Skip Navigation

College News

Alumna aims to attract more women to HVAC field

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Sep 23, 2021

When Nichole Lang attended College of Lake County (CLC), she was the only woman in her HVAC classes. Now, working in the trade, she’s hoping to help with the changing trend.

Before attending CLC in 2009, Lang worked with her dad in the field on and off for about five years. She grew up with family members in the trade, and that combined with her love for working with her hands and fixing things led her to pursue an education in the trade.

Woman in a tradeHaving some knowledge before coming to CLC helped her set a good foundation, and after starting classes, Lang worked for her dad full-time.

“I was just learning with him at first, but eventually he let me do routine maintenance and minor diagnostics on my own,” Lang said.

Being the only woman in classes ranging from 12-25 students, Lang said it was a little uncomfortable at first, but became empowering over time.

“I felt like I was doing something that was finally going to move the needle,” she said. “In time, I hoped more would be interested and pursue their dreams.”

Lang received plenty of support from both her classmates and instructors. She even volunteered to be a helper after hours in classes and on projects.

“I could learn things I wasn’t learning in class or sharpen the skills I was working on,” Lang said.

CLC engages in partnerships with external experts in the current workforce in high demand occupations like HVAC to help gear the curriculum towards the skills employers are looking for, making students more employable after degree or certificate completion.

After graduation, Lang worked with her dad again for a few more years while looking for another job in the field.

During this job search, she wasn’t met with the same welcoming attitude that her CLC instructors and peers gave her.

“It was challenging being a woman trying to get into the trade,” Lang said. “It was discouraging. At interviews, I was always told no because I might not fit in with the groups of guys or be strong enough.”

It was hurtful, and Lang started to wonder how she could get across how valuable and capable she was, deserving of her chance to work in the industry.

Her interview with Ravinia Plumbing welcomed her with open arms.

“Ravinia values people for their skillsets,” Lang said. “They don’t care if you’re a man or a woman. If you want to do it, they’ll help you if you’re qualified.”

Lang came on as a customer service representative in 2015, but has since moved up to an operations manager, a position she reached without any barriers in her way.

She asked to work in the field, and her boss was all for it, but she decided it was better for her to continue with the work she was doing in the office.

One part of her current job is reaching out to colleges like CLC with HVAC programs to recruit talent.

“My job now is more rewarding,” Lang said. “I’m able to help more women get into the trade.”

It’s rare for her to see another woman working in the plumbing industry, though she has seen a few in the field. Lang believes the percentage is rising from what she has seen at the college level. In October, Ravinia hired its first woman apprentice.

At CLC, more women are not only training in HVAC, but the trades in general.

“Our involvement from women is growing,” said Steven Lenz, Heating and Air Conditioning Engineering Technology department chair at CLC. “I started as an adjunct here about 20 years ago, and I had one woman student in my first 15 years. Now I see one or two a semester.”

Lang hopes more women continue to be inspired to pursue a career in the trade.

“If HVAC is something any woman is interested in, or if they just like working with your hands, they should check out the trade or any like it,” Lang said.

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.