Orleans Tech’s Building Maintenance program gave me the skills and know-how to do it right!

I was three years into a steady full-time job as a maintenance technician at a neighborhood apartment complex. There wasn’t anything wrong with the job. I enjoyed the work and the pay was okay. But it was, well, as I said, steady. A man in my early 40s and one who isn’t easily satisfied, I was always seeking the next, better, more interesting thing. So, I began to look to expand my responsibilities at the complex and took on HVAC work. Although to be honest, I should say I tried to take on HVAC work!

Even in the short three-year period I was there, the needs of the apartment complex changed considerably. As someone who was mainly self-taught—with a few helpful tips thrown in from family and friends—my capabilities as a maintenance technician would only allow me expand my abilities so much. Almost every night I was doing Internet searches for how-to education and solutions for HVAC work I had encountered that day. In essence, Google and other outside resources were “talking me through” how to grow at my job. Moreover, as I searched I also began to hear about all kinds of things that were new and, to me, exciting about the world of HVAC—from modern tools I’d love to be able to use, to employment opportunities.

I soon decided that it was time for me to stop fumbling through. I wanted to become a maintenance technician with real HVAC skills, to take pride in my work, and serve my employer and his residents well. The only way to do that was to go back to school…to get the knowledge, skills and experience I was lacking in order to become a true professional.

But, don’t let me fool you. In retrospect, this decision seemed logical and easy. At the time though, it wasn’t, and I had to weigh a lot of questions. I was approaching 45 years old. Can I do this at my age? I had a family—a wife and five children—to take care of. Do I have time for classes, studying and training while being a responsible husband and father?

My decision to pursue schooling at Orleans Tech lead to positive answers to all these questions and more. I enrolled in the A/C, Refrigeration and Heating program and discovered there were a lot of people my age, as well as a lot of alumni my age, supporting each other to better ourselves. The faculty was awesome, too… they truly seemed to understand where we were coming from, our challenges and where we wanted to be. My family? Well they were as excited as I was, and so proud that they kept me forging ahead—and many nights we were all doing our homework together! The apartment complex, which I continued to work for, even assisted with the financing of my education as well.

Thirteen months after my first day of class, I graduated from the Orleans Tech A/C, Refrigeration and Heating program. That achievement, and the entire journey I took to get there, changed my life. It changed my family’s life too. And all for the better! Confident in my abilities as a graduate of Orleans Tech, my employer at the complex handed the reigns over to me with a nice pay bump to boot—I had so much responsibility, and I was knocking it out of the park! With my new knowledge, skills and confidence, I also started to pursue my ultimate dream of being my own boss. Today, I’m in the early stages of owning my own company, B&P Heating and Cooling. I’m going out every night and weekend to do installs and other work. I’m swamped with projects and loving every minute of it!

To all those reading this who may be questioning if you can…should…or need to make a change like I did, take it from me. You’ve got to do it! You will never regret coming to Orleans Tech. Just take that leap of faith, let go, and experience just how far and high you can journey in your career.

Joe Szambelak, Orleans Tech Graduate, Class of 2017