Michelle Newcomb of Clarksville, VA came to a class orientation ready to learn. She walked away an SVHEC Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) lab tech/instructor.
Newcomb heard about the SVHEC’s new HVAC program through her sister. “My sister called and told me my nephew was enrolling in the HVAC@SVHEC program, and I decided to enroll too.”
Having spent most of her life learning and practicing the trade, Newcomb was already highly skilled and credentialed, but there is always something new to learn. “HVAC is such a wide field, and constantly changing. So I’m always reading and looking for new information,” she said.
“When I came to class orientation, I got to talking to welding instructor Karen Hackney who was sitting in on the class. When she realized I had experience she suggested I apply for an instructor’s position,” Newcomb stated.
“I asked Michelle how long she had been working in HVAC, and she told me over 20 years,” Hackney said. “I asked her why in the world was she taking the class, they were looking for helpers and instructors and she should be teaching it!”
“I hadn’t even considered teaching a class,” Newcomb said. “So I went and talked to Deloris (Jones, SVHEC training program coordinator at the time) and Jermaine (Gooden, trainee engagement specialist). I filled out an application, and I got hired.”
“Michelle had the technical skills and was on point with what we were looking for, so we encouraged her to apply,” Gooden said. “She helps the lead instructor, and they make a really good team. They each have their strong points and individual perspectives that they bring to the classroom.
“I think the guys in the class were surprised by her advanced knowledge, with it being a male-dominated trade,” Gooden added.
“Michelle brings organization to the classroom, and anything we can do, she can do hands-down,” said lead instructor Chris Walton. “I’m very glad to have her help teaching the class.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those employed as heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers in 2018 numbered 472,000 with only 1.4 percent of those being women.
But today’s workforce is slowly changing, becoming less about men’s jobs or women’s jobs and more about being good at what you do. And Newcomb excels in HVAC.
She holds a Master HVAC/R Preventive Maintenance Certification, Universal HVAC EPA Certification, HFC-410A Handling and Recovery Certification, she is a certified Whirlpool service technician, both commercial and residential, and since beginning her position at the SVHEC has earned her Commonwealth of Virginia Master HVAC Tradesman license.
It is a trade she began training for when she was just a little girl, learning from the ground up from her father, Earnest Lee Arrington, Jr., who is a business owner in Clarksville and an all-around tradesman.
“Clarksville is a small town and the pool of contractors was small, so my dad did lots of different things,” Newcomb stated. “He started Arrington’s Home Furnishings in 1971. At first it was just TVs, but he later added appliances, and now we sell and service appliances and HVAC and do electrical work.
“He started taking me on calls when I was little and he’d show me how to do some of the repairs. I have learned so much from him. With HVAC the hands-on training is very important. You can learn all day from the book, but it really clicks when you are out in the field, actually doing the work. Now I do it all - I work on the hottest days and the coldest nights, on call 24-7,” she said with a laugh.
Teaching may have been a natural progression for Newcomb. “I’ve been handling the training anytime we hire someone new at the store,” she said, “and I’m happy to be teaching here at the SVHEC. I love the teaching aspect. Anybody who is willing to learn, I am willing to teach.”
If you are ready for a hands-on career in a growing field, HVAC@SVHEC can prepare you to be a work-ready HVAC technician in less than one year. Financial assistance is available. For more information, visit www.svhec.org/hvac.