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 Fall 2019: Meet the Students

Sole Education Fall 2019: Meet the Students

We are excited to bring Sole Education back for a second semester! This time, we decided to bring on three new students, with three different skilled trades paths. Let’s jump in and meet them!

Meet Michael:

My name is Michael. I am fifty-three years old and have worked in professional sales for over twenty-five years. I live in Westerly, RI, and have been married to my wife, Tonya, for twenty-seven years. We have one child, Benjamin. He is a freshman at Providence College.

I LOVE the trades! Since the age of six, I had a keen interest in tools and trades. Sole Education Participant, Michael BilottiMy Dad, Pat (retired), was a hard-working man. Although he did not work in the trades himself, he was a very skilled handyman. As I grew up, he taught me much of what I know today and fostered my love for working with tools and using my hands to solve problems. To this day, he is my role model.

Throughout middle and high school, I elected to take Shop classes and completed all of my college prep requirements ahead of schedule so that I could participate in our Cooperative Education program. That program allowed me to leave school early and work in the trades.

After high school, I became the first person in my family to attend college. Since graduation, and I have lived a very productive and secure life. Yet, I always felt I ignored my true passion and strong desire to work in the trades.

At age 53, I have embarked on the next phase of my life. I work for A&L Mechanical as an Apprentice Plumber and am enrolled in Plumbing school with the Rhode Island Association of Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Contractors. I LOVE it! Not only am I learning something new every day, it feels great to solve problems and help people when they need it the most.

Good days, bad days, all days bring a smile to my face!

Meet Riley:

My name is Riley Schwab, I am 19, and I was born and raised in a small southern Iowa town called Lamoni. My family owns a cattle ranch that I have worked on my entire life.

I wasn’t planning on continuing my education after high school but decided Riley Schwabthat it would be a smart idea to have a backup plan in case something happens with our ranch.

I am in my second year in the Heating, Air conditioning, and Refrigeration program at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa.  Before coming to DMACC, I had no idea how an HVAC system even operated, but through my training and a summer internship, I have gained so much knowledge.

This past summer, I worked for Schaal Heating and Cooling for my internship hours and was able to understand the industry and how it works. I’m enjoying my time at DMACC so far, and I am happy I decided to attend this college!

Meet Logan:

My name is Logan Lawson. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in Clearfield, IA. Clearfield is a tiny town, and half of my family lives there. I am currently going to Southwestern Community College in Creston, IA, for welding, and this my first year. I never welded before in my life. Even though we had a welding shop in my high school, I never did it.

All throughout high school, I took carpentry classes. My dad is a carpenter, and Sole Education: Logan LawsonI was good at it too. When I graduated from high school, I went to Denison Job Corps for carpentry. I was there for a year and got my diploma. I was so happy that I got it. When I got home, I started working for a carpenter. I was doing good, but I wasn’t making enough to pay my bills. They would cut my hours, and I had enough. I decided to look for a different carpentry job, but couldn’t find any. My mother told me that Dalton AG, Inc. was hiring,  so  I applied and got a full-time job working in fabrication and assembly, and have worked with them for the last year.

We have welders there as well, I was never interested in welding, but my boss told me to try it out, and I liked it. It wasn’t long after that I told my boss that I am going back to school to get my welding degree.

I have three jobs now. I still work at Dalton’s part-time in the mornings from 6 am -10 am, and my second job is in the evening from 4 pm -8 pm at Wellman’s. Both are factory jobs, but it pays the bills. On the weekends, I work with my dad doing side jobs. The reason why I work three jobs is to help my mother and brother. They enjoy it and are glad that I can help out.

When I get my degree, I plan on finding a job around Maryville, Missouri, as a welder.


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