Mike DeRicco, a commercial/industrial service technician in the Greater Pittsburgh area, is an authority in the HVAC industry. That’s because he’s put 26 years into the profession. But don’t expect a hardened guy with plenty of complaints and criticisms. His hard work, strong work ethic, and commitment to staying current on the latest advances in the industry have earned him a great reputation and a lucrative career with plenty of perks and a schedule to be envied. For Mike, the secret to a successful career in the HVAC field is really no secret at all.
Do you do residential or commercial?
Have you always done commercial?
No, I did residential for about 15 years and then I moved onto commercial.
What you do like more?
Oh, definitely, commercial/industrial work.
You said that right away; why is that?
Residential, you spend a lot of time doing a lot of work. Meaning that you may work eight hours a day, but you might do 10 service calls in that eight hours. Whereas in the commercial trade, you might do one or two service calls, so it’s a lot slower pace, but you still work the same amount of time each day. It’s not so strenuous, driving around, trying to get all that work done in one day. And the on-call is a lot different, too. When you’re doing commercial work, most of the time you don’t go out after hours. But in residential, you’re constantly going out. I used to go out around the clock. It becomes a lot of stress, so the commercial trade I like better.
So, when you say residential, it’s a lot of schlepping back and forth, trying to get so many jobs done in one day?
How did you get into the profession?
Well, it was actually almost by accident, I would say. When I was in high school, I went through the vo-tech program that we had. I actually signed up for carpentry, but the class was full, so they gave me the option of either HVAC or machine shop, so I went with the HVAC because my grandfather actually used to work on furnaces whenever he was a younger man. So, I decided to go that route and here it is, all these years later, and I’m still doing it.
So, you must like it.
Oh, yes, I do, I like the work.
What made you decide not to ever start your own business?
Well, I never really considered starting my own business, I’ve always worked for someone. It’s kind of nice not having the stress of the business. You go to work and go home, and leave it at work.
What would you say is the biggest issue or challenge in the HVAC profession today or the industry as a whole?
How much the industry changes, I would say. Manufacturers are constantly coming up with new technology, new equipment, and you’ve gotta stay up on everything. The company I work for is more of a service company than an installation company, so we’re repairing more than anything, so you’ve gotta stay up on all that stuff because it’s constantly changing.
Would you say that new guys coming into the profession are valued because they’re coming out a school or apprenticeship where they are learning all of the newest technology?
Oh, sure. If you’re coming out of a school and you have all that fresh in your mind, it’s definitely a plus for you.
What would you say to someone interested in getting into the profession? What route would you recommend they take?
Definitely, I would probably start with a trade school. Without that, you’d be lucky to find someone who would want to teach you their job.
Do you still think there are companies out there that would take a completely new guy with no experience or background and put them under their wing?
I would say that exists. We have some young guys in our company without experience. We have a guy who is 19 who just got out of trade school. He doesn’t know much about what’s out in the field, but he has the schooling. I would say you could find someone who wants to teach you without going through a school.
You really don’t have any field experience coming out of trade school. So, sometimes it almost seems like companies are looking for somebody who has experience, but then other times, you might find a company looking for somebody that they can actually train the way they want to. I’ve heard that a lot of times over the years for companies I’ve worked for. We like to find a guy who isn’t set in his own ways that we can kind of mold him into what we want.
Tell me about what you’ve learned from being in the field for 26 years. You hear horror stories about companies that hire and fire guys, who will take you on and make earning a commission very difficult. Have you experienced that in your career or seen that take place?
No, I really haven’t. In 26 years, I’ve worked for three companies. The first one I left because the gentleman who owned it retired and sold the company, so I had to find another job. And the second job I left because I wanted to get into the commercial end of the trade.
What do you wish someone would have told you about the industry or the profession?
That 85 percent of my work is done on the roof of a building. No one told me all those years ago that I’d be standing out in the weather, working all day, so that would’ve been nice to know! I don’t know if it would have changed my mind about working in the trade. You do spend a lot of your time working out in the weather – the snow, the rain, the sun, the heat.
What are the biggest mistakes you see other techs make in the profession?
I would say not keeping up with the changing technology. If you don’t follow it, you kind of get lost. The best thing you could do is keep up with things as they change.
And how do you do that?
Some of the distributors put on schooling. The parts distributors will have manufacturers come into their facility, and in the evening, they may have a class that you could sign up for. The manufacturers will discuss new technology, the new ways they are doing things. The wise thing to do would to go to those so you can keep up with what they’re doing.
Do you do that for your own professional development, or does your employee strongly encourage you to do things like that?
My employer encourages us to do that because they actually pay for us to go to those classes. They like when they offer classes and you sign up and go, but they don’t make you go.
How do you think green technology and the push toward energy efficiency has changed your job or the industry?
Well, it’s changed a lot – the machinery itself. You know, everybody’s trying to get the power consumption down, so just about every aspect of a machine has changed. All the motors are high-efficient motors, you have high-efficient gas burners in them. They now have variable frequency drives on the motors, so now the speed of the motors can ramp up and down, so that it uses less energy when it can as opposed to running at 100 percent all day long like years ago.
What is the most dangerous part of your job?
It could be working with the electricity or the gas. There are always dangers involved with either of those. You’ve always gotta think twice before you do something. We do air conditioning work for different drilling companies in the gas and oil field, and I talked to a guy who experienced an explosion at a gas well. That’s probably the most serious I’ve ever heard of.
What are you expected to do beyond the service?
Probably the most important thing is paperwork. Just from working with guys over the years, there are guys that do the paperwork as soon as the job is done, and there are some guys that don’t do the paperwork and it gets backed up. Personally, I like to do it at the end of each day, so it doesn’t become a large amount of work to do at one time.
When you’re on site, do your laptops, tablets?
Everything that I do is done on my phone. All of my work orders are sent from the office onto my phone. I type the work orders on the phone and send them back.
When working with a guy fresh out of trade school, what do you appreciate most about him, and what is the most challenging part of having someone so green working alongside you?
What I appreciate most is that he’s young! And they are usually eager and willing to work; they want to learn. The most challenging is that I expect them to know things they just don’t and I have to stop and say, ‘Wait a minute, Mike, they don’t what you think they know.’ Sometimes I have to step back and explain things to them.
What do you like the most about your job?
I like the hours. It’s seven in the morning till three in the afternoon. I get off in time that I am home for dinner and I can go and do something with my family in the evening, so that’s nice. I like having a company vehicle, too. That is a big benefit having that truck in your driveway that you can just get into and drive to work and come home and you don’t have to pay the insurance or the fuel for it. That’s a major benefit in itself. I’ve had a service truck that I drive home for probably 20 years.
What is the state of the industry in the greater Pittsburgh area?
I would say there’s a lot of work in the construction end of the trade in Pittsburgh. It seems that buildings are always going up around here. There’s probably less work service-wise than construction or installation.
Is there ever a shortage of work in your business?
Personally, no, I’ve never been without work since I started in this trade. Well, I take that back. When my first employer retired, I was out of work for two weeks.
That’s it? Since you’ve started in the field, you’ve been out of work for two weeks?
Yeah. When he retired, I signed up for unemployment and believe I got one check before I was back at work.
So, you think the industry as a whole is strong and not going anywhere?
Oh yes! People always want heat and air conditioning!
What words of advice would you give someone interested in going into the profession?
Definitely start with a trade school and get your education. When you come out, you’re looking at doing at least some residential work, so don’t set your expectations that you’re going to go to a large commercial company and try to get your foot in the door. Unless you know someone there! People in that end of the trade like some experience, usually from a residential company. Start there and get at least 5 years of experience and then try to move on because you will make more money in the commercial end of the trade. And, let’s face it – that’s what work is about, making money!
Even when you get out of school, try to keep up with some kind of training down the road.
Do you find anything frustrating about your job?
I can honestly say I don’t find much frustrating. I don’t know if it’s because I enjoy it so much or because I overlook that or if it’s just that there isn’t anything that’s frustrating. I can honestly say I love my job and I love the work that I do.