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May 14, 2015
By Chris Ramirez

CORPUS CHRISTI – Soon, Rebecca L. Castillo will have a big choice to make — whether to make a living off spinning blades or cupcakes.

She’s now three months into a new program at Del Mar College that both teaches students how to fix and troubleshoot heaters and air conditioners and move them a step closer to getting their GED.

HVAC courses, now underway at the college’s West Campus, are considered Career and image of women in hvacCommunity Education offerings, and typically wouldn’t count toward college credit. However, their requirements mirror credit courses, so the classes retroactively count toward a college-level certificate or associate degree once participants obtain their GED certificate.

The new program has five students. College officials hope the program will provide another high-demand career option for students, especially women, during a time when the oil and gas industry has shown signs of cooling.

Castillo looks every bit a professional as she checks the levels on a compressor used to work on an outdoor air conditioning unit. She isn’t sure if troubleshooting busted air conditioners and temperamental heating units is her calling, but predicts it would be a stable career perch until she figures out her next move. Castillo wants to earn a GED, so that she can continue her studies and fulfill her dream of opening a bakery.

“This wasn’t my goal to reach for,” said Castillo, 32. “But it’s a way to get my GED and gets me where I’m wanting to go eventually … I’m gonna take it.”

Recruiters are hoping more women warm up to HVAC work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.8 million people were working in the construction industry in 2014. Of them, 872,000, or 8.9 percent of the construction workforce, were women.

Employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers — which is considered by the bureau to be a segment of the construction industry — is projected to grow 21 percent by 2022, faster than the average for all construction occupations.

Instructor Ben Gregory, a former oilman, said one of the HVAC industry’s strength is that it’s not affected by the same economic swings as energy. That’s good news for Illiana Sepeda.

The married mother of one admits she was intimidated when she started in the HVAC program in January. Within days, she was face-to-face with her first air-conditioning unit. After opening the bulky box unit, it was up to her to figure out how to drain its pumps, while navigating around an intricate web of gauges, hoses and multicolored wires.

“At first … I was like ‘I’m never gonna get this,'” recalled Sepeda, 23. “But it all kind of makes sense now. I understand better how they work.”

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