More Than Just a Summer Job

Real-World Experience Gives Lee County High Senior Kaleb Blalock a Head Start on a Career

Kaleb Blalock is a great case study in how SkillsUSA participation can help prepare the way to a career in the trades. A rising senior at Lee County High School, Kaleb will compete in Sheet Metal at the 2024 SkillsUSA Championships in Atlanta the last week of June. To help him prepare, his instructor, Daniel Nelms, sought out local industry help, which led him to Leesburg’s Dyes Heating & Cooling.

“I needed to get trained for nationals,” Kaleb explains. “My instructor was asking around and he found [Dyes] and asked if they could train me, and they offered me a job.”

When the 2023-24 schoolyear ended, Kaleb jumped right into work at Dyes, where he’s learning everything from soldering to troubleshooting to changing components on air conditioning units. He anticipates continuing to build that on-the-job experience as a Work Based Learning (WBL) student his senior year.

“Even if welding doesn’t work out, I’ll have a backup [in HVAC work] and I can be certified in that,” he says. “I can have another career lined up.”

Kaleb mentions welding because that’s been his primary interest since taking Nelms’ metals class as a 10th-grader. Whatever path he ends up taking after high school, he’ll likely find a job waiting for him. As Dyes co-owner David Cravey notes, the HVAC industry is like much of the skilled trades arena in general: “In the current employment market, there is a pretty extreme lack of employees related to the trades.”

Within the world of HVAC, Cravey continues, “There’s more demand now for [skilled labor] than there ever has been. We have lots of people moving to the Southeast, and they’re going to be dependent upon air conditioning. When you come in and make someone’s house so it isn’t hot and humid and miserable, you’re the hero. You’re the most respected man in that person’s life that day for sure.”

Kaleb has been working under the supervision of Dyes service technician Tyler Russell. He’s learning invaluable lessons about both the technical and human sides of the business.

“He’s getting to experience how customers feel about certain situations and how to respond,” says Russell (pictured above in red shirt). “On the technical side, we deal with electrical, we deal with plumbing, we deal with pretty much anything mechanical.”

Kaleb says hands-on work has always appealed to him, and he’s clearly at ease around tools and machinery.

“When you go to the job, or you have a piece of metal in your hands, and you fix it up and step back look at it, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I fixed that,’” he says. “It brings gratitude and satisfaction.”

Kaleb certainly appears headed toward a satisfying career in the trades. Thanks to teachers like Nelms and employers like Cravey, more and more young adults are becoming aware of rewarding career paths.

“In my personal experience, a lot of kids are kind of pushed down the college route, and college is a great thing, but it’s not the best answer for everybody,” Cravey says. “I think [the skilled trades] are kind of becoming a lost art. It’s beneficial to young people who want to come into the market as tradesmen. They’re rarities, so they’re going to be in high demand. I want to make sure people realize that the trades are a great way to have a very successful career and life. Yes, it’s hard work, but it is very rewarding.”

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