When Nicole Ordoyne expressed an interest in working on HVACR equipment – becoming a “tech” – Zach Mouton, her mentor and owner of Gretna, LA-based Bryans United Air Conditioning, said, “If you want to come with me on some calls Saturday, we'll see how it goes.”

Ordoyne went, she watched and she conquered. But it didn't happen immediately. “I watched him change gauges and work on a unit and thought, maybe I just can't do all that,” says Ordoyne, recalling her hesitation about the road ahead.

Mouton, however, was reassuring because he had a practical view of the process. According to Nicole, he told her, “You can't learn it all in one day.”

Within three months, after ride-alongs, hands-on instruction and learning about the products, Ordoyne felt comfortable enough to start making service calls on her own. She recently received NATE certification in Air Conditioning – Service and Air Conditioning Installation, a testament to her grasp of the technical side of the business.

Yet despite her technical expertise, it's the people side of the business she enjoys most. “I like being outside. I like meeting different people and each job is a little different,” she says of the New Orleans metro area she services. Owner Mouton told her that customers who meet her always request Ordoyne for service calls afterward, a tribute to her sincerity.

Are new customers surprised, however, that a woman tech shows up at the door? “I can hear the surprise in their voice when I verify the appointment and say I'm coming out,” she says. “They'll tell me, 'I never had a woman come out but that's fine with me.'” Ordoyne distills her advice to a simple, yet vitally important, formula. She says you must be polite, you must never talk down to anyone and, most importantly, you must know the technical side so that you can answer any question a customer has. With that approach, the issue of gender just doesn't matter, according to Ordoyne.

Ordoyne seems almost casual about her status as a NATE-certified technician in the Greater New Orleans service area. (Initial research suggests there are less than a handful.) She started in the industry in 2002 as a technician helper, moved to Texas and Florida before returning to her former company in 2010.

If there is any characteristic that she has that pointed her into the tech position, it's the curiosity of how things work. “I like to see what makes something work and I'm always interested when there's a problem to solve,” she says, acknowledging that her work tools and mechanical environment (she once worked in a warehouse) probably helped in her transition to becoming a tech.

But can other women do it, too? And should they try?

Ordoyne doesn't hesitate when answering. “I would tell [other women] don't be afraid. Just try it and if you like it, you'll be good at it.” She reminds this interviewer that she didn't learn everything in that first service call with her boss, but rather a little bit every day. “And you have to keep up with the knowledge, because the technology does change,” she says.

Is all the effort, training and learning worth it? “Absolutely,” says Ordoyne. “I would do it all over again.”

NATE: Attracting More Women to the HVACR Industry

Can you tell me how many NATE-certified female techs are in the New Orleans area?

We estimate that there are over 700 NATE-certified technicians across Louisiana and growing but, similar to the HVACR industry as a whole, only a small percentage of those technicians are female. We are working to update the demographic and behavioral data for all NATE technicians nationwide and ask them to visit www.mynate.org to check their information to ensure we have the most accurate records possible.

While women are making inroads into the business side of the HVACR industry, why do most still ignore the “tech side?”

I couldn't say for certain, but my guess is that there is still a perception that working in HVACR is a man's job or a “dirty” job that women cannot or would not be interested in doing. As an industry, we have to move beyond faulty stereotypes to fill the numerous positions that will be open in just a few years with qualified candidates, both male and female.

What is NATE doing to encourage more women to become NATE-certified techs?

I think moving forward, we'll work more closely with our partners at Women in HVACR, the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation and others to do more to encourage women to enter the industry. Then, as NATE, we will continue to demonstrate, as we do to all technicians, the value of becoming NATE-certified to possibly increase their job demand and earning potential. For a female technician, the respect and name recognition of NATE certification has the potential to help further her career development in what is currently a male-dominated industry.

– Valerie Briggs, Director, Marketing and Business Development, NATE, 703/600-0379 phone, 703/527-2316 fax, www.natex.org