A few years back, if you would have asked Shawna Peddle what career path she planned on taking, she'd tell you she never would have considered the HVAC industry. But after starting a sales job at an HVAC company, this Aurora, Ontario resident had a change of heart.

"The more I got exposed to the equipment, I just fell in love," she says. While that company wanted her to focus solely on sales, she wanted more, so Peddle took a leap of faith, applied to gas school and never looked back. 

"I had never even picked up a screwdriver before that moment," she says. "I was completely green going into this. I had to start from scratch." 

Today, she is one of two women involved in an apprenticeship program at Enercare, a Canadian company that offers services in heating, cooling, hot water, water treatment, plumbing, electrical and duct cleaning services.

"They are really trying to invest in people," she says of Enercare, and a three-year apprenticeship program is one way the company is doing just that. Peddle, who has been an apprentice at the company since 2018, is set to receive her 313D license this summer. 

It's no secret that HVAC is a male-dominated industry. However, as a large percentage of the workforce is nearing retirement, now is the perfect time for women to get involved in this skilled trade. According to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, female HVAC technicians make up only about 9% of the workforce — so there is ample room for more women in the industry.

"Peddle is a passionate advocate for getting women into HVAC," says field service manager Sean Donaldson, who has also mentored Peddle during her time with Enercare. "There aren't too many women in the trade, so it's great to see more women getting into the trade."  

Still, there's work to be done to welcome more women into the industry. Here, Peddle and Donaldson talk about the power of the mentor-mentee relationship, and what companies can do to help women in HVAC succeed. 

The magic of mentorships

It can be intimidating coming into a male-dominated industry as a female, but Peddle says the men she's worked with have been phenomenal. 

"It has been wonderful," she says. "The guys have been super helpful, encouraging, supportive."

Donaldson is one particular person who has had a great impact on Peddle during her time at Enercare — and the respect between the two is mutual. 

"As far as rising to a challenge, she's going to be the one," he says. "She's a special individual, she's a unique individual."

In his manager role, Donaldson doesn't have to go out into the field all the time, unless the jobs are more complicated. When a job requires special attention, the first person Donaldson thinks of to accompany him is Peddle. Why? Seeing how she operates on more complex jobs has made it a no-brainer for Donaldson.

Donaldson and Peddle have developed a strong mentor-mentee relationship — something that is integral in an apprentice's success. Donaldson is always just a call away. When she's out on a solo gas job, Peddle might reach out to him with questions at 7 or 8 in the evening and he will always take time out of his day to help her. That kind of support is key, and it's something Donaldson strives to provide all of his employees.  

Getting more women involved in HVAC

Raising awareness is key to getting more women involved in the skilled trade, both Peddle and Donaldson agree.

"A lot of women tend to look at the trades in general as the construction worker shoveling on the side of the road," she says. But that's not the case. There's a lot of chemistry and thermodynamics that go into HVAC, for example.

By educating people about the industry and reaching students before they graduate, companies could help recruit the next generation of HVAC talent. 

Beyond recruitment, Peddle advises that companies must create an inclusive environment, especially for women.

Apprentices and employees should feel supported, encouraged and recognized for achievements. These efforts can make a huge difference in a woman's success in the industry. It certainly has for Peddle.  

"As a young woman who ventured into the HVACR industry having never even picked up a tool before, it was very intimidating. I had no idea what to expect," she says. "However to my surprise, I was welcomed with open arms and offered an incredible support system, which made all the difference. Seeing my mentors just as excited as I was every time I had a light bulb moment was the exact encouragement that helped shape me into the confident technician I am today."