Two years ago, Michael Jolley was staring at unemployment, trying to figure out what do after the closure of his small business.
Today, Michael is working with a high-end refrigeration appliance company, servicing systems valued almost as much as your average new car. He landed that job thanks to the connections he’s made while pursuing a certificate from Renton Technical College’s program in Major Appliance and Refrigeration Technology, the only such program in Washington state.
He can show you the bronze medal he received this summer at the National SkillsUSA conference in Kentucky, where he placed third in the major appliance and refrigeration competition. He is also a proud RTC honor student, a student government senator, and a lead student tutor at RTC’s Learning Resource Center.
“This program has helped me get my life back together,” Michael said.
Michael’s road to RTC has many twists and dead ends. His last formal education was at Kentwood high school, and for many years worked in support jobs in health insurance, web travel services, and as a “jack of all trades.” He briefly owned his own business in backflow assembly testing, before he was forced to close it down in 2015.
He looked at his options at that time. Renton Technical College was the closest school, and he was attracted to it after hearing of the Aspen Institute’s selection of RTC as one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation. He was impressed with the selection of programs, but picking one was not easy.
“I did computer work before so I didn’t want to work behind a desk. I looked at nursing, but didn’t want to deal with bodily fluids,” Michael said. “I needed a career, not a job.”
He eventually gravitated to the Major Appliance and Refrigeration Technology program. It helped that he was eligible for job retraining support from the state, which made the program more affordable.
Michael enjoyed the hands-on approach of the program, where students learn the theory behind appliance systems, then spend much of their time fixing and rebuilding the kinds of equipment that a real repair person sees in the field.
The best part of the program has been the two instructors, Paul Baeder and John Campbell.
“If you show up and do your work, those two are your best gateway to a job,” Michael said. “But you have to be willing to work. You have to put in the hours, because these classes are no piece of cake. You have to be committed to the program.”
Michael is just one quarter away from graduation. His goal is to continue working as a repair person and earn enough real-world experience to come back and teach at RTC. Even if that doesn’t happen, he feels good about his choice of a new career.
“Everybody needs refrigeration, cooking, dishwashing, and laundry equipment, so there’s job security. And the pay is good as well,” he said.