Women in HVAC: From architecture to a sheet metal CAD career
After the market crash of 2008, Local 28 journeyperson Kandice Rogers traded in her plans to be an architect for a career in HVAC construction.
Local 28 journeyperson Kandice Rogers was fresh out of college when the U.S. housing market collapsed. Earning her bachelor's in architecture from the New York Institute of Technology, her dream of becoming an architect was suddenly put on hold.
"When I graduated, the housing market had just crashed, and I was struggling to find even an entry level drafting position," says Rogers. "I was approached by my best friend's father who was a Local 28 sheet metal worker for over 20 years. His company started a job that required them to provide a BIM coordinator. I had experience from college working with 3D programs so I was hired for the position."
The opportunity opened a door to a new career path for Rogers in the sheet metal industry, and now she encourages other women to give the industry a chance.
What was it like to change course from architecture to sheet metal work and HVAC systems?
To go from the conceptual world to reality was a learning experience beyond what any classroom could ever teach me. While I was in the (BIM) position, the company, along with the other tradesmen, encouraged me to join the trades. I applied, was called to take the test and started my career as a sheet metal worker apprentice. Without the encouragement of my best friends' family, especially my best friend's mom who somehow knew I would be capable of working in this field, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Eight years in and I couldn’t be more happy and fulfilled by this career.
When did by you finish your sheet metal apprenticeship? How did it feel to be finally done?
I finished my apprenticeship in February 2017. The feeling I had when graduating was one of pride and extreme great fullness. I was proud of myself for sticking with it, and I was beyond grateful to all the people who helped me make it to the end. I don’t think I would have made it without the guidance of mechanics who showed me the right way to do the job and the safe way. I’m a girl of small stature, only 5 feet tall, so I had to learn to work smarter, not harder.
Why did you choose BIM as your apprenticeship focus over others?
My career focus was kind of a natural fit for me. Drafting allows me to combine my architectural background in the construction field. I’m able to use the knowledge I learned in college and my attention to detail while working everyday to solve problems, manage projects and work effectively in a design team setting. I was fortunate enough to go from 3D BIM coordination that introduced me to the trades to installing that same job as a pre-apprentice with Local 28.
Did a part of you ever consider that it may be difficult for you as a woman in the trades? What inspired you to keep going?
I don’t think I ever got caught up on the idea that a woman couldn’t do well in this trade. I was coming in blind with an open mind and a determination to do my best no matter what. I always use my mom as my guiding force. When I was in college working all-nighters on a project, I didn’t complain. I kept going. When I was freezing or burning up on the job site, I kept going. When I wasn’t given the opportunity to advance and learn, I kept going.
My mom worked two jobs my entire life and raised my sister and myself as a single parent. If she can keep going and never give up, then I knew there was no reason I couldn’t do the same.
In starting your apprenticeship, what was the most challenging part for you?
The most challenging part of the apprenticeship was the feeling of being trapped at times. As an apprentice you should want to learn all you can but when obstacles in your way to stop you from learning you have to find away to overcome. I used my attention to detail to get me through. I became the eyes and ears of any job I was on.
How has working in the trades changed your life? Your ability to make a living? Your career trajectory?
Working in the trades has given me a tremendous amount of stability in my life. The ability to say I’m financially sound even under a mountain of student loan debt is something most people my age can't say. Working in the trades has inspired me to express my love for design in a more hands on way, becoming more involved in making furniture for my home and for friends. I found a passion for welding that I would never have found outside of this trade. This trade has also forced me to open up and become more of a people person.
I would never in a million years have thought I would become a nighttime instructor at our trade school, but I found that I love helping people learn our craft. My career trajectory has changed drastically from my days in college when I thought I would just work behind a desk all day drawing the same detail over and over.