Damian Phillips, one of the Trade Academy 2021 HVAC Scholarship winners, applied his philosophy of ‘always attempt to fix something that’s broken before disposing of it’ to his AC unit when it broke during a hot summer season. This led him to understand the importance of the HVAC-R industry and how he can make a future in such a career.
Damian immigrated to the United States 5 years ago from Jamaica. He shared that he grew up in a culture that encourages fixing something before you throw it away. He explained that in Jamaica “they still have 1960’s cars running.” He goes on to say, “We have this mentality that anything that was made can be fixed or repaired. If we can’t find the exact part, we make it.” Damian is applying this mindset to his own career as an HVAC technician.
“Sir, I’m from a country where we fix things.”
It’s important to Damian that his customers are treated fairly and not taken advantage of. One of the reasons he decided to go into the skilled trades is because of his own experience when his AC unit stopped working. After someone looked at his broken air conditioner, Damian was told that the entire thing would have to be replaced. It was an expensive solution. Instead of succumbing to the heat of the summer and agreeing to get it replaced, Damian did some research. He learned about his air conditioning system and decided to attempt to fix it by purchasing a capacitor he found on ebay for $10 . It was a much more economic solution than the one suggested to him. With some patience, a desire to problem-solve, and a mindset that fixing something should be tried before throwing something away, Damian successfully got his air conditioner up and running.
Read more from our interview with Damian Phillips below as he discusses his story and how he is finishing up school at Eastland-Fairfield Career Center to become an HVAC technician.
What does winning this scholarship mean to you?
Well, it means a lot. I’m still pinching myself to see if it’s real because I just got the invitation in my inbox from school and I applied. I was like, I’m just going to tell my story. And, you know, I didn’t apply to say yes, I must win, and I can’t recall winning anything in my life so this is very surreal. But it means a lot. I have a 14 year old, so even starting this going to school for HVAC, my son is my motivator. I didn’t go to college or anything like that. I actually am doing this for him, which is still a secret. I’m not telling him until I graduate. It means a lot.
What do you plan to do with the scholarship award?
I will definitely be using it towards my tuition because last year when I decided in January I wanted to go to school I had no idea how I was going to do that. It was thousands of dollars when I applied and I did all my acceptance exams. The scholarship money helps. That definitely will be going towards my tuition.
In your scholarship submission, you wrote that you immigrated to America 5 years ago with an “intention to better yourself educationally and financially.” Can you tell me more about what a career in HVAC means to you as an immigrant and what drew you to that career path?
Well, this is interesting that you ask that. It was approximately three or four weeks ago I started listening to podcasts discussing long term goals. These podcasts from Jamaica, my country, generally people don’t think about retirement or anything like that. So I heard an advertisement where some Spanish company was going to do some hotels in Jamaica and I’m like, okay there goes my whole going back home thing. The guy in my hometown who used to do HVAC refrigeration died about five years ago and there’s nobody really doing that right now professionally. Learning so I can really better myself and go back to better my country so I can either go and work for one of those people. You can just imagine getting paid to just do the maintenance. I think that's the kind of goal to have but right now just finish up school and then start working. Experiencing and learning all I can is very important. Like I said, in my application, the year before my AC went down, called a bunch of people, and one guy tried to rip my off. All I needed was a capacitor and I did it on my own. I’m like, alright, let’s dig more into this. I began to learn about wifi thermostats which I did not know about in Jamaica. My furnace is a Linux and it’s very old and had to do some research. I had to do all of that on my own. It didn’t have the board so I had to find the common wire and connect that to the thermostat switch. That’s how I started. I was like, this is interesting. I don’t believe in cheating people. You know, I see that. I’m experiencing a lot of people that are in it for the money or quick money. It’s cold outside now, when someone’s furnace goes down, you just want to get back up and running. Someone says they’re going to charge $1,000 and you just want the heat in your house, you know. Especially if you have kids or pets. I think that’s unfair. It’s a good field but some people are making it bad for others. So I want to make a difference
You also shared the story about your AC not running in 2019 and the frustration you experienced from other technicians. Can you tell me more about that experience and how it inspired you to learn HVAC yourself?
So this was when the summer starts and I’m not sure who heard it first, but it was humming noise outside. I didn’t know anything about it. I’m from Jamaica which is similar to Cuba, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but they still have 1960’s cars running. We have this mentality that anything that was made can be fixed or repaired. If we can’t find the exact part, we make it. My wife and I began making calls to get someone to come fix our AC unit. This guy says he’s going to come out but then his attitude changed saying everyone is calling him and he has a lot to do. I’m like, okay, fine. So a friend came over and he didn’t pull a screw or do anything. He just looked at my system and said, “Oh, it’s old.” I’m like, “Sir, I’m from a country where we fix things.” You know, the culture in America can be wasteful and just throw away stuff. I mean, things are changing because back in the days, I have a lot of experience with equipment. I am a musician as well. I was turned off by the guy saying it was old. I don’t want to spend $1,600 at the time and I was like no I don’t have that kind of money to spend right now. So I went on YouTube and watched a video and this gentleman, I don’t recall his name, said to just try some stuff. He was saying you could save yourself $1,600 by just trying. If you hear the compressor running and I’m like, oh, that’s the compressor I’m hearing. If you hear the compressor running and the fan is not spinning, just take a long screwdriver and spin it. It starts spinning, that’s the capacitor. All you have to do is take off the back plate, go in, and you can get it from ebay, which I did. I got my capacitor from ebay for like $10 including shipping. It came in two days and I was so excited. I was working at a car dealership at the time. I told my wife to turn the thing on and I was like yes!I was thinking about this maybe two weeks ago, before I was a music school teacher. That year when I left 2012 I started a business where I had from xbox 360 in a in a building like a game shop so kids will come in actually by like time for i'll set the TV and sleep. And over like 30 minutes for free, whichever game they wanted, and all that and i'm like I want to have something different from the other shops, because they're like for other stuff that and i'm like. Let me as the side like flat screen TV drama at a scene, you know this is aesthetics, to get people like I want to go to that shop. And I did the beat you calculation, on my own, which i'm I was just remembering that day to day i'm like I went online type of course there'll be to Kathy says, which of course I didn't know what know before, but now i'm like everything is falling into place, you know.
Your video submission highlights the importance of credibility with customers. You were charged thousands for a new outdoor unit but you were able to figure out that all you needed to do was replace the capacitor from ebay for $10. Why is credibility so important in the HVAC industry?
Well, I've been an entrepreneur since I was almost 14 years old, I used to walk the streets of forced into an answer, like candy. And so I I tried to get the best of this because my thing is, it can take like along to the time to get a customer, but it can take like a minute. For example, don't Dave I mentioned, I don't have their numbers in my phone so there's no way i'm going to call them to say check that guy if you have a problem. You know, and like I say because of my discipline, I had my own band like I said i'm a musician and all that stuff and I know that once you make the customer feel good than happy about what you did for them. And they'll give me five like you're ripping them off or whatever, then you'll have a customer for life and if i'm working for a company that is what you want. You know you don't want people to call it, and say Oh, a call Center in whatever and they came on the direct mail is not that's right for you and then know the age that we're living in all it takes is the teacher reports to kill you. That's all it is but one person, you know just being just satisfied with your thing for you and then. If it's a personal thing and again, maybe different from the musician side if I go to I did and everybody's enjoying them so that makes it more than the money that say something. You know, so that credibility it's all about for the data that things weren't going to keep you surviving so know you'll get more work as when someone ever came across the card call this guy, that is what I want.
Has your skills as a musician translated or served you in any way working in the trades?
music is everything like if you're feeling down, you can listen to music, I need to feel worse or, better, you know if you're at a party and see a wedding reception and. The district is playing some pricing that's not happy with me, I can relate that to HR people, including if it's called out on the recording side you're going to be miserable. And uncomfortable vice versa, if your heart can yes, so it really so bringing that quality, you know, and a comfort which music does. It does.
What message would you share with someone considering a career in HVAC?
First, I would say, and maybe somebody wouldn't work sphere and may not agree with me, but I think if you think about it like it's great you know. Impossible kind of thing to do and don't don't approach it like that, like if you have a look for doing something that is rewarding because at the end of the day. What are you doing installing our service like i've been going back to leave in the customer satisfied. That is key, so if you have the zeal within you to say, I want to do something that is actually beneficial in fact. I don't know if I should publicly say this, but I find myself saying it's a lot like if you talk about job security. This is one of the sweetest see likes to the other than the pandemic like a pilot pilots weren't working when I saw the photos with a bunch of planes, in a word, you're just scared of those are kind of my thought that there would be a time when pilots weren't playing but i'm sure people wanted their ear or their he. Doing whichever month, it was you know so in terms of job security, like it's going nowhere it's only going to get better and better like. It so in terms of that if you want to do something that is going to last you don't have to worry about again, let me add i'm actually a photographer and videographer. And I did news for the leading communication grouping in Jamaica they're called Archer communication group, so I used to cover my Parish, which is portland so whichever a friend who cares election if the Prime Minister coming to portland that would need be covering it. To get the nation or the world to see it, and all that and I came here and I was really trying for like three four years getting into even the local channels here. But I wasn't feeling that that push i'm like i'm at a point in my life I want something else, I want to add something else to anything and then right now, which even before I leave Jamaica, I was doing news on myself for my iPhone. So now anybody with a phone can actually record i'm like no, I want to do something that is more meaningful like something that I feel special about doing you know which he was. Like I said when people find important when they need from here and there is none, or when their pocket any cool so yeah.
Why do you think it’s difficult to recruit people into the Trades?
Well it's a bunch of stuff like again i'm 41 almost 42 i'm growing up like if I said in primary school that grateful that I wanted to be a tree person. Maybe you were the teachers would look down on you and say no, you need to be an engineer, or you need to be a pilot or even to be a doctor, all of these things like even the other day I was working on. The carpet is during the pandemic and they kept me on and then that was the first time, I was told about the essential services like I never heard that, before you know so like. People didn't see our haven't recognized the importance of trade people. So, like I think that's part of it so even parents will push mmm my son. When he was like he was like Oh, I want to be a firefighter and i'm like you know you're not gonna make no money from firefighters and it's dangerous you can go into a building and then I think I got a call that my son and I. Of course I started to know is like you want to be a chef and a racecar driver of course i'm not charging him on the racecar driving part. As fear, but like I said, like even shipping shows right know that they could one meal and they're making more than people working as a manager some company. So I think part of it is the myth information that they look down and street and people look down, and you, especially for meals like and of my race like we think about the fast money. You need to have a big car in no time and a big phone and the latest of all of that, and which sorry to be talking all about this thing, but that is what push them to crime and violence, because. The only the only easy money, I know is illegal money. So that's a part of it, and again on the serious side of age work like I think has to be dedicated i'm still in school like seven eight months, I know I haven't started learning nothing. I'm barely scratched the surface. I'm not going out there, but again i'm saying I have my long term goal, where maybe in five six years, I can go back home i'm just getting paid because of my knowledge, so. i'm willing to learn at this stage so maybe if we start changing the message to say okay somebody's getting recognition doesn't have to be the person we saw. Academically bright, you know, for the time all that whatever they need to do, because at my church. A surgeon, he has delivered over 2000 from duty and was talking to me about different acne Hall, because this song. Was in insurances and he's very bright and all of that way you want to do something with your hands and i'm like it started for me and i'm encouraging you to say go do it. Because i'm already said, if I could not sit there on a deck that's not for me so that's another thing if i'm a young person know that they're good with their hand sort of figure out stuff troubleshooting and all of that. I would tell them to do that, and then, if they go I think it's on the tree that had amazing like you go to college for for seven years you're coming out with that. And i'm sure in couple of months time i'll be making a lot of money, like that's the guarantee I don't think about that.
Meet more of the winners
Want to learn more about the other exceptional winners of the Trade Academy 2021 HVAC Scholarship? Click here to see the list of scholarship award winners.