When I graduated with a B.S. in Marketing, I didn’t have any idea where my career would take me, and I quickly landed a sales position in the service industry. I performed this type of work for five years – minus a three-month stint where I taught English to Spanish students at a small school in Chihuahua, Mexico while my (then) spouse worked at a nearby Honeywell manufacturing facility. His experience soon earned him a transfer to a Honeywell division in El Paso, Texas, where I was also offered a position in marketing communications. And that is where my roots were planted in this type of work.
I spent 15 years working marketing positions in the high-tech sector, touting the benefits of various hardware and software products. And that’s where I thought I would always be, in this fast-paced, ever-changing environment where public relations was the name of the game and competition for seeing your company’s name in print was fierce. But that changed after Sept. 11 when the dot-com bubble burst and high tech marketing budgets were drastically cut.
That’s when I responded to a posting by a local placement firm and was blessed to be offered the position of marketing communications manager at Ritchie Engineering Company, Inc. I didn’t know much about the HVACR industry at the time, other than the fact that I had a heater and air conditioner in my home that occasionally needed to be serviced. But the things I have learned and the people I have met over the past 11 years have made this position the most rewarding of my career.
Every industry event attended brings you closer to those with whom you have already had the pleasure of building relationships, while networking opportunities abound.
While I would characterize the high-tech work environment as continuously evolving, competitive and a bit cut-throat, I find the HVACR work environment to be much more familial and warm. This is a more personal environment, where we are all working as a team – customers and competitors alike.
The opportunity to build relationships is more prevalent as the longevity of employees in their positions is much longer lasting – many times due to the family-owned nature of the businesses that make up the industry. Every industry event attended brings you closer to those with whom you have already had the pleasure of building relationships while networking opportunities abound.
The organization which has provided me the most networking opportunities and industry contacts is Women in HVACR. I joined after learning about the organization at Comfortech and shortly after was asked to serve on the board of directors. I can’t say enough about the women that I’ve come to know and treasure through this group.
They are not simply industry colleagues, they are friends. The fact that we sometimes work for competing companies does not deter us from supporting and encouraging one another. In a trade that has been historically dominated by men (though industry articles will support the fact that this is slowly changing), this group of women is an oasis for the working soul.
There are opportunities in this industry for women in every discipline and at every level in wholesaling, contracting and manufacturing. The same skill-set and education requirements that you find in other industries are the norm in this industry, so it’s not “easier” to enter, but the satisfaction once you get here is well worth it. We are often challenged, but also treated with respect.
We need to continue to get the word out to other women about an industry that’s not often considered by young women entering college. In an effort to draw women this direction, Women in HVACR is offering two $1,000 annual scholarships to women entering a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) based curriculum or degree program. Previously offered only to women entering HVAC programs through certified educational institutions, our scholarship program has been expanded to make more college attendees aware of our trade.
More information can be found on our website at www.womeninhvacr.org. Current industry estimates project a need for 86,000 employees over the next five years. One of WHVACR goals is to help the industry fill this demand with deserving and qualified female candidates.
Will you be next? Feel free to contact any one of us for more information on how you can enter, grow and succeed in this industry as many of us have. It will be well worth the effort.
Mary Jo Gentry is Marketing Communications Manager at Ritchie Engineering Company, Inc. She also serves as secretary of the Women in HVACR.