My name is Jessica Bannister and I am currently a Level 4 HVAC/R Apprentice in BC, Canada. In British Columbia, we have a 4-year apprenticeship which will probably end up taking me 6 years to complete. I work with my dad and my brother at our family business, Cam Cool Refrigeration where we specialize in commercial and light industrial air conditioning and refrigeration.
Refrigeration is in my blood. My dad was an apprentice for his dad back in the 1970s and my brother followed in my dad’s footsteps right after high school. But as a girl, HVAC was never considered an option for me. I went the traditional route of going to college and getting an office job. In 2017, I was offered an administrative position at Cam Cool (where I had skills and experience). I busied myself with networking groups, the local Chamber of Commerce and a lot of social media.
About 9 months into working in the Cam Cool office, I started getting antsy with “another desk job” and asked my dad if I could go on a ride-along with him. I wanted to see what his day to day was like, the challenges he solved, the places he visited and the people he met. And I loved it so much, I found myself squirreling away the bookkeeping for evenings and weekends (which I still do!) and asking to go out more and more. So much, in fact, that I decided to register officially as an apprentice and get my own Red Seal Ticket.
One thing I love most about my job as a commercial HVAC/R technician is that every day is different. No two days are the same and it’s very exciting for me. Some days we spend the whole day at the same location, perhaps on a major repair or a system installation/replacement. Some days we visit 5 – 6 different places with service calls, never knowing what you’re going to find when you arrive. Some days we know exactly where we’re going and what we’re doing with scheduled maintenance services and filter changes. Some days we finish at noon and some days we finish after dinner time.
Since we are such a small company, we tend to start our day strategizing at the office first. Then we head off to our local supplier/wholesaler to get the parts we need for that day (unless we had time to do it during the course of the previous day). Then we’re off for the day!
We get to work on all kinds of heating and cooling equipment for every industry imaginable. I’ve worked at factories that make or process plastics, glass, concrete, grains, metal, nut milks, etc. I’ve worked on equipment for lobster tanks (they like to be chilly!), salmon hatcheries, I work on walk-in; reach-in; display coolers and freezers. And, of course, rooftop air conditioners, heaters, and heat pumps.
The dirtiest days are my favorite, feeling accomplished and satisfied with my work at the end of the day. Helping people solve real problems – whether it’s bringing comfort to someone, or saving their livelihoods from melting away – is the most rewarding thing.
As part of my apprenticeship, for about 10 weeks during the year, I attend refrigeration school full time. It’s very intense theory lectures and weekly exams. I have one of these sessions left.
My HVAC/R apprenticeship is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I am making good money working in the field that I’m studying, while I’m learning it! And when I am finished, I will come out with a Red Seal ticket in a skilled trade that is recession and pandemic-proof and is only becoming more in demand as the climate changes.