights and weekends, young parents that want to better provide for their families, and some are already in the industry working with family and friends at jobs and are getting their career started.

Adding education now helps build a foundation to continue a path onto journeymen and master status. So maybe we should be looking at programs to get a variety of candidates involved in learning the trades.

The state of Iowa just launched a new program in the fall of 2019 titled “Future Ready Iowa, Last Dollar Scholarship”. This program bridges the gap between grants, private scholarships, and tuition costs for numerous degree programs in fields facing job shortages.

It’s too soon to verify the impact of this program, but I know that almost 90% of the students in my class benefit from this scholarship program. It could be a model for other states to replicate to grow their student base for learning a trade.


(1) USG Corporation + U.S. Chamber of commerce survey of contractors conducted Q2 2018


Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.


Sole Education Spring 2020: Looking Back

Sole Education Spring 2020 - Looking Back

If you had the opportunity to start again in your career, would you? What about with decisions you made early on in your life? Knowing what you know now, is there anything you’d change?

We asked Tod the same question, with the intention of giving a different perspective to those just starting out in the field. Check out what he has to say!

Looking Back

I wish I knew years ago how much I enjoy the hands-on experience of being an HVAC-R tech. I have had the opportunity over my career to have a lot of exposure to small and large equipment repairs. When I was a store manager for McDonald’s back in the day, I tried to fix everything I could before calling a service company. In fact, I remember in our management development program we had a training film that depicted the “local” service tech pulling up in a shiny new truck, with gold chains around his neck and a big shiny watch on his wrist. In the training video, he walked in the back door, put a new plug on a toaster, flipped the breaker and left a bill for $135. It was hilarious, of a lot of our training films back then would make you laugh now, (but remember it was 40 years ago). The point being that we were budgeted a skinny 1.5% of our monthly sales towards equipment maintenance and repairs so in order to make budget I got pretty good at fixing my own stuff.

I learned to fix things like:

  • Changing belts on exhaust fans

    Sole Education Spring 2020 - Looking Back
    If I could have focused on equipment service back at the beginning of my career, I could have bypassed the 70-75-hour work weeks I trudged through most of my life in the restaurant industry.
  • Greasing exhaust motor bearings
  • Changing fryer Hi limits, gas valves, andbaffles
  • Replacing toaster thermostats
  • Changing the electrical cords on bun toasters, replacing muffintoaster heating elements,
  • Cleaning out plugged steam ports on bun steamers and more!

I got better at repairs and after a few years, I was to the point where I was replacing parts before they broke! Sort of an early PM program for small equipment. In fact, later in my career with another fast-food company, I had graduated to changing out complete fryer kettles (it was an overnight job that took two people) on 50lb flat-bottom Dean fryers. Even though I was at that time an area supervisor, we still watched the repair costs in our restaurants very closely.

I guess looking back, I was able to learn those skills on my own because I enjoyed it. Like they say, “do what you love doing and it won’t feel like work”. So now here I am, right in the middle of year one, just starting my second semester. I think, wow…If I could have just focused on equipment service back at the beginning of my career, I could have bypassed the 70-75-hour work weeks I trudged through most of my life in the restaurant industry. I could have had normal hours with typical days off, and if I worked a night or a weekend, I would have been well compensated for it with over-time pay. I was 56 years old the first time I had a job with weekends off! You can’t rewrite the past, but if someone would have gotten me involved in the HVAC-R field during my high school days, I think I would have jumped on the chance to make it a career. But now, having all that experience in my past career is helping me, especially in lab work where a lot of my experience transfers over to the HVAC-R field.

Looking forward I can tell you, there is a great career for me just around the corner!

Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.


Sole Education Spring 2020: Meet the Student

Sole Education Spring 2020 Meet the Student

We are thrilled to launch our third semester of the  Sole Education program! Over the next few months, we will be learning more about our student’s skilled trades program through their blog entries.

The Sole Education Grant is an industry-based education grant sponsored by Saf-Gard Safety Shoe Company. It is for students who are just starting out in the trades.

Over the next several weeks, we will be working with Tod, an  HVAC-R student from Runnels, Iowa.

He will be covering topics related to his industry and hopefully inspiring others to learn more about opportunities in the skilled trades as well.

Let’s meet Tod:

Sole Edu Spring 2020 - Tod Thompson - HVAC-R
Here is a picture of me working on building an 8 X10 supply air duct in HVAC-R in class this week.

Hi! I’m Tod and I grew up and still live in the Midwest. I am a husband, dad, grandfather, and brother. All of which are great roles to fill. Over my career, I have been employed by independent businesses, large corporations, private companies, and I am currently self-employed. A little over three years ago I started my own small business. Regardless of who signed my paycheck over the years, one constant key has always been present in my success, and that is “building positive relationships with my customers”.

I am currently enrolled in the  HVAC-R vocation training program at our local community college in Ankeny, Iowa. I really enjoy what I have been learning during my courses so far. There are eighteen active students in my class, and we are in our second semester. As a group, we have learned to work with and around each other the same as employees at a shop every day. Usually, we form different teams of two to four students during the lab, so we all work with everyone at some point or another. I’m lucky to have two excellent instructors that keep our group on track together to accomplish our daily objectives. I work my business tasks each afternoon after my classes are out at 12:05 PM, and I try to keep up with the bookwork and other office activities on the weekends. It’s a lot to balance, but you feel different when you’re building something that’s your very own business, somehow it just doesn’t feel like work.

The courses I’m taking now will help me service my existing customers in more ways and help me expand my opportunities for sales growth. I believe that hard work pays rewards, that family should always come first, that it’s ok to make mistakes, that bosses who develop your skills are genius, that you can change your life if you want to, and that nothing can take the place of persistence.

Follow along with our students’ progress here.
Learn more about the Generation T movement here.