Women in Trades: CWI HVAC Apprentice Shares Career Journey

Published: November 15, 2023

In honor of Women in Registered Apprenticeship Day and National Apprenticeship Week, Idaho Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, and Apprenticeship Idaho will host a panel of women to discuss and answer questions about careers and knowledge of apprenticeship programs on Thursday, Nov. 16. Featured panelist includes College of Western Idaho (CWI) HVAC Apprenticeship student, Charity Nicholson, who will share her experience of being a woman in a trade.

“I strongly feel like we would benefit greatly from having more females in the trades,” shared Nicholson. “We need to get the word out there that it is possible.”

Nicholson’s journey into apprenticeships began unexpectedly with a chance encounter with a technician from HVAC contractor, Western Heating and Air. Inspired by the company's reputation for employee care and customer satisfaction, she started her career as a Customer Service Representative and quickly climbed the ranks to become a Commercial Accounts Coordinator and Dispatcher.

Feeling the need for more knowledge, Nicholson expressed her interest in becoming a Service Technician and found herself in the field a few months later — a decision she describes as the best move she's ever made.

To continue to improve her knowledge and further her career, Nicholson enrolled in CWI’s four-year HVAC Apprenticeship Program. The College and Western Heating and Air have a strong partnership that includes a tuition reimbursement program, where her employer covers 50% of tuition for her first year and up to 100% for the following three.

CWI's online flexibility and exceptional communication have been instrumental in her ability to manage a full-time job and attend school simultaneously as well as balance life as a single mother of four boys. The supportive environment, with dedicated instructors and staff available to guide her through the online learning process and support on standby, has made her educational journey smooth.

“Time is not on my side. I can complete assignments when I have time available. If you miss an assignment, someone will reach out to make sure you have everything you need.”

When Nicholson initially began her career in the field she was concerned about customer and coworker reactions as a female HVAC technician. However, she quickly discovered that her fears were unfounded. In her role with Western Heating and Air, she found that many customers, particularly women, welcomed and appreciated having a female technician in their homes.

“It’s been an amazing and empowering experience.”

Nicholson's experience has been both amazing and empowering, where she has been able to dismiss stereotypes and showcase the value of diversity in the industry. She loves her role as an HVAC Technician with Western Heating and Air and plans to continue learning and advancing within the company. Eventually, she hopes to take on a role where she can train new technicians and encourage more women to join the HVAC profession.

“The world needs more tradeswomen!”

The free webinar Nicholson will participate in is Thursday, Nov. 16, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. via Zoom. Panelists also include representatives from the Idaho Transportation Department and the Idaho Department of Labor. Apprenticeship Idaho Supervisor, Gina Robison, and Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau’s Western Region, Kelly Jenkins-Pultz, will facilitate the event.

To learn more about CWI's Apprenticeship Programs, please visit cwi.edu/apprenticeship-programs.

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