ST. PETERSBURG — There’s nothing quite like the feeling of ice-cold air to keep you cool on a blistering hot day. Air conditioning is not only a staple of every Floridian’s home, but a necessity. It stands to reason that for many, a career path in air conditioning repair can be a lucrative road.
The St. Pete campus of the Pinellas Technical Educational Center (pTEC) offers an Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Heating Technology program, which is comprised of 750 course hours. If students have good attendance they can finish the program in about eight months, according to John Lambert, one of three instructors.
Students gain occupational completion points as they complete parts of the program, which begins with the Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Heating Repair Helper course.
“They learn the basic fundamentals of the refrigeration cycle,” Lambert explained, “what makes an air conditioner an air conditioner, what the air conditioning system does and how it does it. The basic components.”
Lambert stressed that safety is a big part of the first nine weeks, which includes training in the areas of soldering, brazing, fabrication and installation of the equipment’s components.
“Students learn all the tools that are used in the industry,” Lambert explained. “Then you move more into the using of the tools, actually getting to work on the live equipment. Everything is a preparation to that last few hundred hours of training where you’re actually working on the equipment.”
He noted that the pTEC program offers the most modern, up-to-date equipment that there is in the industry and students get all different levels of hands-on training. And though bookwork is a part of the course, Lambert stressed that this program is not really suited for online work.
“Not for what we teach here,” he affirmed. “They offer that at some of the other trade schools, but here it’s all hands on in the classroom.”
The second part of the program offers training in the areas of electricity, control wiring, equipment commissioning and preventive maintenance operations. Finally they learn about troubleshooting of electrical and mechanical systems, electric heat and fossil fuel heating and indoor air quality. Lambert explained that though the program is technically broken up into segments, the students can complete it on their own schedules if need be.
“It’s a self-based course,” he said. “When you deal with adult learners they all have different situations. Some people can’t get here at 7:30 in the morning because they have to drop their kids off at school, so they get here at eight. We have some that can’t get here every day because of transportation issues. The program is set up so that as long as you show up on a regular basis, you’re working at your own pace. It’s a very open curriculum for the students.”
Lambert noted that employers do send requests for workers, and he and the other instructors post the available jobs and tell the students who is hiring at any given time.
Though he does concede that summer is obviously the busiest time for those in the business, there is a necessity for these skills even in the wintertime.
“Summers is our busy season and during the summer you can work 50, 60, 70 hours a week,” Lambert affirmed. “And though it may drop off during the winter, people still call their heat pumps do break down. There is work during the winter; it’s just not like it is up north!”
Students vary in age, as some are just about to enter the work force while others are simply seeking a change.
“For some it’s a third or fourth career move,” Lambert said. “They’re working an evening shift at a job they’ve had for 20 years, and they just decided they want something different. So they’re going to school during the day to learn this.”
With nearly 20 years’ experience under his belt as an instructor, St. Pete native Lambert was himself a student at pTEC. He believes the most rewarding thing as a teacher is guiding people not just down a better career path but toward a better life.
“There is a reward in helping people who came here to learn a trade and to better their lives,” he attested. “It makes you feel good to know that you’re helping people get to that point.”
If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available. See ad below.