South Central College student Kailey Forliti is forging a new path and is hoping to encourage more young women to follow in her footsteps.
Forliti is like many students who find themselves questioning their chosen path and what they really want to do in their life. After high school she did what she thought was expected of her – she attended a four-year university. Actually, she attended two different universities with the intention of pursuing the field of social work.
She’s not alone with 30% of students in college changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics*. On average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. The positive is that this can actually increase a student’s likelihood of graduating from college, according to a study from EAB*. Forliti’s winding path is common and the benefit is that she learned something about herself and sharpened her aspirations along the way.
She knew she needed education and training to have a better life, so she met with an academic advisor at South Central College to explore her career options. As a visual learner who enjoys hands-on, interactive learning, she discovered she was interested in the skilled trades.
Skilled trades, also referred to as Career and Technical Education (CTE), are occupations that require candidates to have certain knowledge, abilities, and skills that apply specifically to their field. Skilled trade training is more hands-on and programs are completed in two years or less, requiring much less time and tuition than earning a four-year degree. Those who complete this education are able to secure good living wage jobs faster than if they attended a four-year institution.
Forliti learned that many of her previous college credits transferred easily to SCC, and it would only take her three semesters to graduate. She made the choice and is currently enrolled in SCC’s HVAC/R (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) program – an area of study traditionally chosen by men – and she’s excited to graduate this spring.
HVAC/R technicians are skilled professionals who install, repair, and maintain heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems that control the quality and temperature of the air inside residential and commercial buildings. They are the people you need to keep you cool on hot days, warm during cold days, and to make sure the breathing air is filtered and clean.
Every day is different for the HVAC/R service technician. It’s a smart career choice that can provide a comfortable wage and good benefits, and there will always be a need for HVAC/R technicians. “Students who like working with their hands and solving problems would do well in the field,” said SCC HVAC/R instructor, Jay Schmit. “Kailey asks questions to be sure she understands the learning outcomes and even practices many of them beyond our expectations. She’s proven to be a team player and even mentors other students so they, too, can understand the learning outcomes.”
The HVAC/R industry currently has more jobs available than people to fill them. The number of skilled technicians continues to decline, especially as older technicians reach retirement age. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up 47% of the U.S. workforce in 2017, but less than 2% of the 448,000 installers and technicians employed in the HVAC industry.
This all creates an excellent opportunity for women. Now more than ever women are needed in the HVAC/R industry to help fill the workforce shortage, close the gender gap, and expand the industry's diversity. Many HVAC/R companies are doing their best to attract female technicians to their businesses.
Forliti is currently the only female in her class of 22 other students. She may have felt apprehensive at first, but she can’t say enough about being accepted by all the students and having the support of her instructors who provide a positive experience inside the classroom. “Both Jay and Todd, my instructors, and advisor have all been supportive of me every step of the way,” said Forliti. “I am excited for my future and a new career and who knows, in 5 to 10 years down the road, I might want to teach this field as well.”
The small class size and excellent student-to-instructor ratio helps in that it gives her the opportunity to know her instructors and more closely engage with other students. Instructors are able to provide individualized attention and personal feedback.
Through SCC, she also began an internship at Countryside Refrigeration and Heating in Mankato and only about a month later the company hired her permanently. Today, she’s already working in the field and independently going on service calls. She noted that many customers are excited to see a woman on the job and she’s received mostly positive comments, but for the random few, they typically change their minds once she fixes their issue. She has an inner confidence, and she knows she can contribute to and transform this exciting field.
“The HVAC/R industry will benefit significantly from a more diverse workforce,” said Schmit. “I have no doubt that Kailey will be successful in her career and even inspire other women and girls to explore careers that men traditionally hold.”
“Many students go to college not knowing what they want to get out of it or how to make it work for them,” Forliti said. “I would encourage more students to look into the trades – even if it’s not HVAC/R.” She encourages students like her to visit with an advisor who can steer them in a new direction because she knows there’s more than one pathway to career success.
Other examples of career-ready trades requiring two years or less at SCC: Accounting, Architectural Drafting and Design, Autobody and Collision Technology, Automotive Service, Business Management, Carpentry, Civil Engineering Technology, Computer Careers, Culinary Arts, Dental Assisting, Emergency Medical Services, Energy Technical Specialist, Geographic Information Systems, Health Unit Coordinator, Intensive Care Paramedic Technician, Marketing Management, Machine Tool Technology, Mechatronics, Medical Assisting, Medical Laboratory Technician, Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN), Nursing Assistant, Office Administration & Technology, Phlebotomy, and Welding.
View a list of all SCC programs including Career and Technical.
HVAC/R degrees include Associate of Applied Science, Advanced Diploma, Foundation Diploma, Refrigeration Technology Certificate, and HVAC/R (Heating) Certificate.
Leu, K. (2017, December 7). Beginning college students who change their majors within 3 years of enrollment. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2018434
EAB. (2018) How Late Is Too Late, Myths and Facts About the Consequences of Switching College Majors Whitepaper. EAB, formerly the Education Advisory Board. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://eab.com/technology/whitepaper/student-success/how-late-is-too-late/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm