Toting his pack, breathing in the mountain air, crossing the desert sand, PTC HVAC instructor Mike Beach can relate to Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” - because travel, well, he’s had his share, man. (More on that later.)
From trailblazing around the world and now to PTC starting up a full-time HVAC program, Beach has the skills, experience and knowledge to get the job done well. “I started doing HVAC in 2010 after going through the program at Mid-America Technology Center. Prior to that, I had other jobs with various experiences with all the different aspects of refrigeration and air conditioning.”
Mike’s path into his HVAC career wasn’t accidental. Joining the U.S. Navy right out of high school, Beach was a boiler operator/mechanic. He says, “In the Navy, the actual AC people are the mechanics/machinist mates and that’s what I was, so I got a taste for the field during those three years of service.” Asked about his choice of specialty in the Navy, “I’m good with my hands and I like to fix things. I’ve always enjoyed doing that, so that was just a natural fit for me.”
After he graduated from Mid-America, Mike received his Journeyman’s license and worked for a contractor for three years before starting his own HVAC contractor company. He recalls, “After I graduated, I was able to work on my Journeyman's license and on up from there. What was great about that program, like our program at PTC, I was able to get two years of credit towards my apprenticeship requirements in the Journeyman’s process. Three months after graduating, I was able to go take my test and then get hired at a company in Oklahoma City. I worked there for three years before getting my contractors license and opening up Beach Heat and Air.” Beach also taught night classes at Mid America prior to coming to PTC.
Asked about the challenges of starting a new program like this, Mr. Beach says, “I’m drawing from my prior teaching experience as a basis for how I’m able to set up the program at PTC.” He continues, “Setting things up on my own...it’s a struggle in a sense, but you can either look at it as a burden or you can look at it as an opportunity and I’m excited about this amazing opportunity!”
Mentorship is an important benefit of the CareerTech system. You not only build knowledge and skills, you can also build relationships that support your own success. Mr. Beach says, “After I graduated, my instructor became my mentor and I strive to be that for my students. For some students, even after graduation when they face challenges on the worksite and they’re sitting there scratching their heads, their first instinct is to reach out to their instructor. I’ve been in that situation myself and understand the relief of knowing someone had my back. I really enjoy being that ‘go-to’ person for my students now.”
Teaching comes naturally to Mr. Beach. In his business he employed apprentices and helped launch careers in that way. “I’ve always liked doing that [apprenticeships]. I get to see them move forward in their careers and see them succeed. I enjoy teaching, so this was the right move for me.” He also thinks about the legacy he’ll leave for the students he instructs, “You’re passing on knowledge that you’ve learned throughout the years and there’s something about that that I find exciting.”
Discussing the challenges around teaching and running an HVAC business concurrently, he says, “If you’re just a teacher, you might not really be in the thick of things. Having my own business, even cutting back on the number of service calls I take, allows me to bring experience back to the classroom and share with my students things they might otherwise miss.” This real-world access to technical case studies serves students well. It also contributes to their understanding of the industry in general. “I’m able to share a variety of aspects that students will deal with in the everyday life of being an HVAC Technician,” said Mr. Beach.
All students with an interest in mechanics can find success in the HVAC program. “Some people are good at turning a wrench, and being a mechanic can mean all sorts of different things. Specialization means you just have to focus on an area, like HVAC, to grow your knowledge and skills. That’s what we do in this program.”
Having that knowledge and developing your skills can serve you beyond your career. Beach recalls, “I’ve actually used my heat and air and mechanical skills when I travel in some ways. Helping people out while on the road is great. In Japan, I was able to help some people out and it felt great! Everything you learn in life it’s something you can use wherever you are.”
Having your own business and finding financial success certainly has its upsides. For Beach, it allowed him to travel the world and see so many things most people only read about or see in videos. “I’d hop on an airplane, stay a little bit, hop on another plane to another country and stay there awhile. It’s great to just go exploring. You hear about kids taking time after school to go backpacking across Europe. I’ve done that a few times.” Asked about where he’s been, Johnny Cash might as well have been singing in the background, “Where haven’t I been? Australia, Japan, New Zealand, England, Ireland, all over Europe, North Africa, and of course in the Navy I traveled as well. I think that’s where the bug bit me. We were all over the Caribbean and Mediterranean - went to Egypt and Israel during that time as well. Some people catch the bug and I’ve always just enjoyed it a lot.”