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Air Conditioning/Refrigeration Students are Pursuing Cool Careers at DCCCD

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Valerie Handley, a second-year student at Cedar Valley, wants to repair and service air conditioners on the rental properties she owns.

“After you write enough checks for someone else to work on them, you start to think ‘maybe I can do this myself,'” said Handley, who works as a 911 operator.

Handley’s self-help attitude led her to Cedar Valley, where she is among dozens of students who are learning to diagnose, repair, evaluate and hopefully profit from their knowledge about air conditioning and refrigeration.

Dallas County Community College District offers both certificates and degree programs in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology. Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration technology (HART) courses also are offered at Eastfield. Both schools are members of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

Fellow Cedar Valley student Greg Springer said he likes the hands-on learning the program offers. “The first week we were working with our hands,” said Springer, a former high school mathematics teacher. “We talk theory, but there’s really a lot of good experience you learn first-hand.”

The program attracts students from all backgrounds – some degreed, others who are first-time college students. All of them are attracted by the freedom to work for themselves, possibly own their own businesses and earn livable wages, said Loren Hines, an instructor at Cedar Valley.

Eventually, everyone seeks out this service, Hines said. “It’s a knowledge-specific field,” said Hines. “They’re not just learning a trade. This is a career. Not just anyone can fix your air conditioner.”

Technicians who provide this service are in high demand. These specialty workers improve and enhance the quality of living in homes, nursing homes, hospitals and businesses. Proper refrigeration not only prolongs life but also provides safety for perishable foods and air conditioning. Both are essential to comfort and survivability, said Chris Colquitt, who also teaches at Cedar Valley.

“We have really good job security in this business,” Colquitt said. “If your air conditioning goes out, are you going to fix it? Well, of course you are.”

The lab at Cedar Valley is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and brand name appliances by Ruud, Trane, American Standard, Carrier, Lennox and Coleman.

New state laws require trained workers who are well acquainted with environmental regulations, Colquitt said.

Program courses lead to technician certificates or an Associate of Applied Arts and Science degree, said Ivory Armstead, another Cedar Valley faculty member.

Elton Garrett has a college degree in business, but he wants to launch a new career in the hope of starting his own company. “I have an uncle who came through this program, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it – so I enrolled,” said Garrett, who is pursuing a contractor’s license.

Employment in this field is on target to increase. Job stability and a livable wage make Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology an attractive career, Colquitt said. Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas lists heating and air conditioning as one of its high-growth occupations. They are projecting 3,430 jobs openings with salaries averaging $21.09 hourly.

And the job outlook is good for the long haul. The projected outlook by 2022 is a 21 percent growth, making air conditioning and refrigeration one of the more successful occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Becoming a mechanic usually takes about two years, Colquitt said. The hours are long, and the job requires a good deal of physical endurance.   Students are given access to contractors and employers. Classroom training for one year is the equivalent of one year on the job, Colquitt said.

First-year student Robert McGee called the program “the best initiation you can have in a career. They have the best incentives here (at Cedar Valley), the best instruction.” McGee is a retired X-ray technician. “Someday, I hope to teach here.”

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