Retooling A Career
Work in the trades was a natural fit for Daniel Bangura ’04, who first studied computer programming at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus in 2000. After a few courses, Bangura realized he preferred physical work to keyboard crunching.
“I never viewed myself as a sitting-behind-the-desk kind of guy,” he says.
Originally from Sierra Leone, Bangura earned a GED credential and worked three entry-level jobs, including a full-time position with the school system. His immigration status obstructed access to financial aid, but his employer provided a tuition benefit. Quitting computers and enrolling in building trades courses forced him to choose between his promotion to night supervisor and the evening-only courses he needed to advance toward a career in HVAC. From an economic standpoint, he knows he made the right decision.
Bangura first earned a certificate and letter of recognition in the Building Trades Technology program at Gudelsky in 2004, three years from the outset. He then enrolled in the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) apprenticeship program, a four-year program taught at the Gudelsky facility. He was named a Board of Trustees Apprenticeship Scholar and spoke at the College’s 2007 commencement, a distinction awarded to an apprenticeship student who has maintained the highest grade point average on all courses taken at the College. A year later, he joined the Montgomery College staff as a building equipment mechanic.
“It was a good investment,” Bangura says of his six years learning the HVAC/R (refrigeration) trade. “In these hard economic times,” he says, “I can definitely testify that a career in the building trades, especially HVAC, could guarantee a satisfactory source of income. I … encourage anyone who is willing to take a shot at it.
Prospects for air conditioning professionals remain high: there are currently 260,000 jobs nationally for HVAC mechanics and installers with a median pay of $20.45 per hour or $42,530 per year, and a 34-percent growth rate expected through 2020.*
In trade occupations, industry certification has more weight than academic credentials. ASE (automotive service excellence) certification, for example, ensures employers and customers that a technician has received proper training. Automotive technician Scott Goldsworthy ’09 likens the ASE test to the “bar exam for mechanics.
To become ASE certified in automotive transmission, brakes, and engine performance, students must pass the appropriate ASE exam and present proof of at least two years of relevant work experience. They may substitute two years of relevant formal training for up to one year of the work experience requirement. Gudelsky students are encouraged to sit for the exam immediately following course completion.
Like Bangura, Goldsworthy, 27, started out in another program before switching into automotive repair. After high school in 2003, he majored in criminal justice, but took Introduction to Automotive Technology as an elective. The more he learned, the more he liked it.
“The way our instructor, Albert Ennulat, explained [it], things just clicked,” says Goldsworthy. “Light bulbs were going off in my head. I thought, ‘I could do this.’... His engine rebuilding class was like grown-up Legos, which I loved as a kid.”
While learning to rebuild engines and replace brake pads, Goldsworthy also learned where the jobs were from fellow Gudelsky students, many of whom were working technicians there to brush up on skills. One tip helped him land an apprentice position at a dealership, where he worked under a master technician for six months. He earned his automotive technician associate’s degree in 2009.
I’m still learning.” he says. “In this field there’s always new things happening.