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I’m committed to promoting young people and women in our fine industry. It’s why I am delighted to introduce you to Chasity Chipman. Chasity is 28 years old and an apprentice at Campbell Comfort Systems Inc. in Deptford, New Jersey. Owner Bill Campbell put Chasity on my radar. He is delighted to have found such a terrific young person to work with him and his company, and knew I would be interested in her developing career.
Of course, I am! Aren’t you? Aren’t we interested in learning how to recruit and hire new talent? Aren’t we eager to create careers, not just jobs, for those who can help us grow profitable, successful businesses? Yes, please. I called Chasity to find out more about her and what attracted her to the HVAC trade.
She graduated high school in 2011 and attended Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland. She studied psychology. Early in, Chasity realized college was not a great fit. At 19 years old, she thought she’d prefer working with her hands and learning a trade. Off and on, Chasity had worked part-time with her dad, flipping houses. She liked using wrenches and hammers and felt she had a natural affinity for tools.
She got a job at Home Depot and really enjoyed it. It was there she realized that the trades offered a lot of opportunity for her. She met many tradespeople and appreciated the contractors’ sense of pride and community. She could see how her life experiences were setting her up for her next career move.
Chasity told me: “I was using my psychology education when interacting with customers. And I knew I could capitalize on what I had learned from my dad. He has a great work ethic and taught me a lot about mechanics.”
She also loved the idea of wearing work clothes, as opposed to getting dressed up every day! “I know it sounds like a small thing. However, I like to be comfortable at work,” Chipman added.
Chasity started searching online for an apprenticeship. She told me it was frustrating because most of the companies posting apprentice positions were still looking for people with two to three years of trades experience. “If you are trying to break into the trades, this is a barrier that’s tough to overcome,” she noted.
Then, in the fall of 2019, she found that Campbell Comfort Systems was hiring, and it didn’t require experience. The folks there promised to train her. She applied and went through a rigorous hiring program. “I even went on a ride-along before they hired me,” Chipman explained. “Getting the apprenticeship felt like an accomplishment.”
Chasity shared a full-circle moment with me: “Brad Campbell, Bill’s son, may not even remember this. Years before, Brad had come into Home Depot looking for a tool rental. Another Home Depot employee was working with him. But I noticed him. He looked sharp and acted professionally. Other HD team members said he had a good reputation in the industry, and that Campbell’s shop was first-rate. I was impressed.
“It was one of many experiences that encouraged me to become a service technician. I told Brad recently, ‘I don’t believe in coincidences. This is where I am supposed to be.’ I am appreciative of Bill and Brad. They have high standards, and I know they took a risk on me as an apprentice. They made a good decision by hiring me.”
Be open to possibilities
I asked Chasity if she had to deal with any challenges as a woman in a predominantly male field. She told me she'd gotten a lot of information and support from the community at Women in HVACR (womeninhvacr.org).
They matched her up with a mentor. Interestingly, her mentor is a man! He helped her learn some industry “ropes” and answered questions as they came up. They chatted via email mostly, as he was in California, but he was available for phone calls as well.
Over and over again in our interview, I was struck by how mature and positive and ambitious Chasity is. I asked her, “What motivates you?” She said: “Because I am a woman, it gives me extra energy to succeed in a traditionally male-oriented field. I love problem-solving. I have wanted this career for so long and, now, my dreams are within reach. I love learning something new every day from the senior guys.”
I asked, “Have you always been so driven?”
She replied: “In the last few years, I’ve become more reflective and started to observe problematic relationships in my life, as well as others. I know many, many people who have never reached the point where they take responsibility for their actions and consider the karmic repercussions of their behaviors.
“I’ve had good role models, too. My dad has been very supportive. He always wanted me to be happy. No matter what I told him I wanted to do, he would enthusiastically respond and make suggestions for how I could be successful. He never told me I didn't deserve it, or I couldn't do it.
“Another positive influence in my life was my grandma, my dad's mom. I was 21 years old when she died. She was 81. I realized how short life is. Grandma lived full-on. She had a big family and was involved with everyone. She was active in her church community. Most importantly, she strived to be a good person. That had an impact on me. I want to live like that. I want to capitalize on the upbringing that I've had. The work ethic and high standards. The family orientation.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked, “Chasity, what can we do to magnetize young people, particularly women, to the trades?”
She wisely responded with a chuckle: “I can only speak for myself. I’m not interested in being a spokesperson for all young women! However, I wonder if I might have found this career sooner if technical classes, like shop class, were offered in high school. I would have preferred trade school to college. I learned a lot, and I’m not knocking college. At the time, I didn’t realize there were other options.”
Last question! Any advice for other apprentices? “Focus less on how much money you will make at first,” she said. “The money will come. Focus on learning the skills and proving yourself.
“But that’s just my approach. Here’s what I aim to do every day: wake up, go to work and be happy. I’m focused on learning. Ask me in 10 years; I may have more advice for you.”
Your next apprentice is around the corner
I so enjoyed visiting with Chasity. Here are my main takeaways:
• Chasity is unique and wonderful. And I have met so many awesome youngsters like her who are just looking for an opportunity. Quit saying how difficult it is to find them. Look harder.
• Take 100 percent responsibility for training your apprentices. No one else will do this for you. Yes, it’s a lot of work to write the manuals and provide in-house training. And it’s so worth it. It’s the only way to solve the “finding great people” challenge.
• Home Depot is a great place to find apprentices. So is Starbucks, and McDonald's, and Walgreens, and other places where young people are learning essential job skills and may be ready for more.
• Always represent. Brad’s demeanor, dress and professionalism left a positive impact on Chasity. It steered her towards an apprenticeship. (How cool that she found her way to Campbell’s!)
• Shout out to Danielle Putnam and the team at Women in HVACR for providing a terrific resource.
Thank you, Chasity! I’ll check back in on you in a year and write a follow-up column.
This article is a part of our 2021 National Skilled Trades Day compilation