With a name like Asa Spade, it’s no surprise he’s been able to achieve his goal of becoming an HVAC technician regardless of the hand he’s been given. Asa is out in the field as one of the first 2021 HVAC scholarship winners to have graduated from trade school already. He attended The Training Center of Air Conditioning and Heating located in the Houston, TX area and completed the program last December.
His HVAC instructor, Shane, said, “Asa is a sharp young man. He was always involved and volunteered. He is going to make a great technician.” Asa’s drive to constantly improve and learn is what made his scholarship submission stand out. Along with many of the other recipients of the Trade Academy HVAC Scholarship, he values education and understands what it means to have the training and certifications necessary to invest in his future.
“It’s an investment and it’s a much more affordable investment than going to a four year university for something that might not even be in demand.”
An interesting view Asa covered in his scholarship submission stated that work can be depicted as art. He goes on to say that he’s witnessed experienced HVAC technicians that perform their skills like artists and have crafted skills over years that really set them apart from amateurs. He believes that work is art and it’s “mandatory to the human condition.” His passion to improve his skills and learn as much as he can from experienced professionals is a winning hand.
We had the opportunity to chat with Asa about his experience getting into the HVAC industry and how he made that transition from a more traditional route of education. Check out more about why he chose to leave a four year university and make a career change into the HVAC profession, as well as his advice to those considering a career in the trades.
What does winning this scholarship mean to you?
It is a huge sense of validation almost because I've been feeling for like the past few years, you know i've been kind of getting into HVAC. And I've kind of had this sense of almost kind of like an imposter syndrome sort of feeling like I didn't really feel like I belonged, all the way. But you know once I actually took that opportunity and I reached out, and I did the scholarship and I was like out, it was out of my mind at that point, so I just kind of did it and. The fact that I got it is like a huge sense of like wow i'm you know i'm in this, you know, like I've got people look at me and they hear me you hear what I have to say, and they kind of. They see potential in me so that really meant the world to me; that there's people out there and in other parts of the country who saw something in me, now that feels really great.
What do you plan to do with the scholarship award?
It’s actually coming at the right time because I’m about to start a new job. I’ve already been in the process of buying tools and stuff like that, and that adds up pretty quickly. Specifically, troubleshooting tools and that’s going to be a big portion of it. Then also paying myself back from school because I paid out of pocket and that’s kind of what I was saving up for. Two to three years ago, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do, but once I saw that I had the amount saved up, I was like I can do this school now, and I can go. Part of that will just kind of be paying myself back, but yeah, the tools are the biggest part of that because there’s gonna be tons and tons of stuff that I’m going to have to get.
In your scholarship submission, you began your video by saying, “Work is art.” Can you tell me more about how you view work as art?
I never really thought about it that way until a few years ago when I started reading books on different forms of economic systems and how they affect our personalities, the way that we see life and stuff. There’s a lot that goes into who we are and where we fit into a collective society and our role. It gives us a sense of importance so work is something that is mandatory to the human condition. I think that as a part of that, it becomes a sense of who we are and through that if you’re doing something that’s in-tune with who you are, then that is art. If you use your hands, especially, you have that sense of connection with what you’re doing. Especially in the trades, I feel that’s kind of like the modern day version. A lot of it has been watered down, unfortunately, just because of industrialization, you know. You’re not working on the full picture anymore. You’re working on specific parts. I do believe that work is art. It’s just that it takes time to get to that point. I’m not there yet, all the way you know, but I want to be there one day to where I’m going in and it doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like my calling.
You also said, “we should be in an environment where we can hone our craft.” What sort of environment inspires your best work or hones your craft?
I do have a competitive nature, so I know that whenever I’m around people who are at their best, and I see that, it kind of stirs something up in me. I want to sit at that table, too, and I want to be able to be a part of that discussion. In the conversation of like who the best guys are here and it’s pretty much a feeling like, you know, no matter what I’m doing, I guess. If I get into it, I get competitive so there’s that but then there’s also just being around people who are true tradesmen, not people who claim to know everything and try to lie to you and pretend like they’re the smartest person in the world, but people who are willing to show you the mistakes that they’ve made and the knowledge to help you. Like, you know, to propel you. Those are the kinds of people that I really enjoy being around. They aren’t afraid to share what they’ve learned and to also point out where I’m lacking and where I need improvement.
Your description of observing talented technicians brazing refrigerant lines and equating them to Picaso is unique. How would you describe HVAC technicians as artists?
Brazing is the most obvious one for me because there is an actual art style of flame painting, where people are painting copper using different torches. You could say it’s your first time brazing anything and you’re just getting the metals really hot and you’re putting the filler metal on there, and you know you could figure it out in a way. But if you’re really experienced, you’ve been doing it for years, and you can tell, they have their torches set - they know exactly the way they want it set up. They know exactly how close the flame is getting. They’re not all shaky, they’re not nervous, they know exactly what color the copper is supposed to be turning whenever it’s ready and at the right temperature. They take something that on the surface, yeah, you know you’re taking a torch to pieces of metal just like if you’re on a canvas painting. Yeah, you’re using your hand like this, you know, but it takes a true artist to see there’s so much more going in there. Where you wouldn’t know how much is going in there until you spent 20 years perfecting it.
In your video submission you talked about watching a tradesperson work is humbling. Can you tell me more about why you find that humbling?
Actually, I had that same exact scenario three or four years ago. I would have told you I don’t know anything about tools, I knew what a screwdriver looked like but I didn’t know. I knew Phillips and flathead and that’s pretty much the extent of what I knew about tools and stuff. I didn’t have any sort of hand skills at all, and I just got into this because I wanted to try something new. I was kind of at a point in life where I was wanting to get my feet wet and see what I wanted to do, so I did. It was humbling because I considered myself an intelligent person as many people do. We have a sense of ego where we’re like, yeah, you know, I have a chip on my shoulder. Once I got there and I realized I was struggling with some of these simple things in the grand scheme of like construction or maintenance, and stuff like that. I was like, wow you know, this is something I’ve never done before and I’m working around guys who, if you look on paper, they might not be as educated, they don’t have the academia behind them. But what I really saw was that they have tangible experience. Not only are they showing up to work and doing a job that’s difficult, it’s not only difficult with your mind because of troubleshooting, but because of being frustrated, because of being in the heat, and because of being tired - like these are things that I feel like just got me to start looking at it differently. I felt like people were taken for granted a lot in these trades because they’re doing things that are essential. If these things are not done, society would not function. It was a humbling thing because I realized that I’m not as high and mighty or as big as I think I am. There’s always places for me where I’m not an expert, I’m a total beginner, and there’s people out there that can make me look like I’m a toddler.
You mentioned that you attempted a different educational route and then came to the Trades. Can you tell me about how you got involved in the Trades?
After I graduated high school in 2017 I went to Texas State University and I was there for a year and I really wasn’t happy there. I liked school, I liked learning about things, but I wasn’t happy about just how much it was costing me and I just knew that it wasn’t feasible for me to do that and actually be certain that this is what I wanted to be doing, because it was an investment. It wasn’t just something I would do on a whim. So I left and took a sales job. I’d never been out of Texas, so I left that and I went and did like door to door sales in Michigan for a summer and that was fun, I learned something new and I got people skills. Yea, I had an experience and came back to Texas, after that, a few months, and this is in 2018. I started living at this apartment complex called Cabana Beach and they were hiring. I had a job at a movie theater right next to it, that’s how I was paying the rent. Then I saw they were hiring. I applied for the front desk position because I had a sales background, and decided to live where I work. I worked there for about a month and I didn’t like the front desk at all. People always come in and complain, but I still wanted to work there. So I actually was talking to the maintenance guys and their summer turn was coming up where they got to do maintenance on all the apartments and I was like, hey can I help y’all out. Can I do light bulbs, do anything y’all need me to do. I can do some labor, and so little by little they gave me hours and I just started out helping them with small maintenance and then I’m a fast learner so I wanted to do more. Then eventually I was like I don’t want to be in the office at all, I want to be doing maintenance with these guys. This is fun for me. I enjoy coming into work because it was the first time in life, whenever work didn’t feel like a chore. It felt like, ‘wow, I’m learning a lot.’ I started working full time and I did that, and so, at that point, I was there for like half a year, you know or something, then I started working full time maintenance. I just started doing whatever I could, working on dryers, washers, and learning learning learning. Then I hit a point where I was wanting to do the AC’s and wanted to learn about that, and then I quickly realized that there were the people there who I was learning from, they couldn’t provide information that I needed to know. So that’s whenever I started to think that I should consider trade school. I worked there for a little while longer. I went to a different place. Here in 2021 I went to a different place in Austin and I worked there some time. Then I was like I don't want to be in the apartment maintenance, I want to go into HVAC specifically. I want to go into work knowing that I’m going to work on AC’s. I don’t want to think about the other stuff. That’s kind of how I ended up where I am now.
Why do you think it’s difficult to recruit people into the Trades?
There might be a stigma. I don’t know about other parts of the country, I was raised in Texas in a small town. I did well in school. I didn’t know anything about trade stuff. I don't know anything about that. But I learned the school stuff that they teach like mathematics, science, and reading and all that. I feel like I am successful in school, and having to learn about trade stuff like the concepts of electricians and construction management, and all these things. It made me undervalue how important those things are in life. I think that kind of happens in a lot of places, because vocational training, I feel, was popular before but then wasn’t as popular, or something. So I think the stigma is a big thing, because I know I kind of had a stigma, now I realize that this is work that geniuses are doing. It’s genius to use some of these machines and stuff. Then I also think that there’s just kind of a divide between personality types. There are people who are looking for a, I don’t know, it’s not a shortcut, but they want like a fast track to be like okay, I graduate college and I’m making this salary already and my life is taken care of. With the trades, it’s pretty clear once you get into that that doesn’t happen. You have to put in a lot of groundwork to get that experience. Even if you go to college for so many years for something involved in HVAC, if you don’t know what you’re doing with your hands, people will know. I feel like that’s kind of why people get discouraged from that because they feel intimidated by how big the learning curve may seem. It’s easy to pile through nowadays, with all the resources we have. I think those are the two biggest reasons people don’t get into it. I think there’s a stigma and then they get intimidated, because they think it’s going to be as difficult as how to reinvent the wheel which you don’t have to.
What message would you share with someone considering a career in HVAC?
How do I say this? Whenever I was first starting out in the trade, I was getting hands-on experience and people kind of dissuaded me from going to a trade school because they told me you’re just going to spend your money. They told me their past experiences. I had somebody who said they went to college, this and that, they didn’t even know what to do. I’ve heard from multiple people and I think that it is true in a lot of cases, but I let that kind of dissuade me from wanting to go to trade school for a little while. I started meeting more people and I started realizing that I wasn’t confident in learning from all these other people because I didn’t know what their certifications, their credentials, what experience they’ve had, and so, once that clicked for me, I was kind of blown back in a way. It’s worth it to take that step out, even if it seems kind of risky to go to trade school. If you don't know anything about HVAC, I would say, go in to trade school, research a little bit, maybe talk to some people, and you know, consider the options. But if you’ve already been thinking about it, you’ve talked to some people, or whatever. It’s one of the things, it’s an investment and it’s a much more affordable investment than going to a four year university for something that might not even be in demand. You know, HVAC is in demand in so many different aspects, you know, residential, commercial. Then you have all the niche ones and then you have wholesalers and you could work at a warehouse. You could do so many different things that you could do sales, you know, you could do advertising for an HVAC company. It’s limitless almost. It’s the industry. That would be my advice to anybody, if you think it’s just fixing stuff you have a misconception. There is so much that we need as HVAC to bring it to the table. Whenever there’s kids in the future and they’re in school and stuff, they want to be HVAC technicians not cowboy astronauts. But they want to be doing some of these jobs that are so important because we’re going to need them, so that’s what I would say.
Thinking of becoming an HVAC technician? Check out the 4 steps to become an HVAC tech.