Junior Mechanic at Brandywine Valley HVAC: ‘This Is Where I See Myself Until I Retire’

Zach Dunlap

Since 1993, Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning has been consistently delivering quality workmanship, outstanding customer service, and a 100 percent guarantee on its work.

The West Chester-based company, however, is struggling to find qualified technicians to support its growing business, a common problem in the HVAC industry.

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According to the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation, an additional 115,000 HVACR mechanics and installers will be needed by 2022. And estimates by the Department of Labor indicate that there will be more than 750,000 jobs in this industry in the next 10 years.

Consequently, students graduating from HVACR training will have a number of career options. But making high school students, veterans, and second-career adults more aware of and interested in this trade appears to be a significant hurdle for the industry.

“Honestly, I never really thought of HVAC as a career growing up,” said Zach Dunlap, now a Junior Mechanic with Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning. “I just thought when you build a house, that all comes with it. HVAC isn’t really one of the basic trades like an electrician or car mechanic.

“Nobody knows much about it.”

Dunlap is a prime example of a mechanically inclined individual who was not initially aware of the opportunities and benefits of an HVAC career. He was set on attending college after high school, until he learned about the technical training available to him. It was when he enrolled at the Brandywine Campus of the Technical College High School (TCHS) in Downingtown that he found his true calling.

“Until I got into high school, I never really heard of technical school,” he said. “I took all my college prep courses and the ACTs and the SATs. But growing up, I always worked on dirt bikes and cars, and I’ve always been hands on with stuff, which I liked better than book work.

“I knew I eventually wanted to do something with my hands. When my friends started talking about technical school, it sounded very practical, and they said the money was there, so my parents said I should give technical school a try.”

The HVACR Workforce Development Foundation says that many HVACR jobs do not require a college degree, and that average salaries are more than $49,000, plus bonuses, overtime, and paid training.

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After taking classes on small engines at TCHS, Dunlap switched to HVAC and found a summer job at Precision Air in West Chester. He continued attending TCHS through 11th and 12th grades, splitting each day with technical training and regular high school courses, per the curriculum, and worked at a co-op assignment as an HVAC maintenance mechanic at Brandywine Hospital.

Upon graduation, Dunlap interviewed with Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning, where he has been working for the past two and a half years.

“We need to get the word out about the trade schools because we need a lot more people in the trades than what we have now, especially those just those coming up,” he said.

Indeed, Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning’s available positions are routinely posted on VISTA Today.

What advice does Dunlap have for high school students and others who are unsure of a career path?

“Technical schools will let you come in and see what they have,” he said. “If you take a class one year and don’t like it, go to a different class. If you don’t like any of the classes, you can always think about college. I was ready to go to college if I hadn’t found anything I liked in technical school. I applied myself and really enjoyed it.”

Dunlap is also enjoying his job at Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning, where learning new skills is encouraged and where each day is different.

“Every day brings a new challenge, which I like,” he said. “One day, you can be doing duct work, and the next day, you can be doing wiring or relays. And you’re always going to somewhere different, whether it’s commercial or residential. I’ve been learning a lot, and it has definitely been a great experience.

“This is where I see myself until I retire.”

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