Jess calls out all the women out there and shows how HVAC can as well be XX

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Jessica Bannister looks into the camera on a bright day in Vancouver, Canada.

Vancouver, Canada – October, 2020

I am in HVAC because of my family. My dad has always been in this business. He was an apprentice in the 1970’s for his dad. So, my brother and I are third generation HVAC contractors. So right after high school I went into the corporate life, I spent about 10 years in corporate finance in downtown Vancouver, Canada, where I live.

Then I decided to join the family business, so when I started, I was in bookkeeping and doing the accounting, marketing, and office stuff. But I still had a feeling like I wasn’t fulfilled, and so I asked to go in a few jobs with my dad and my brother. I went along and I enjoyed it so much and I was like “I’m not staying in the office. Why do I have to stay there?” So, I registered as an HVAC apprentice here in the province of British Columbia.

And I’m just making my way through the apprenticeship program now.

I’ve been working in the field for about 2 years now, however I’m still only a first-year apprentice. So, I still have a few years to go through before I’m qualified, when I can actually go on jobs by myself, as a ticketed qualified person.

So yeah, I’ve got about 2 years of experience, but I’m still not fully qualified.

Jessica is in front of her work truck.

So, some of the challenges I would say for myself are I’m a pretty small person in general and I find sometimes that I don’t have the physical strength like, say, my brother has. Sometimes I find that I’m underlying his strength. However, I think it is a really good time to be a woman in the trade because our tools and technology that we use are really helping us to do our job. You don’t have to be a big strong man anymore; you can use a certain tool to get the job done. Yeah, so that’s pretty good.

If you are a woman and you are currently thinking of joining an HVAC trade, do it. Don’t let anything hold you back. People will try to hold you back and ask you “why you wanna do this?”. When I first started my mom said, “what is your husband going to think?”. However, my husband has been very supportive.

The second thing I would say is: find a company that you can learn from, or somebody that you can learn from, someone willing to teach you. I’m nervous that some girls will start their careers in HVAC with a bad mentor and then get a bad feeling of the overall industry and there are definitely people out there that are wanting to help, they want to see you succeed. If you start with a bad company, move on, don’t let that sway you from your entire career.

Jessica standing next to an HVAC roof unit.

Personally, I do feel like I have an advantage having my family in the business. My dad and my brother, they look out for me all the time. They really want to see me succeed. But honestly, I really think that any woman that wants to get into the trade absolutely can and should.

If you are looking on social media now, as ladies in the HVAC trade, we are coming out every day, there’s always somebody new, a new profile and we are excited to share our experiences and help each other. I might have an advantage coming from an HVAC family, but any lady can do it. Any woman.

(follow Jessica on Instagram @hvacjess)

Still I think there are not enough ladies in the trade, definitely not enough. I think there is a very small percentage, I don’t actually know the percentage of it, but, for example, I went to trade school earlier this year and in a class of twenty people there were two ladies and I hear  that’s common, actually they said two is more than the usual, there’s usually only one lady.

So, the proportions of man and woman is off still. But I think it also takes a “certain kind of woman to want to be in the industry”. A lot of girls don’t want to have that kind of life, as silly as having dirty fingernails every day, but that’s what I’ve chosen, and that’s what I really enjoy doing. I love the “hands-on”, the constant learning, there’s something new every single day. There are challenges and rewards that come with those challenges.

Jessica is hand-on on the HVAC roof unit.

So, I think it does take a certain type of woman to want to be in the trade, but I think we can get some more. And honestly, I think that if we just educate girls starting really young, at school age that this option is out there for them, I think there will be more women in the trade.

I’m not particularly part of any HVAC group for women as of now. I think we just kind of found each other through social media and we form some sort of friendships online. It would be a great thing to have a community of women in the trade. There are certainly ones that are local, here in Vancouver, not HVAC specific, but for women in trades, like, organizations that put women who work in trades together.

It would be great to have an international organization for women in HVAC where we could speak and support each other, if there’s nothing like it, well, I might start one, who knows.

There is one girl that I do follow on Instagram. She started a blog that she’s going to turn into a podcast, I believe it is called “woman behind the wrench”.

(Listen the podcast of Women behind the wrench)

My average day starts at 5:15 AM. I have my alarm set every day. I usually work out between 6 and 7 AM. I’m missing it today, but that’s ok! Then I’ll come home in a rush, change and go out the door at around 8:00 AM. My daily work routine changes every single day, in fact even if I have a plan of job and services that I might do, it could change overnight since maybe one of our customers has an emergency like their freezer is gone down and they are losing their product, perhaps a restaurant, or a food distributor so we have to rearrange our day and make them our top priority.

Jessica shows her flexes her muscles to the camera.

I’m fortunate that one day of the week, usually on Wednesdays, I will stay in the office. So, I do bookkeeping, and paperwork. I also use this day for my toastmaster member activities, so I’m very lucky to have this day in the middle of the week where I can change things up a little bit. The other four days are rush-rush, madness, get it all done! So, I love the whole week.

The company I work for is called Camcool refrigeration, that’s my dad’s company, we are very small, just the three of us, it’s my dad, my brother and me. We are lucky because we get to do a little bit of everything. We do brand-new systems installations, repairs and replacements as well as service maintenance.

As an apprentice, because I’m still learning I have to be very closely supervised, but right now, because I passed my level one, I can go and do HVAC maintenance services on my own which is very exciting! And I’m looking forward to a time where I’ll be able to go and do a service call by myself.

Right now, I need someone on my side to confirm that the things I’m diagnosing are correct. I still make a lot of mistakes, just because I’m still learning.

We also do basic repairs, we take care of rooftop replacements, those are my favorite because there is a crane involved and it’s very dramatic and exciting and makes for excellent social media content!

Jessica is reading an HVAC book while enjoying a coffee.

Since we are considered an essential service we’ve been working through the entire pandemic and I think we are already at a new normal where we see things a little bit more restricted, definitely wearing facemasks wherever we can.

We are quite lucky though because we work by ourselves for the most part. There’s little interaction, just when we get to a site, but when we are usually on the roof and we can take our masks off and we are pretty safe. I think during the height of the pandemic people put their maintenance and their expenditures on hold. They just stopped.

So, we saw a drop in our services for sure. But I think now going forward people will continue with their maintenance. Because it’s important to have good air quality indoors. I think it’s definitely gonna catch up and then it’s going to be consistent for a while.

It’s just hard to say what is going to happen, especially in the province where I live. We dealt with COVID-19 very well. But now I think we are getting complacent like “it’s over” and “it’s not a big deal anymore” when I think we should still be wary.

Jess is smiling at the camera while on top of her red motorbike.

There is just always so much to learn. If I had more time, I would just absorb all of the resources out there. I got a textbook that´s so thick! It is like a door stop! But online right now, on YouTube, or even on Instagram the things that you can learn are amazing. I would love to have more time to dedicate to those resources.

What I love about social media and people sharing their experiences about HVAC is that you learn the strangest amazing things.

There are certain things that you learn at school, but people out there in the field, that are actually working with their hands, with the tools they found, with that funny little thing that you wouldn’t think of and you watch their video, and once you step into the same problem you already know the answer because you’ve seen it from somebody else.