HVAC&R world: meet a fridgie from America

Around the world, “fridgies” everywhere are making sure air conditioning and refrigeration systems are operating efficiently and effectively across industrial, commercial and domestic settings.

In the October issue of HVAC&R Nation magazine, we profiled some international fridgies. From the best things about the job to overall changes within the industry, they give us an insightful glimpse into career trajectories and day-to-day activities.

Read on for one of our profiles with Ali Unitas in Maryland, USA.

Name: Ali Unitas
Position: Service Technician
Company: Walton & Company
Time in Industry: 10 years

Typical day

I currently hold a Journeyman’s licence, and am also the only woman field technician in my company. Generally, my work day is 7am to 3.30pm, Monday through Friday. Some days I may start earlier or work later depending on planned work load or seasonal surges. I’m on call for two weeks of the year.

Typical Journeyman work includes performing a variety of standard to moderately complex technical tasks related to installing, maintaining and repairing heating, cooling, ventilation and related systems. To qualify for the Journeyman’s licence you must hold an apprentice licence for at least three years, and complete at least 1,875 hours of training in providing HVAC&R services under the direction and control of a licensed HVAC&R contractor, along with passing the rigorous Journeyman’s examination.

How did you get into the industry?

My father worked for the local utility company for 35 years and progressed through the ranks to become a key electrical outage planner. I enjoyed helping my father fix things around the house and learning how things worked. In my sophomore year of high school, I was introduced to the HVAC&R program. I was told that you can make a good living, it will always be in demand and I wanted to be self-sufficient. It is multiple trades in one and it also saves money knowing how to do it myself.

Hardest part of the job

In school, there were a few concepts that were very difficult for me to grasp, especially the physics behind refrigeration. Once I got into the field and started applying that knowledge, it helped paint a much clearer picture of how everything worked together. I also discovered that making mistakes and repetition are very important learning tools. So is building relationships with your co-workers to find that person to help guide you along the “learning by doing” journey. Teaching yourself and getting extra training on your own time is key as well.

As the only woman in the field, I have had numerous customers make assumptions about my abilities based only on my gender. However, they are set straight once they see my work and we develop a good customer-technician base.

Biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry

I follow some skilled tradeswomen from all around the world on social media and it seems like a lot of women in other countries are thriving off of the trades. I would like to see that happen more here in the United States. The HVAC&R field could also stand a little more diversity.

What are the best things about your job?

My job is all about making people comfortable and that makes me feel good. It’s a win-win situation. I enjoy my co-workers and meeting the customers I get to work with. Since everyone needs HVAC&R, you never know who you’re going to meet on that next call or job.

Many thanks to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) for putting us in contact with Ali.

For the full story, including interviews with “fridgies” from Europe, Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East, grab a copy of HVAC&R Nation at your nearest wholesaler.

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