Why I Work Construction

Bryant Gorrell: HVAC Service Manager – Calvert Mechanical Solutions, Towson, MD

When many of his prep school classmates went to college, Bryant Gorrell chose a different path, getting his degree in building maintenance from Cecil College in North East, Maryland. A master HVAC technician for more than 30 years, Gorrell inspires a new generation by teaching ABC’s 3rd year HVAC apprenticeship course.

“Bryant exemplifies everything we expect out of our instructors. He is always going above and beyond for his class and truly cares about training the next generation of skilled workers,” says Chris Hadfield, ABC Greater Baltimore’s Director of Education. Hadfield tapped Gorrell to help design the HVAC shop in ABC’s Construction Education Academy, the association’s premier construction job training and career development center currently under construction.

We asked Gorrell about his start in the trades and why it’s so important to encourage tomorrow’s workforce in the trades.

How did you get your start in the construction trades?

I’ve been in the service industry since 1986 and have always been in HVAC maintenance. When I was graduating high school, my father was dying of cancer and I wasn’t sure what I would do. I spent two years focused on computer science and programming, going to Hartford Community College. Hated it. Wasn’t very good at it. I had dyslexia so it was a difficult major for me. I moved back home and my sister reminded me that I was really good at working with my hands, that I was mechanically-oriented. She encouraged me to look into making a living in the trades.

I enrolled in Cecil Community College in a program that teaches you across all the trades. After graduating I moved to Ocean City and got a job doing HVAC maintenance work. I was there about three years as the maintenance guy for the Carousel Hotel.

And then I met my wife and we moved back to Baltimore. I got at job at an apartment complex doing maintenance and then HVAC work which lasted about two years. I then became an apprentice for a contractor, eventually becoming a service manager, which lasted about four years. I then worked for Fidelity for five years and got into commercial air conditioning and refrigeration. Through Fidelity I was able to get my masters license. After leaving Fidelity, I got a job with Calvert Mechanical Solutions in 1995 and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

How has a career in the trades impacted your life?

The trade has treated me very well. I’ve advanced up the ladder and I make a really good living. I’ve put three kids through college. I live comfortably. I’ve seen parts of the world. I teach at ABC so I can inspire the next generation. In addition to helping design the CEA’s HVAC laboratory I’m also helping Chris Hadfield design programs for ABC Greater Baltimore’s higher skilled HVAC members. Just because you’re a journey man doesn’t mean there’s nothing new you can learn.

What’s your best advice for others hoping to get into the trades?

The norm is to go off to college these days. We push everyone that route. But there’s way more opportunities out there than just college. Back in the 60s and 70s everyone graduated high school, but if you wanted to be special you had to go to college. Well, a four-year college degree isn’t so special anymore.

In the trades, it’s still special. You have the ability to do something that is in high demand. And anytime you’re in a high demand area, there’s opportunity.

College students also graduate with significant debt. Going through ABC’s apprenticeship program, you graduate without debt and there’s a company willing to hire you and pay you for your education. In the HVAC field, in some cases, you can make $25 to $30 an hour more than someone starting out with a mechanical engineering degree. The trades are more fun, more money and has no debt.

It is the time now and the best opportunity to get into the trades. We’ve failed because we’ve pushed everyone toward college and not everyone succeeds in college. If you succeed in trades, you are guaranteed a job and benefits. The demand for skilled workers is there. That’s why training is so important.