Have a college degree in art history or philosophy? Back living at your parent’s house, working part-time waiting tables?
Frank Mutz and Jake Reid would like you to consider an alternative — HVAC.
If you’re mechanically inclined and enjoy working with your hands, the field might surprise you, said Mutz, president and majority owner of Moncrief Heating & Air Conditioning in Atlanta.
Starting out, he said, a technician can earn about $35,000 a year. That can rise to $70,000 annually in about four to five years. Someone good at managing people or selling to customers can earn in the six figures over time, he said.
“There are so many college grads that can’t get started. But they are not looking at the trades,” said Mutz, who’s been in the business for 38 years. In fact, he said, when he has recruited at job fairs, some attendees turned up their noses, saying, “I went to college so I wouldn’t have to do that for a living.”
Reid isn’t one of those people. After graduating from Vanderbilt University with a degree in molecular biology, he worked for labs at Vandy and Emory in the 1990s. But he traded in his test tubes and beakers for a screwdriver when he was offered a big salary jump to head up maintenance for a local hospital. He had experience working with his hands ever since he was a teenager at Westminster, where he spent summers helping the plumbers, electricians and other trades people.
Now, at 43, Reid and another manager head up Moncrief’s installation department of 15 employees.
“I find this extremely fulfilling,” Reid said. “I’ve never had a boring day here. Not once.”
While he was able to learn the profession by riding along with technicians for nearly a year, Mutz now advises prospective employees to learn the basics in technical school. That can take about two years, he said. But college grads with HVAC skills will not have a problem getting a job once they know what they’re doing.
That’s partially because the “cream of the crop” at technical schools, Mutz said, often go into other fields, such as computers, medical technology and telecommunications.
Also, a college background can help because HVAC is getting more complex with the increasing use of more efficient and greener systems, both men said.
“You never have to worry about a job again,” Mutz, 61, said. “There’s a demand for people. … The overseas people can’t do service calls. … It’s great for minorities and women because there are not many in it.” Mutz said he is looking for three technicians right now.
What’s more, the ups and downs of the economy do not affect the business too much, he said, except for limiting the number of installations in new construction.
“We are [primarily] a weather-driven business,” Mutz said. Last year, he said, Moncrief had record sales, largely because of the hot summer. He said his Atlanta business, which has 70 employees, did about $10 million in revenue.
There’s one last thing. HVAC is not a 9-to-5 gig. Customers are impatient when their systems are out of commission. That can mean long hours and weekend work.
- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat
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