Texas Border Business
McAllen, TEXAS – Jay Villegas always knew he wanted to go into heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) work. It’s in his blood. After all, his father owns and operates Frontier Air Conditioning in Mission, and Villegas has worked with him after school since the time he was in his mid-teens.
“I started taking classes in HVAC at South Texas College when I was still in high school, so that by the time I graduated I already had a year of credits under my belt,” Villegas says.
Classes in the program were challenging, he admits, and he’s grateful for the solid preparation he received before he graduated.
“At least half of my instructors were HVAC professionals. They had their own businesses, so they were able to give us a very real-world education. They talked about how to streamline the work, how to deal with customers, [and the] things they had to deal with in their own jobs outside of teaching. That personal experience makes all the difference,” says Villegas.
The Challenges of a Booming Business
As the current service manager for the family business, Villegas is proud of the fact that Frontier Air Conditioning has grown every year. In the first six months of 2019, for example, the company purchased 120% more from their supply house than they did throughout all of the last year. Villegas has also grown the company’s online presence and can say that Frontier is the only HVAC company in the Valley that’s Google Guaranteed, a designation that requires a review of licensure, customer reviews, and ratings.
That’s where Villegas’ business background comes in handy. In addition to his Associate degree in HVAC, he earned an additional Associate degree in business management from South Texas College. His coursework taught him the economics of the business, how to bring his company to a higher level of efficiency, and how to estimate productivity.
In fact, the only thing keeping the company from expanding further is the scarcity of trained HVAC technicians. “There’s a huge market for HVAC technicians, and a small pool to choose from,” he says. “I have to turn down work because I don’t have enough people to handle it all.”
Pulse on the Profession
In hopes of bringing more attention to this reliable career path, Villegas works with Jorge Martinez, HVAC program coordinator at South Texas College. Their goal is to attract new students and retain those currently enrolled in the program.
“I invited Jay Villegas to be part of our advisory committee,” says Martinez. “He’s in a position to hire, so his feedback on the way we educate students is valuable. We’ll talk about the new tools coming on the scene, skills that he thinks graduates will need, and anything that is new in the industry. Then, it’s up to us at the College to make the needed changes to better prepare students.”
Martinez has redesigned some of the lab equipment to mirror the tools that students will actually be working with in the field. The HVAC electrical class previously worked on outdated electric board trainers, for example, but now students practice their skills on the same equipment they will use on site.
The HVAC profession remains in need of new personnel because it has not been adversely affected by automation, unlike many other technical fields. Skilled human hands are still needed to install, diagnose and fix equipment.
South Texas College offers a certificate program in HVAC, as well as an Associate degree. Technicians looking to advance in a company or work with building automation most often need an Associate degree, says Martinez.
Drawing on Exceptional Experience
Villegas will visit South Texas College this fall to talk to students about the profession, provide mentoring sessions, and give them a sense of what the day-to-day work is all about. “Sure, part of the job is fixing an air conditioner. But just as important are the other parts, such as business ethics, building your reputation in the community, getting insurance on your van, and dealing with online reviews,” he says. In other words, the nitty-gritty things that might not come up in the classroom.
Attracting the right students to the HVAC program is one thing; retaining them is another. Martinez has made it a point to show students the broad field of opportunities available to them.
“Installing or servicing a residential air conditioner is just one avenue,” he explains, “but HVAC technicians are needed in schools and hospital buildings as well. They also work with building automation controls to ensure that sensors and sequence of operations are accurate. They can do airflow tests and balancing or even become product specialists, which is basically a sales job. Since contractors are always looking for HVAC technicians, it’s a great field for men and women of any age.”
For more information on the HVAC program, visithttps://bt.southtexascollege.edu/hvacr/index.html.