Falls Church, VA. — According to his supervisor, Tyler Plueger “plays well in the sandbox.” A young field technician with Downey Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in southern California, Plueger “runs his own band,” from being dispatched, to diagnosing problems and offering solutions, to repairing equipment and selling new equipment,” said the company’s managing partner, Joseph Keays.
“He’s not afraid to get in there and try to figure something out, and his attitude and demeanor is perceived very well among our clients,” Keays added. As a result, “Tyler has very, very few callbacks. Everybody gets some, but his frequency is low, especially considering he’s fairly new to the trade.”
It also seems that Plueger plays well among his peers. After all, he took home top honors as the winner of PHCC’s 2013 HVAC Apprentice Contest, held during the association’s CONNECT convention in Las Vegas.
While Plueger admits that the win earned him “a little more respect around the shop,” more importantly, it gave him “a lot more personal confidence in the field.” He explains that – prior to the competition – he had only been working in the plumbing and HVAC arena for about nine months, but, winning the contest confirmed in his mind that “I know how to do this.”
He added, “I may need to take more time, pay more attention, be more patient, but I know this stuff, especially when it comes to things that are not super obvious. It made me not second-guess myself.”
Plueger said that – walking into the competition – “I had no expectations.” The HVAC Contest features the nation’s top 12 HVAC apprentices in a hands-on competition that comprises six events. PHCC also had a contest for plumbing apprentices. The contest really set the bar for what we should know,” said Plueger, “and, while it was a bit of an eye opener in some areas, it also helped confirm some things I already knew.”
In the end, Plueger considers the contest’s practical application setting key to his success. “Hands-on is where you really learn most of your stuff,” he said of his preparation as an apprentice. “If I had just read the book, there’s no way I could have won,” he adds. “It’s like being in a lab, doing recovery and troubleshooting … that was the biggest factor in helping me in this competition.”
In addition to the actual contest, contestants have the opportunity to attend special educational seminars at CONNECT, complete with peer-to-peer networking and exposure to the latest technologies and products available. “It was really great for building connections,” Plueger said of his involvement last year.
While Plueger is enjoying bragging rights and a big confidence boost, the tool package he received as the contest winner is the more practical part of his victory. “Especially in the industry, where things change so quickly with the technology, having those up-to-date tools makes my job so much easier, he said. Plueger estimates that the tool package he took home – which included power tools, diagnostic equipment and some small hand tools – is worth $1,500 to $2,000. “A lot of it was upgrades to what I already had,” he added.
As the managing partner at Plueger’s company, Keays sees great value in this particular perk and encourages local suppliers to continue supporting the contest by donating tools.
“When somebody wins something like that, all those tools end up getting drop-shipped at the office … everybody is checking them out,” he said. “If one guy finds a tool that works well or saves time, all of a sudden it’s the shop’s brand!”
Words of wisdom
While Plueger is in the early stages of his career, his whirlwind year has taught him a few lessons, which he’s eager to share. First, “get your hands dirty,” he said. “Instructors prep you as much as they can in school, but nothing replaces that field experience.” Sometimes, he adds, “you learn the hard way, but if you do something wrong, you’re never going to do it wrong again. Learn from your mistakes.”
Secondly, Plueger said, finding the right mentor is imperative.
“I call my instructors at least once a week with field questions,” he said. “The technology is moving so fast, and there are so many things we run into that we can’t keep everything up-to-date that fast, so it’s key to have a mentor to call and ask questions.” Plueger said he has his go-to resources – instructors and veteran employees – that are always willing to take five minutes out of their day to help him diagnose problems. “Even my suppliers … they’re open, and I call them all the time to ask questions, even those that aren’t related to parts,” he said. “It’s a great industry to be in.”
A shot at the top
Do you consider one of your apprentices among the nation’s best? Give them an opportunity to take home top honors – plus valuable tools and prizes! – at this year’s HVAC Apprentice Contest in New Orleans on October 8 and 9 during CONNECT 2014.
It’s a win-win-win for you, your apprentice, and the industry, as the contest provides an excellent opportunity to generate awareness for local apprenticeship programs and HVAC companies, as well as boosts interest in the HVAC field and helps attract new recruits to the industry.
Information and contest applications are available at http://www.phccweb.org/EducationEvents/content.cfm?ItemNumber=12186&RDtoken=10934&userID=7877.
PHCC’s HVAC Apprentice Contest relies each year on donations of tools and equipment from local suppliers – used both during the hands-on portion of the competition and for the prize package that goes home with the winner. The employer of last year’s winner witnessed first-hand the value of brand-loyalty when prizes/tools were delivered at his office.
“When somebody wins something like that, all those tools end up getting drop-shipped at the office … everybody is checking them out,” said Keays. “If one guy finds a tool that works well or saves time, all of a sudden it’s the shop’s brand. That exposure is growing exponentially by all the employees!
“It’s good for everybody to support the industry,” Keays added. “At the same time, you’re getting exposure to people who are actually using your tools. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? You’re going to get some brand loyalty.”