For Dan Flores, the HVAC program at Kent Career Tech Center was a lifeline and a springboard to success. “That program just had a huge impact on my whole entire life,” says Flores.
Using the skills he learned at the Tech Center, Flores said he was able to land a job that then allowed him to enroll in Ferris State University.
“It gave me a huge head start. It puts you in a great position to succeed because you’re so far ahead of everyone else,” says Flores, who graduated from Ferris and landed a job in Chicago that soon gave him a six-figure income.
After 14 years of leading the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) program at the Tech Center, Jeff DeMeester says he can spot the students, like Flores, who will thrive in the industry.
“The kids who succeed are the ones who aren’t afraid to tear something apart or open it up,” says DeMeester, whose program currently includes 67 area high school students who learn the basics of the heating and cooling systems found in homes, factories and public buildings.
Although he said he struggled during school before finding the HVAC program, today, Flores is a sales engineer for a Chicago heating and cooling contractor that services large apartment and commercial buildings. He’s currently working on a new restaurant being built for movie star Mark Wahlburg. In addition he’s also the youngest member on the board of Chicago’s Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), a key lobbying group for owners of commercial buildings in the Chicago area.
Former student Craig Kellermeier, now a project manager for TDIndustries in Texas, says the lessons he learned in the Tech Center program led to his projects for the new Texas Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, Liberty Mutual’s new regional headquarters in Plano, Texas and hotel/casino projects in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Kellermeier, who graduated from Rockford High School in 2006, went on to get a four-year degree at Ferris State University. From there, he was recruited by TDIndustries in 2011, where he has risen to become a project manager over some of the company’s largest projects.
Though his dad is in the plumbing business, Kellermeier said he was drawn to HVAC after visiting the Tech Center while in high school. “It was a great stepping stone for me,” says Kellermeier, who is currently designing and installing all of the HVAC equipment for the food vending stations at the Texas Rangers Ballpark.
Kellermeier says he has adjusted to Texas climate, which emphasizes the need for cooling systems rather than the heating systems he grew up with in Michigan. “I always tell people that for me, it’s easier to find a place to cool off than finding a place to warm up,” he said with a laugh.
Program Instructor DeMeester says students like Flores and Kellermeier demonstrate how his program can lead to great success. Many of his students go on to Ferris State University’s well-known HVAC program, which attracts recruiters from throughout the industry, he says.
Other students enroll in the program at Grand Rapids Community College and some choose to find industry jobs right out of high school, DeMeester said. The demand for HVAC professionals is growing thanks to a large number of persons who are entering their retirement years, DeMeester says.
“This job also doesn’t get out-sourced,” DeMeester says. “It has to be done by someone in West Michigan.” The industry is largely recession-proof because customers are either building new projects in good times or investing in maintenance when times are lean.
DeMeester says most of his students find his program through word of mouth or family members who work in the industry. “Most people don’t wake up in morning and think about HVAC,” he said with a smile.
With wide open job prospects and great salaries, maybe they should?