Graduate Connections – Meet Michael Sanders

Michael, 36, is from Los Angeles, but has called Florida home for 20 years. Michael graduated from the Refrigeration Technologies (HVAC/R Training) program at the Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus, in April 2016. Before HVAC/R, Michael earned a culinary Bachelor’s degree. He worked as a private chef before cooking his way through the University of Central Florida to earn a Bachelor’s in History and Political Science.

With all that education behind you, why did you choose an HVAC/R career in your mid 30s?

Honestly, the limitless opportunity – I’ve owned my own businesses, I’d been a private chef, but I did what most young guys do. I fell in love. I lived in Miami Beach, but my girlfriend – who became my fiancée and is now my wife – lived in St Augustine about 30 minutes south of Jacksonville. It was time for me to provide some real security for her and my new family, so I moved up from Miami to go to HVAC/R school.

Where did the interest in HVAC/R in particular come from?

It’s all about supply and demand. It’s very hot and humid here in Florida so there’s a heck of a demand for HVAC/R skills. I had a cousin in California that went to HVAC/R school, and her brother does HVAC/R too. They were making a lot of money. With my ability and my willingness to learn, I knew that if I went into this field, I would excel. The financial opportunities in HVAC/R are limitless out here. If you’re willing to work hard and you know your stuff, you’re going to make money in heating, air and ventilation in Florida. It’s brought me a lot of blessings in a short amount of time.

What did you enjoy most about Tulsa Welding School?

I’m a tactile learner. I learn from seeing, hearing and doing. I love the fact that I was taught the theory of heating, ventilation and air conditioning, but being able to physically learn these things hands-on was awesome. Everything was so fulfilling. I got such a sense of accomplishment. If you’re willing to learn and to apply yourself, the sky is the absolute limit. It’s just up to you as an individual. Tulsa gave me the proper tools. My determination combined with their teaching and guidance – It all just exploded! I’m a testament to what people can achieve if they’re driven. Money isn’t my drive – accomplishing goals is what drives me. But I accomplish goals and happen to make great money doing it.

How easy was it to get a job after graduating?

I was competing in the SkillsUSA competition at the time, representing Tulsa Welding School in a state competition. A wonderful lady in Career Services at the campus – Shauntea Lee – put me forward to a company called Jax Refrigeration. I went in there, my first interview, and blew it out of the water!

What was it like getting your first paycheck?

They hired me fresh out of school at $12 an hour…so my first paycheck wasn’t all that, honestly. But I got five raises within a year that more than doubled it. I took my wife on vacation around Europe on that paycheck. All of that was on HVAC/R money!

Now I’m on a salary and making really great money. More than I could have imagined so quickly! I mean I started off in peoples’ attics fixing air conditioners just 18 months ago! I had confidence in my ability, but even I didn’t expect to have come this far this soon. It’s astonishing. Tulsa Welding School gave me these opportunities. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in, if it wasn’t for Tulsa Welding School and the staff that found me the job. I would have found a job for sure, but it wouldn’t have been this job.

What is your ultimate career goal?

I don’t know because I’ve come so far so quickly. I graduated in April 2016, and I’ve already been promoted to the South Florida Territory Manager. I cover Central Florida all the way to Key West. I manage that entire territory as far as commercial and industrial HVAC/R is concerned. My ultimate goal is to teach HVAC/R and inspire young guys to do what I’m doing, but that’s further down the line.

What do you enjoy most about working in HVAC/R?

Solving problems and being able to provide a comfortable standard of living for my family. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with solving problems for people.

Did you make some lasting connections at the school?

Absolutely. My classmates and I are all on group text. We all meet up for lunch or we go fishing, stuff like that. If you were to check my call log on my phone you’ll see I also speak with my teachers on a weekly basis. I’m basically an ambassador between my company and Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, like a liaison, making sure that the guys are prepared. I let the teachers know what’s required of these guys coming fresh out of school. Everybody is able to learn, but you have to come in the door of my company, or any company, knowing the things you need to know.

What advice would you give to people considering TWS?

I’d say what do you have to lose? If you’re not happy in your profession, with the money you’re making, if you want something different, if you want to be challenged, if you want an opportunity, what do you have to lose? If you have the right attitude, this field can take you wherever you want to go. This career gave me the opportunity, financially speaking, to put my whole life on a different plain.

I got engaged shortly after school and got married a year later. I just bought a very beautiful home in an awesome part of Florida. My wife was able to quit her job, as I’m able to support her and our three children. And that’s all because of HVAC/R in just a year and a half. If money is what’s going to fix your situation, you will make it if your heart and mind is in this. So again, why not?

My college degrees are great, and they definitely gave me a foundation. Writing skills, the politics of business…the skills that I got at university complement what I’m doing now. I got customer service skills as a private chef. But I make more money now than most of my friends who just went to college. I might come home a little dirtier than them, but once I take a shower, my clothes are better than theirs!