By David Schell
After graduating high school in 2000, I did the same as many of my peers and enrolled at the local community college. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but the advisor told me to enroll in liberal arts. After about two years, I decided to switch to nursing, but when I was a little more than halfway complete, my girlfriend and I found out that we were going to have a baby. The cost of school and the need to find a full-time job with health care benefits left me with the decision to leave nursing school.
A friend of mine drove a tractor trailer and made decent money, so I decided to try it out. The hours were horrendous, but good pay and health care were my priorities. After a year of being on the road, we received news that another baby was on the way and I realized that time with my family was becoming more important than money.
My uncle worked for an HVAC and plumbing company, H.B. McClure Company, Harrisburg, Pa., and suggested that I speak with the service manager. I had no previous knowledge of HVAC or plumbing, but was confident that I could learn if given the chance. During my interview, I was asked why I wanted to work in this industry and I responded:
“I want to learn a trade. I want to learn something that will always be necessary and start a career that can’t be taken overseas. I want the opportunity to grow with a job that will help me support my family.”
I also told him that I was good at math and problem solving, that I liked working with my hands and wasn’t afraid to get dirty. Above all, I just needed a chance. I begged for that job.
In September of 2005, I started work as an apprentice with H.B. McClure where I was placed with a guy name Joe who had been in the industry for more than 35 years. I listened to everything Joe said and his knowledge about oil burners and boilers was nothing short of amazing.
One of the first days I worked with Joe, I was taking an oil filter apart and if you’ve never done this, let me tell you that working with oil is messy. It stinks and it stains. While taking this filter apart, I dropped a bolt in the oil pan, where it quickly disappeared, submerged under the black. Joe noticed my hesitation, and without skipping a beat said, “If you don’t wanna get dirty, you might as well just quit now.” I knew he was right. I reached in, grabbed that bolt and kept on moving. A few years later, I used that same line on a new apprentice. I worked with Joe for three months, absorbing as much knowledge on a daily basis as I could, before jumping at the chance to go out on my own.
I started off as a maintenance technician, changing air filters and oil filters, vacuuming boilers, making mistakes along the way, but fixing them on my own. It was tough work, but the reward was worth it. Every day I got to go home and see my family. We didn’t have much money, but I knew there was much more opportunity if I could keep learning.
By April 2006, six months after being hired, I went on call, meaning that I took my truck home and customers depended on me to fix their HVAC systems after the office was closed. It was time to sink or swim. For a family without much income, I volunteered for every hour possible. A few months later, an opportunity opened to train at Associated Builders and Contractors Keystone Chapter and I didn’t hesitate to apply. I would be attending school two nights per week, still be on call and be a full-time dad. Signing up was easy; the commitment was not. Season by season, four years went by and I found myself standing on a stage, accepting the High Achiever Award for having the highest grade in the class.
Five months before graduation, my boss thought that I could help increase sales by helping other technicians from the office. During that time, I developed a way to streamline the parts order forms and quote requests. It was a slow process and the economy was still dragging from the recession, but I was persistent. One day when I came to work, I quickly found that two managers had left the company overnight. We had no direction, no chain of command, and the phones were about to open. So I stood up and told everybody, “We don’t have a manager, and I’m not going to pretend to be your boss, but if you have a customer that wants to speak to a manager, feel free to send them to my line.”
We lived like that for about a month and because I was able to handle difficult customer situations, I was promoted to sales manager. While this wasn’t the path I had in mind, when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it.
I worked tirelessly and between June 2010 and October 2012. Our Residential Service Department broke every financial record previously held. Within two months, I would be leaving residential service and working in commercial service as an account manager.
As of right now, I am managing 206 commercial accounts worth over $1 million, with a goal to double that over the next three years. I make it home everyday to see my family, spending my weekends at the soccer fields with my oldest daughter, gymnastics with the youngest daughter, enjoying time with my wife and cheering for my Green Bay Packers.
I am 31 years old with a household income in six digits. This is not to brag, but to point out that I do not have a college diploma but hard work and a little luck got me to where I am today. An old quote states, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and in my experience, the best preparation anybody can make for “luck” is to always say “yes.” When your boss asks you to do a job, do it. Joe would always tell me, “David, when you’re working on someone’s boiler, pretend like it’s your mother’s.” Try to incorporate that in every aspect of your life, and you’ll find “luck” is constantly on your side.
This is the first of a three-part series on the career opportunities in the construction industry written by David Schell, an Account Manager for H.B. McClure Company in Pennsylvania, a member company of Associated Builders and Contractors Keystone Chapter.