HVAC Career Discussion
Dr. Thomas Mormon is the school director from the Perfect Technician Academy in Weatherford, Texas. Dr. Mormon has spent his entire life as an administrator, director, or consultant in higher education. He holds a doctorate in education from the University of North Texas. Today, he serves as the director of the perfect technician academy, a six-week total immersion, fast track HVAC school approved by the state of Texas Workforce Commission Career Schools and Colleges Program.
They work with a lot of HVAC companies to train their technicians around the country, as well as a ton of veterans’ groups to open up new great-paying careers for our military veterans. We had a great discussion. He offered up a lot of great advice for companies and individuals seeking to learn more about the opportunities that exist in HVAC. So, without further delay, let’s get right to the interview.
Alright, welcome to the podcast, Thomas.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Glad to be here. Thank you for having me, Mark.
Mark Ambrose: Oh yeah, we appreciate you coming on the show. Let’s dive right in. Tell us what you do now, who you do it for, and how you helped them?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Absolutely. I’m the school director for a trade school that’s primarily focused on HVAC. We train HVAC technicians to operate a van independently for a contracting company.
Our primary goal is to put out quality technicians. So, I worked in higher education for about 30 years, and I was fortunate to have this opportunity to come and work for the trade school and help them out with their compliance, getting the school moving, and trying to focus the energies of the school.
Many trade schools just want to enroll masses of students and try to get as many students in as they can. I said, “if I’m going to do this and be a part of it, I want to do it the right way. We’re going to have smaller enrollments, but the focus will be on the industry’s quality, not about how many students can get in the door. It’s about the quality of the product that we’re going to put out into the industry.” And so that’s really where we put our focus.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. So, are you working with existing HVAC companies to train their staff? What’s your outreach?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: We work with contractors all over the country. We started with a few contractors here in Texas, and we’ve expanded that to work with some very big names out there. There’s Goettl’s in LA, California, and other places such as Phoenix, Arizona. We’ve worked with Goettl’s quite a bit. We’ve also worked with Summer’s out of Indiana and Olden on the East Coast. There are others that we’ve had good relations with.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. Those are big names out there. So, you’re located in Weatherford, Texas, in Northern Texas, yes?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah, we’re in North Texas, about 20 miles west of downtown Fort Worth. We’re just a small town. We like being out away from the metroplex because there’s not much for those students to do. And so, they can’t get into trouble while they’re here because it’s a full immersion program. We want them to eat, sleep, and breathe air conditioning. It’s a six-week full immersion program, and we don’t want them to be distracted by anything outside of the school.
Mark Ambrose: So, they come to you? It’s not a digital training course; it’s hands-on?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah, even during the pandemic, we never went online courses. A lot of schools did, but that goes against our philosophy of training a quality technician. We believe that to have that quality, you’ve got to get your hands dirty. You’ve got to get them into the equipment. You really don’t appreciate electricity until you’ve experienced electricity. That’s also one of the reasons we have small classes. A lot of schools will have six or eight pieces of equipment. We have over 70 pieces of equipment on our lap, but we’ll never have more than 14 students in our class.
We want to make sure every time they go into the lab, they get a hands-on experience and that every student will maximize that time with the equipment. They see various equipment: old units, new units, medium-age units, and various refrigerants in those units. We want them to be able to diagnose and work with a lot of different equipment. Our goal is to set you up for success when they get out.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. You can’t learn a trade through a digital course, so your hands must be on the equipment. Like you say, there are so many different models and ages and iterations of equipment that they’re going to get their hands dirty. They have to see it.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Absolutely. You need to get your hands on it. You don’t learn how to build venting if you haven’t had your hands on it. You can learn theories online, and you could learn some of the EPA things online, but when it comes to truly being a quality technician, you’re going to have to do it in person.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, I agree with that. Do you find like some plumbing-only companies come your way to add HVAC to their services, or is everyone already in the HVAC world?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: There are many HVAC contractors on their own, but there are many contractors that are expanding plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. We see more and more of that. I’ve seen contractors that have gotten their master’s license as an electrician and are working on their master’s license in plumbing, and they’re also doing air conditioning. So, you’re going to see those start to expand. That’s a trend I’m seeing. More companies are offering more and more services. I have even seen some adding pest control to their repertoire.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, plumbing and HVAC are a perfect fit. You’ve already got that client, so you should look at expanding the services you can offer them. Plus, a lot of HVAC companies do plumbing. So, if you offer only plumbing, you might lose your plumbing business to that new HVAC contractor.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Right, and HVAC encompasses all of it; plumbing, electrical, everything. We had a big winter storm here in Texas. It was very unusual for us when we had that big freeze. Lots of pipes were exposed and busted. So, every HVAC company and company with any kind of plumbing license was out there doing plumbing. You take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves as well.
Many companies are now expanding into the electrical side because people are now asking for generators and household generators and those kinds of things to avoid some of the situations that occurred last year. We see the same kind of things in South Texas with hurricanes and other things. There’s a great need now where people want these generators for their homes.
Mark Ambrose: I see backup utility power in case of a utility outage. Does solar work well in Texas? Or do you seem to be talking generators more often than solar?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Well, our whole building here has solar panels all the way around and on top of our building. I will say that solar is big. There’s a lot of people interested in that, and anything we can do to save money in the current economy, people want to do it. Solar panels take about ten years before they pay themselves off, but it depends on how long someone plans on being in their home.
Mark Ambrose: Exactly, and then you have the addition of batteries, which could give you that backup power. I’m sure generators are a lot cheaper but a lot noisier, and you’re still dependent on fuel sources, right?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Right, but we have a lot of natural gases here in Texas, so that’s not an issue. It’s fairly inexpensive.
Mark Ambrose: What are your most popular training courses?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Our academy focuses just on one course. We had a variety of courses at one time. And when I came in, I said, “You need to be great at one thing before you expand to a lot of different things.” And so, we narrowed it down and said, “Okay, we are going to train the best technicians for the industry.” So, we focus on the HVAC Repair Service Technician program.
In that program, you can have someone come out of it and become a lead installer. You can have someone come out of that program and do maintenance calls, repair calls, or sales calls. We’re really preparing them for all those avenues. We want to prepare for those top jobs available out there where we know they can make a good income.
One of the groups that we work with is a lot of veterans. At one time, up to 65% of our students were veterans. Right now, about 35% of our students are veterans. But when you bring someone in who’s coming out of the military, the goal is to help them transition into something that will help them support their family and be successful.
Veterans are looking for better opportunities than minimum wage because they’ve already had leadership roles, among other things. Our focus is to bring people with technical skills and get them into the industry to be successful and help contractors succeed in their businesses.
Mark Ambrose: That’s awesome. I’m sure it varies by the service date and wartime, but are there some veterans’ benefits that help with tuition and things?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Absolutely. We are a GI Bill eligible program. Any veteran who qualifies for the GI bill will be covered, whether 10% or 100% percent. Most active-duty veterans will qualify for 100%. It covers about two-thirds of the school. There are some other grants we have locally here in Texas that will cover the remainder. Typically, someone who comes to our school who has GI benefits only has to pay for housing, the EPA certification exam, and the textbook rental.
The EPA certification and textbook rental are about $40. And then the housing, if they get a private room, it can be up to $2,400. If they want to share a room, it’s $1,200. We contracted with the local Marriott property to get some discounted rates to stay in that hotel. We try to keep it under the BHA payments that they get because they also get a stipend from the VA for living expenses. They sort of break even that way.
One other program that a lot of people don’t know about right now is the V-Rap Program. It’s the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program. It’s a rapid response to COVID, and it’s still active until December of 2022. It’s for a trade school education for veterans who no longer have GI Bill benefits. So, if there’s a veteran out there who has no GI Bill benefits, the VA will still pay for their full tuition to come to school and go through a program, not just at our school but at other schools as well.
Mark Ambrose: That’s beautiful. I love to hear it. So, everything’s hands-on live instructors, of course. Do you serve just people from the U.S., or do people from Canada come down to?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Right now, we’re focused on people from the U.S. We can’t offer a student visa. Now, if someone’s in the country and they have a visa to be in the United States for the period that we’re in class, then they could come to class, but they would have to get a visa on their own to do that. We don’t sponsor student visas for international students.
Mark Ambrose: You talked about the EPA 608 certification. Is that a national certification, or do they need another state license when they get to their state?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: The EPA license is a national certification, so it’s good anywhere in the United States. Even some places outside of the United States will honor the EPA certifications that we do. That’s really to train them, to work with ozone-depleting gases, to be able to charge a unit, to vacuum a unit out, and how to handle those gases in a way that doesn’t affect climate change. I mean, that’s what they’re trying to regulate. The EPA is one universal thing. It can go anywhere in the United States. Every state, however, does have different licensing requirements. There are still about 23 states that require apprenticeships, journeymen, and master HPAC. Texas is not one of those states. In Texas, you can come to our school, get your EPA license, and then start working for a contractor right away.
You do have to register with the state. It costs about $20, and you have to register under a contractor’s license. And once you’ve worked for a contractor for four years, you can apply for your contractor license, take the contractor exam, and become an independent contractor. But every state is different. You need to look at the requirements for your state or where you plan to live because they’re all vastly different with education and certification requirements. Licensure is all-state.
Mark Ambrose: I see. How would they find that out? Is it the contractors’ license board in each state? Is that where they would go?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah, different type licensing board in every state. There’s an organization as well called Next Insurance. Next, Insurance publishes a guide that covers the licensing for contractors in every state. It’ll give you the links of where the registration offices are for each state as well. But you don’t have to have a contractor license to be an HVAC tech. You have to be registered under someone else’s license, but Next Insurance will tell you where the officers are in every state. They publish a guide every year.
Mark Ambrose: Awesome. I love how you work with the vets. I’ve seen you participating in a lot of veteran-specific podcasts, so hats off to you.
So, talk about the opportunities out there for veterans, men, and women looking for a good trade. That’s a great future for them, dependable, not going to be replaced by a robot or AI or any of that. What did the opportunities look like in the HVAC trade, going to work for somebody else? What kind of income can they expect?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: For veterans, all the trades are wide open. I think in electricity, plumbing, and HVAC—there are so many opportunities in all of these trades for these veterans to come in. I was at Fort Bliss the other day, and I was talking to an infantry guy. He told me, “All I’ve done is I’ve been on the infantry. I’ve made field responses. I’ve worked on Patriot missile systems. I know my way around tools, but all I know about air conditioning is how to change the thermostat. And even that’s a little tricky some days with the new thermostats, right?” The reality is they have a lot of technical skills, and it’s just transferring those technical skills to the industry where we want to place them.
And for many of these guys, it’s a very easy transition because they understand electronics. They understand switches, and they understand all the basics. They just have to learn how those apply to an air conditioning unit versus a helicopter motor, a Patriot missile system, or an automotive technician. They’ve done all these different things, and they just need to learn how to apply those skills to this industry, and they can make a really good living.
They also come in as individuals who know how to wear a uniform. All our techs wear uniforms, and their uniforms are pressed and sharp, and clean. They come to the door with “yes, sir. Yes, ma’am.” They’re clean-cut. They know how to talk to a customer. They’ve had training on how to talk to people and deescalate situations.
So, they have a lot of background training applicable to the soft skills that we want in this industry. And so, if we can bring them in and let them know about these opportunities, we’re going to do them a great service. And the reality is most of the time when you go onto a military base and talk to these guys who are about to transition. They’re being pushed. They hear, “Use your GI bill! Go to college, go to college, go to college!”
But many of the guys I talked to will tell me why they went into the military because they didn’t like being in school. They went into the military to find another opportunity. And now they’re being pushed back into college, and they’re just frustrated. They don’t want to go to college, and they don’t realize they can use their GI Bill to go to trade schools as well.
And so, some education needs to take place there. And we worked through that. And when you start talking to them about opportunities like ours, where it’s a six-week training program and a full-immersion program that a Marine designed under the military training model, that’s something they’re interested in. That’s a model they’re very familiar with. When they were trained to work on a Patriot missile system, that’s the kind of training they went through. It was a six-week full-immersion program. Hands-on, do it, learn it, and then practice, and then you’re out there doing it.
And that’s exactly what we do. You’re learning the theory. You have your hands on everything. You’re getting dirty every day. And then you go out in the field, and you’re doing it. And one of the things that set us apart, too, from many other schools, is that our learning doesn’t end when a student finishes our program. We’re committed to their success throughout their training and throughout their first year working and all that other stuff.
So, if we have a technician who graduated from us who’s working for a contractor and they run into something in the field, and they’re like, “Now, I know I learned this, and I just don’t remember.” Or, “I’m just not sure what to do with this.” We tell them, “We don’t want you to call your boss. We want you to call our instructor, and we’ll use that as a teaching moment for you and the other people that are currently in the class.”
It’s a great learning experience for everybody. And so that way, we’re helping prepare them to be that quality technician for that contractor. It’s a continuous learning process. We don’t want the learning to stop just because you’re not here anymore. We’re committed to their success and providing that quality support.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah. And we’re a state-approved school through the Texas Workforce Commission. So, the only employment numbers I’m allowed to list are the Department of Labor numbers, which say the average HVAC technician makes about $50,000 a year. But that takes into place all the assistant installers up to the technicians. And that statistic is two years old. So, I try to remind people of that. The median hourly salary is about $23 an hour. But I tell people that the best way to look at that for your area is to just go on Indeed and type in HVAC technician and see how many available jobs. Indeed tracks salary data in your area, and you’ll see that the Department of Labor numbers are a little skewed when you start looking at what people are making out there in the field.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, I bet. That’s a great opportunity and way better than many other choices they have available. And it’s a career.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: That’s what we’ve learned. These services haven’t gone away. They’ve been in greater demand because more people have been spending time at home. And so that home environment needs to be comfortable and safe.
Mark Ambrose: Indeed. And you go from serving your country to serving your community, getting on a more local basis.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: And they’re solving problems. It’s mission-based. That’s what these military guys learn—how problems on the fly. In the field, they learn, “I’ve got to take care of the situation at this moment in the field.” And so, they take that from their military background, and they bring it into the trades. They’re solving the problems in the field, taking care of things, and making sure the mission gets done. And at the end of the day, if you’re Texas, where it’s 110 degrees on some summer days, and you get someone’s air conditioner working, they’re very appreciative. So, there’s some reward in it as well.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, they’re happy campers. No, I agree. And every day is different new customers, new people, new problems, and new and different solutions.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Right. And a lot of these military guys, they like that too. They don’t want to be stuck behind a desk. They want to be out and about and moving around, meeting people, and getting out and seeing different environments all the time. It really appeals to them.
Mark Ambrose: And you’re teaching processes. I imagine it’s a big part of it. “Here’s step one. Here’s all the way to Z,” right? A to Z, which is also what they’re used to in the military. We’re taught everything is a process—A, B, C, D.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah, you’ll take your entire gun assembly apart and have to rebuild that entire gun. Well, we’ll take every single wire out of the air conditioning unit and have them completely rewired the unit. I mean, every single wire you can imagine is gone, and they’re going to put them all back in and make sure that thing’s running properly. That’s the mindset. That’s how they think. That’s how they process. And that’s really what we want to do. We want to help them be successful.
Mark Ambrose: That’s awesome. So, give us a little bit of your background, Thomas. You and I talked a little before the show, but I think the audience would be interested. I can feel your exuberance for where you are now and what you’re contributing directly to military vets and the national community. So, give us a little background on yourself.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m a career educator. I really believe in helping people reach their fullest potential in life. That’s what my educational background is all about. I went to Texas A&M University. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree from A&M in educational psychology.
Then I went on to do a doctoral degree focused on higher education, emphasizing administration in higher education. And so, I worked for the state of Texas at universities within the state of Texas for the last 30 years. Twenty-five of those years, I worked in medical education primarily and with the health sciences. I helped start some new programs like a pharmacy school physician assistant program. I did a lot of work with accreditation. I’m still active, and I visit medical schools on an accreditation site visit team. So, I’ve stayed involved in that atmosphere as well, but I’ve always been involved in those areas.
I just happened to be introduced to the Hopson family who was starting this program. They were starting the school because there was a group of contractors who couldn’t find qualified technicians. And so, the school was started to provide quality technicians, not just for their business, but for local businesses too. And now it’s expanded where we’re providing technicians all over the country. From that educational standpoint, it’s really about helping everybody become their best.
And I’ve always been focused. The veteran population is important to me. I was born on a military base overseas. I grew up on military bases. My dad was a Naval aviator from 1941 to 1975. And I still remember, though, he was in a leadership role by the time he finished his military career, and he thought, “No problem. I’m going to retire. Find a job off base.”
Well, we moved off base with the six kids, and life changed dramatically. Because on the base, everything was controlled. Everything was in its place. We knew how to access everything. You can just go to the hospital. They took care of you. There were no issues. We moved off the base, and suddenly there were lots of unexpected bills.
The job opportunities didn’t come as my dad thought they would because it was 1975. A lot of employers weren’t very friendly to the military coming out at that time. And that was just a shock to the whole family. We struggled for a while, and things spiraled, and it was very difficult during that time.
My mom went back to school, got her degree in counseling, and started working for DODs on military bases overseas. So, from the time she was 50 till she was 75, she worked for DODs overseas. So, we went back on the military bases, but what I learned from that was the difficulty of that transition period. If we can do things to help veterans during that transition period when they come out of the military, if we can make it a smooth transition, then not only are we doing that individual service, but we’re also doing their family, their wife, and their kids a service. We’re doing their extended family a service. We’re doing the communities they live in service, and we’re doing our country to serve.
And that’s really what it is. We need to take care of our own and ensure that we’re providing great opportunities for these guys and gals to succeed in the industry. And we talk a lot about guys, but I tell you what, there’s a great need for women in the HVAC industry. Some women are doing very well in this industry. They shy away, but we want to draw them in if we can.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. If they like working with their hands, you bet. Dive right in. The world is open to you. All the trades are available to you. I can feel that educational background from you. You could feel that caring and giving personality. So, we appreciate your service. So, are you having problems finding talent yourself in your school and teaching?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: No, not the teaching. I have some great instructors with 15 to 25 years of experience, and they love teaching. So that’s one of the benefits of it. They love watching that light bulb go off. They love solving problems and helping students that are working in the field, and answering their questions.
It’s a good team environment overall. The instructors are great. The biggest issue is that I have more contractors calling me looking for employees than I have students. That’s a dilemma right now. Part of it may be COVID stuff, but part of it is all the federal government’s incentive payment. People have been staying home. And so, we’ve got to get people back to work. And there are great opportunities if you want to work and you’re willing to work hard. There are great opportunities in the trades.
Mark Ambrose: Are some of these companies willing to relocate? Say you have got a veteran in Texas, but the employer is in Louisiana. Will some of them relocate the vet?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Absolutely. I have one vendor right now doing a $2,000 sign-on bonus for people who are willing to work for him. If they work for him for over a year, he’ll pay him another $8,000 bonus.
Mark Ambrose: Wow. I love it.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: There’s a need. There’s a lot of things going on. I even had one local guy is in Longview. The student was in Longview, Texas, and the contractor was in Forney, Texas. He offered to bring him in his family over, put them up in a hotel until they could find an apartment, and pay for the moving expenses. It was a hundred and something miles down the road.
There are lots of opportunities like that. The companies, especially established companies, are looking for talent. And if you’re willing to work hard, they’re going to do anything they can to get you there and then retain that employee.
Mark Ambrose: I’m even happier now that you’re on all these veteran podcasts and getting the word out there that this is available to them. Maybe they can get you in some of the VA weekly newsletters—the email newsletter that goes out. I don’t know how you would get into that.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: I’ll tell you that process. The VA is very difficult when it comes to a for-profit trade school because there’s a lot of bad players that have been out there in the past. But the reality is we’re trying to do things the right way, and that’s probably the distinguisher. We’re doing many things, and we’ve got to get over the stigma that other people have put on the trades. It’s a little bit difficult sometimes. I mean, there was a school right down the road whose owner was indicted just recently for defrauding the VA for millions of dollars.
We’ve got to get past some of those things that have happened and let people know that, “Hey, there are good players out there. We’re trying to do the right things.” We have a 93% graduation rate right now, and we place 80% of the people in jobs in 30 days. That’s better than most colleges are doing right now.
Mark Ambrose: Does the VA track how many are still employed in the industry after graduation?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: So, the VA does not track that except for the V-RAP Program. They do track that for that, but that’s brand new. So, we’ll see what that tracking looks like. I don’t know what that’s going to be yet. I just had my first V-RAP students start the program this last month.
But the state of Texas does track that. The Texas Workforce Commission licenses us as a workforce development program. And so, they do follow the employment of people out of our program where we report those statistics. So, the numbers I gave you were the numbers that the state gave back to me.
Mark Ambrose: So if your numbers are poor, you would lose that accreditation?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: We could lose our license to educate students, yeah.
Mark Ambrose: Gosh, I sure wish the VA was doing some after-school tracking to see what schools are performing and which ones are not so we don’t get ripped off by the guy who got arrested.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Exactly. I was excited when they came out with this V-RAP Program because the funding model for the V-RAP is they pay the school 50% upfront when the student registers. They’ll pay 25% when they graduate, and they pay the other 25% of the educational costs when they get a job. Now, that’s the way we should be funding all GI bills. The regular GI bill is funded at 100% upfront right away, and then you’re done. And I said that’s the wrong way to do it.
We should do it the way V-Rap does, giving 50% when they start, 25% when they finish, and 25% when they get a job. That would put more onus on the schools to perform correctly. I was very encouraged when I saw the V-RAP Program and the funding model. And I hope they’ll look at that and consider the GI Bill model in that direction.
Mark Ambrose: That monitoring will just create better successes because of it being measured. And so, hopefully, the success of that program and the measuring of it will carry over to other programs.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Absolutely. You can never achieve a goal you don’t set. Just setting an expectation that something is supposed to occur makes it ten times more likely to occur. If you want something to happen in your life, put a post-it note on the mirror in your bathroom, and you’ll do things unconsciously and subconsciously to make sure that it happens. And eventually, you’ll hit that goal. I think that’s what we need to do. We need to have outcome goals.
And that’s what we create for the schools when we have a funding model after or for employment. If there is an outcome model that you need to meet, you’ll see more and more programs meeting those outcome models because it becomes a priority.
Mark Ambrose: And you’re going above and beyond by still offering your help while they’re out in the field.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Because again, our program was created by contractors for contractors. So, our goal is not to enroll the masses and make as much money as we can from the students. Our goal is to create a quality product for the contractor, so the contractors want to keep coming to us for those students. It becomes a supply and demand. Our school will cost a little more than some other schools, but we also believe in our quality product.
Mark Ambrose: You got a skilled technician on the other end of graduation, and that’s what they put your school together for. So, as you say, they’re not in it for the tuition growth. They’re in it for feeding their businesses with qualified technicians.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah. And the investment in a quality technician pays itself off ten times full for the contractor.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, I agree. Not that civilian students aren’t worth as much, but the veterans, as you said earlier, are used to a regime. They’re used to taking orders. They’ve used processes. They’re used to being clean and having everything in order. So, it’s a nice fit for the trade and for business owners to hire vets who have been skillfully trained in the trade.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: There are multiple benefits for the contractor because there are tax incentives for hiring vets. There’s a lot of tax incentives that come into hiring veterans. So that’s a benefit. And I have our contractors contact me regularly and say, “The veterans that you sent me are my top performers” all the time. They’re always at the top of that performance model. I had a contractor that gave me feedback about a couple of veteran students I had sent him. He said, “That guy you sent me six weeks ago is catching up with the guy that you sent me three months ago, and the guy from three months ago is already a top performer in my company.” The reality is when they come out of the military, they’re mission-focused. They’re focused on achieving goals. So, if you set goals, they’re going to work hard to achieve those goals.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. Nice. So, if you have good internal systems within your company, then they will shine within. If you’re an organized company, a military vet is a perfect fit for you. If you’re not organized, you might drive them crazy.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: You might drive them crazy or need to put them in a management position to organize things.
Mark Ambrose: Right? Bring your systems into play. Yeah, exactly. Are there any myths about your industry, the HVAC industry, or your certification education industry that you’d like to debunk?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Probably the biggest myth is that if you go into HVAC and pay a lot of money to go to a trade school, you’ll be in a minimum wage job for a long time before you can make some money. That is a myth. The reality is if you’re willing to work hard the day you get out in that field, you can have great opportunities to make a good living for yourself and your family soon.
And you need to look at every state. Licensure in every state is a little different. Some states want you to have an apprenticeship for two years. You may make a little bit less in those first two years doing an apprenticeship, but there’s a lot of states that don’t have that requirement. And so, it’s wide open. Like in Texas, you can start working for a contractor right away. And if you’re working hard and making calls, and you do not have callbacks, you’re going to do well.
Mark Ambrose: That’s great. Yeah. Even as a two-year apprentice, you’re young. You might feel like you’re getting older in your late twenties or something, but you’re still a spring chicken. You got a whole lifetime ahead. So, grab onto a career, a trade that will reward you forever.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah. And a lot of those when they have an apprenticeship program, if there’s a military guy and they register with the Department of Labor as an apprenticeship site for that period, that veteran also gets a stipend from the federal government during that time. So, it increases the value of those opportunities. The technician will want to stay in your program for that full duration because they’re getting a great incentive out of it as well. So, there are so many opportunities that people don’t realize.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. That’s fantastic. You touched on that the employer can get potential tax benefits from hiring a vet. I wasn’t aware of that. Can you touch on that a little bit?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yes. So, I don’t know all the employment laws and all the details. Still, I have employers that specifically are seeking out veteran hiring initiatives because they know they can get anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 in tax credits per veteran that they hired, just depending on the situation and things like that.
It can become a great benefit when you start looking at the tax implications and how it’s money you save in your taxes because you brought these veterans. Guedel will always have veteran hiring initiatives going on. I mean, it’s a very veteran-friendly company. They’re the ones that we’ve worked with quite a bit in that arena.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. I see Guedel on LinkedIn quite often celebrating the fact that they’ve hired more vets in one of their locations. So, they’re great. And they’ve got a great reputation in several states. I think they’re in the west here. I don’t know if they spread to the Midwest or east at all?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: As far as I know right now, they’re in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. And they may be in a couple of others. I know they’re branching out into other areas right now. The owner, Ken, is a great entrepreneur and looking at maximizing that business and making it work. And so, I know he opened branches in San Antonio, Texas, and Austin, Texas.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve watched Ken online also, and he is a stud. He is a smart guy. I believe he came in and turned Guedel around. Because when he was a kid, I don’t remember the entire story, but he got serviced by them also. So, he’s turned that company around, and they are hugely successful right now.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah. You know, he tells stories about when he held a flashlight for his dad and all kinds of stuff like that.
Mark Ambrose: There you go. Okay. That’s right. That’s what the kid on the truck is about. There is that image of the kid on the truck, a little illustration. It’s good for every company to have a story, right?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Right. Absolutely.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Talking about working with these military guys and working with the VA, I think the process of building those relationships could have gone a little smoother in the beginning if I understood how to work with the VA, through the VA, and with the state approving agencies and how all that works. It’s a bit cumbersome, and it’s a little bit difficult. And for a small school, it can be a challenge.
Another is how people talk about being an accredited school, so you get better financial aid. We’re not an accredited school, but what people don’t realize is as a small school, the cost to become accredited is outrageous to go through that. And accreditation doesn’t add much value to your school other than what people perceive that value. I mean, it’s more perceived value than a true value. A lot of accredited schools have taken advantage of students. I mean, that’s why we have the federal financial aid crisis. All accreditation does is allow you to receive Title IV funds. That’s what it’s all about.
I can guarantee you our state approving agency is very similar to the accrediting body. And I say that because I do accreditation site visits for medical schools. I understand the process. I know the behind-the-scenes, so I know how it works. It’s a formality to check and balance so that you have certain things in place. So that you’re a real school and you can offer federal financial aid, but the reality is the cost involved in doing that is not always worth it. And just because someone’s accredited, it doesn’t mean they’re a great school. Look at where they’re licensed and looked at their outcome and what they’re producing.
And I’ll put our school up against a lot of trade schools that are accredited. We’re not supposed to name people by name but can go to the Texas Workforce Commission. They have all the HVAC schools listed out, and our graduation rates and placement rates are higher than most. I would say they’re higher than all the accredited schools. At one time, they were, and I haven’t checked again since. Some of the big-name accredited schools in multiple cities within our state are double their graduation and placement rates.
Mark Ambrose: So, they are mostly money machines—tuition machines.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: That’s right. Just because they’re accredited, they’re credited because they want the Title IV money. They want to take your money.
Mark Ambrose: That’s so crazy.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: That’s my opinion.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. I think I share that opinion.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: For 30 years, that’s been my opinion.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. You’ve got the inside scoop. Even from the outside, most of us can be aware of that. Federal funds for tuition are a disaster—all kinds of lawsuits. I remember last year there was a big class-action lawsuit. And we’ve forgiven student debt in the hundreds of millions in the last few years. Right?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: They just forgave all the debt for the students who went to ITT, one of these technical tools out there. But what they were doing was just trying to enroll as many people as possible, some of them under false pretenses. Some of the students never even attended school, but they collected federal financial aid for them. I mean, those are the bad players that caused all these problems, and they were accredited schools. You need to look at the quality of the outcome for the school and not focus on just accreditation or other things like that.
Mark Ambrose: How do people look that up? You mentioned it on the state website.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: We’re licensed by the Texas Workforce Commission. Education is a state responsibility. It’s governed by each state independently. So, every state will have a different process, but for Texas, all technical schools must be registered and licensed by the Texas Workforce Commission.
And so, the Texas workforce commission publishes all that data. You can search “barber schools,” and it’ll tell you everything about the barber schools. You can search “HVAC” and pull up the schools that do that kind of training and what their stats are for the year.
Mark Ambrose: So maybe just Googling something like “grading technical schools” in whatever state you’re in could be a good start.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: You can look up “licensing in technical schools,” and it’ll take you to a licensed agency. And then, you’ll be able to pull data from the licensing agency.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, that’s crazy. So once again, measure the outcome. Don’t just look at the accreditation of a course organization without measuring the outcome. The students in those situations are given a sham of an education that may or may not apply to real-world happenings. And then there is no job placement after that. So, they get a bad taste for the industry and may even be depressed. They’ve just spent money. They owe money. Now they have to start over somewhere else. That’s a terrible situation.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Yeah. The reality is that anybody going to a school is going to get out of it what you put into it. And so, you can go to a school that may not be one of the best players and still get a good education comes out, and do well. But it’s whatever effort you put into it that’s going to make that difference. And so, I don’t want to put one school over another. There’s the right place for everybody. But I would say people shouldn’t judge a school just because of accreditation status. Look at their outcomes and find that data. Look at the outcomes that they’re producing.
Mark Ambrose: Nice. And you’re right. It’s also your own output. So, you get out of it what you put into it. Even in a bad situation, you could extract gold out of it. So, what’s your favorite part, Thomas? What’s your favorite part of being with this organization?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: As an educator, it’s all about watching people reach their full potential. Some people have so much undiscovered potential within themselves. And when you allow them to do something that will better their lives and further them along their path, that’s a great reward. We all should be here to help each other become the best person we can be personally, professionally, et cetera. That’s what I look forward to. Some of these military guys that have come to us, they’ve been right on the verge of homelessness. One guy was living out of the back of his van when he came, and now they’re able to buy a house. They’re able to do things that they never thought they would be able to do. And that’s a great reward.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah. That’s goose pimples stuff. Right? I got the hair raising a little bit right now. Yeah, you’re dramatically changing people’s lives. It’s priceless. What advice would you give somebody who’s going into the HVAC business?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Be prepared to work hard. If you’re thinking about going into a school and you’re thinking about training for this industry, what I would recommend is to contact some of the local contractors in your area.
Just find out who’s hiring. Go on Indeed and find out who’s hiring. Go to their office. I mean, these are salespeople. They’re used to it. Go sell yourself and talk to them and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this training to join this industry, but I really want to get a better understanding of what it’s like. Would you mind if I do a ride-along with one of your technicians on a Saturday?” Do a ride-along. See what that day encompasses. I don’t want people to come to our program, and they don’t realize what all they’re going to have to do. As a technician, you’re going to crawl under a house.
You’re going to crawl through an attic. You’re going to deal with difficult situations. You’re going to deal with dogs in the backyard. You’re going to deal with all kinds of things. And the reality is that you need to know what to expect so that you’re getting into the profession, saying, “Hey, I know what this is, and I want to do it.”
If I get someone who wants to do it and has the energy to do it, and they’re excited about it, we can get you out there and have a great career.
Mark Ambrose: That’s fantastic advice. Actually. I haven’t heard anybody say that in like 20 or 30 years. In the old days, we used to do information interviews. Exactly what you said. “Do you think you want to be a “_____?” Well, then find a company that does it and see if you can do a ride-along and get immersed for a few days. That’s not only educating the person who’s considering being an HVAC tech, but also they’re establishing a relationship with that company who is already impressed.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: I give this advice to people pretty regularly, and I’ve had some people do that, and the contractor likes them. “Hey, this guy, he shows up every day on time when he said he was going to come in, even though we’re not paying him. I love this guy. I’ll tell you what. You go to this school, and when you get out, you come back, and I’m going to give you a job.” That’s ideal. That’s really where I’d like to be. I would like to have every student have a job before they ever get here. So, we try to match people up or do things like that as well.
We also work with many contractors who may have someone a little bit green or do well as an installer. And the contractor says, “Hey, this guy could do more than what he’s doing.” So, they’ll send them to us for training, and they’ll go back, and they’ll put them in a van. And the guy would be really successful. I’ve had people that have five, even ten years’ experience in a van come to school here, and they always come back and say, “Wow, I feel like I need to write an apology letter to some of the people who I fixed stuff for before.”
There’s always more to learn. You’re going to learn if you put effort into it. We can help someone from a novice to someone with ten years of experience become a better tech.
Mark Ambrose: I like that. Yeah, sure. Because, for the most part, in the industry, you’re learning from the tech beside you. And they’ve learned from the tech that they started with. So, there are gaps in the information.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: When you pass the information along, it changes each time slightly, right?
Mark Ambrose: That’s Telephone, the elementary school lineup game. Line up ten kids, give them a phrase to pass down, and by the time the 10th person has it, it’s a whole different message.
I like the advice of going out and finding an HVAC company in your local area. Google it and find the ones with the best reviews, the most reviews verified on Yelp and Google, maybe Home Advisor, and then go in for an information interview and dip your toe. See if this is the right business for you. You’ll impress that business owner. That doesn’t happen too much anymore. Used to happen a lot back in the day. I’m an old gray-haired guy here.
Dr. Thomas Moorman: I’m right there with you. Yeah, I’m right there with you.
Mark Ambrose: Are there a couple of books that you recommend to anybody out there?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: Well, there’s two things. I’m a strong Christian. So, I always recommend the Bible. I say every leadership lesson you really need to know is in the Bible somewhere. If you want to go to a business book, I love just about everything that Patrick Lencioni has ever written. His book, The Advantage, is one of the best management books that I’ve ever read. There are a lot of moral lessons and a lot about moral integrity. What really makes good leaders is communication.
Mark Ambrose: Yeah, I agree with that. Communication is important, and so is treating everybody equally and leading by example.
Mark Ambrose: Okay, Dr. Thomas Mormon, I appreciate you being informal with us here today. Where can our listeners connect with you online, doctor?
Dr. Thomas Moorman: The best way to get in touch with us at the Perfect Technician Academy is our website, perfecttechnicianacademy.com. On YouTube, we have a channel with some of our testimonials and videos. That’s where many of the podcasts and news stories that have covered the things we’ve done can be found. The website is the primary place.
If you’re interested in coming, there’s an Apply Now button. The application is free. I’d be glad to talk to you. So, thank you.
Mark Ambrose: Beautiful. Thank you. Thomas is great information for the audience. Really appreciate it. I hope our listeners got some value from this interview. Thanks for sharing your time and attention with us.