ICM continues its interview series chatting with a member of the “Next Generation” in the industry. This time we met with Lianna Faber who shares with us her somewhat unusual journey to become a NORA Certified Technician and is now working in the field providing homeowners with technical service.
Faber: I always knew I wanted to do something different. I have older siblings, one of them is a teacher and one is becoming a human resources manager. They chose to go to college; I always knew I wanted to make my own footprints, take my own path. It’s funny how it happened—I was looking into different trades but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I found a card for the Electrical Training Center (ETC), which is a tech school here on Long Island [NY]. It planted a seed in my head. I went to the school, checked it out and signed up for the electrical program. We had a class called the All Trades for both electrical and HVAC students. One of the teachers said, There is electrical in HVAC, but there’s no HVAC in electrical and that’s what directed me to HVAC. At the time, I knew nothing, nothing at all about trades. I thought, Let’s try this, let’s see where it takes me. I switched to the HVAC class. I remember asking my teacher, I don’t want to sound stupid, but what does HVAC even stand for? I didn’t know it was for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
I was 19, right out of high school. I was one of the younger ones there.
ICM: Not only were you one of the younger ones, but how many women were there?
Faber: Most of the young women, if we had any, were in the electrical program. I was the only one in the HVAC class. I had a couple of teachers telling me that I was the first woman in the HVAC program in about 10 or 12 years. Women make up about 2.6% of those in the field for HVAC in the U.S. There are not a lot. There are a lot more electrical girls.
ICM: Were there any obstacles? How did you find the reception from the other students and the instructors?
Faber: I have to give my teachers credit for all the support I received from the school. They were very encouraging. They were very excited to have a woman in their class. The guys kind of tried to tone down their [bad] language, but I didn’t care how they spoke. I said, You can do what you want. I have brothers, I hang around guys. They were respectful.
ICM: How long was the program?
Faber: I took day classes, which was a little bit shorter than night classes—about seven months. It was a 600-hour program. I had a little bit of financial aid that helped me, and I was working while I went to school.
ICM: In addition to advancing from ETC, you are also a National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) Bronze Technician Certified. How did you hear about NORA’s oilheat certifications?
Faber: I learned about NORA from my teachers. When they told us we were going to prepare for the NORA Bronze Exam, I thought, Great, another certification I could put on my resume. You can only better yourself.
ICM: Did you know anything about oil heating before?
Faber: I knew nothing. I didn’t even know how to hold a wrench. I didn’t know the difference between a flat head and a Phillips screwdriver.
ICM: The classes, the NORA prep and exam was your first exposure?
Faber: Yes, I learned it all from NORA—that was my first experience with oil heat.
ICM: Oilheat is a very specific subset of HVAC; did you feel prepared to pass the NORA exam?
Faber: I thought the teachers were very thorough and I definitely felt prepared. They had us take practice tests. We read the textbook and they answered questions. They did a really good job preparing us.
ICM: You graduated and got your NORA Bronze certification. You also earned your other certification from the school. Then you needed to get a job?
Faber: Getting a job was really difficult. I called a few companies and I guess they heard my female voice and just didn’t take me seriously. I actually got laughed at by two companies. So, it was kind of rough. I finally got an interview, which was very exciting. I was applying for HVAC technician. I wanted to learn, I wanted to be in the field, but they offered me a job in the office. I couldn’t believe it.
It got better after that. I got an offer at a commercial company, which I thought was cool. I also got an offer from Petro Home Services. I thought it would be a really good place to learn and it was a union position. I accepted their offer.
ICM: Did the NORA Certification help in your job search?
Faber: Yes, it did.
ICM: Can you tell me which branch of Petro Home Services you are working out of now?
Faber: I’m out of the Hicksville , NY branch. You know Wayne Lawrence, right?
ICM: Yes, he is an instructor at Petro.
Faber: I took some of Wayne’s classes; he is a genius. Petro is good about training. They pay us to attend, which is good for both me and the company.
ICM: Once Petro hired you as a technician, did you ride with someone for a while?
Faber: Yes, I rode with someone to train for about three months. When I was ready to do tune-ups on my own they said, Let’s go for it. They put me out on my own for tune-ups and some service calls.
Being so new, I would call other technicians with questions. Some of them had my back all the time. If I got stuck, I would call them up and they would help me out with FaceTime if I got stuck. That really helped. They would even take my calls when they weren’t working. I could hear their kids playing in the background. They were great then and still are to this day.
ICM: Do you want to mention their names?
Faber: One was Donnie Ducas. He teaches with Wayne and is a great guy. Matt Ryan was another one. He’s one of the guys I trained with for a while, and he really wants what’s best for everyone. He’s an amazing trainer and has so much patience. Those two guys are my go-to guys.
ICM: When a homeowner calls Petro and a young woman shows up, what’s the reaction? Or is there a reaction?
Faber: There is always a reaction everyday, at least once, if not three times, I hear, oh! I didn’t expect a young women to come. I already know it’s coming before it even happens. A lot of people are very supportive but also there’s some people that aren’t and I have taught myself to filter it. I take the good and leave the bad, because I don’t want that negativity in my head. There has been times when customers have underestimated my ability due to my age and gender. Also, there’s an older generation that hasn’t accepted females in the field yet, but when I fix a no heat call or solder in front of customers, they see my ability to help, then they seem to be more comfortable with me being in this field. I hope that the percentage of HVAC women will increase over the next years, in that way it will be more accepted by others.
ICM: Is there anything particularly challenging about the oil heat work versus any other HVAC work, or is there anything you like about it that stands out?
Faber: I like the fire part. I like to be able to test and manipulate the setting to get a good flame. If you’ve ever been in the field, you know that there’s always those customers that just watch. So, I always engage with them. I’ll ask them if they know about their boiler. I’ll open the little chamber door and show them what’s going on inside. It helps them to understand and to accept me as their technician.
ICM: Petro has committed to switching all of its customer base to a blend of 20% biodiesel with heating oil. This is essential for the whole industry going forward to be able to reduce greenhouse gasses. Did you get any special training or education from Petro on the Bioheat® transition?
Faber: Yes, we had meetings and training sessions about it. It was a good chance to understand and to contradict some of the rumors out there. Someone came from NORA to talk about the research it has done; they gave us an education.
ICM: Do customers ever ask you about greenhouse gases or the Bioheat® ?
Faber: I’ve had a couple of people—and I don’t know where this is coming from—who said they didn’t like that new B20 because they heard it’s going to cause problems with the fuel pump. Some were concerned that it would burn faster. There were many comments that people made to which I replied, No, I don’t think that’s how it works. I attended some Oil & Energy Service Professionals meeting where this kind of thing was talked about.
ICM: How long have you been in the field?
Faber: About one year and nine months.
ICM: Has anything surprised you?
Faber: I’ve been stuck on calls. I don’t know if that’s a surprise, but it happens. Fortunately, I have the support system to lean on.
ICM: Where would you like this career path to take you?
Faber: I just want to learn more and move up. I want to know everything about oil. Then learn everything about gas, everything about steam, everything about AC. From there, I want to learn something else, generators, propane, whatever it is. First though, I really just want to focus on mastering oil, and I just want to keep going, increasing my skills. ICM
More about NORA certifications & training and to visit the Technical Resource Center, go to Learning.NORAweb.org