By Holly Desrosier
Since childhood, we are told that we need to be the best students we can be. We’re constantly reminded that our futures are dependent on a good education and we need a college degree to obtain a truly respectable job. While there’s no denying that education is priceless, an increasing number of students are choosing to become certified in specific trades rather than obtain a degree. Many are seeking to develop job skills so they can support themselves or their families.
Highly trained people are a necessity in today’s competitive workforce. As a result, more and more employers have begun to focus on what skills and experience candidates have to offer. Similarly, those looking to start their own business must have the expertise to succeed.
Small business owner and former Craven Community College (Craven CC) student Eric Lalicker recently experienced this firsthand. Like many students, Lalicker didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his life but felt the need to prove himself somehow.
In 2001, he joined the United States Marine Corps and served for nine years as active duty and three years in reserve. His primary duty station was Camp Pendleton, California.
“I enjoyed most of my time in the Marine Corps and the relationships I developed,” he said. “It gave me some structure in my life and taught me leadership skills I use to this day.”
He deployed to Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003. From 2005 to 2006, he was in various Iraqi cities, Kuwait and the West Pacific. He was stationed at Cherry Point for his last year in the Corps. Upon completing his service in 2010, he expected to be welcomed by a host of opportunities. Instead, he was greeted with uncertainty.
“I was unsure of the route I wanted to take in life,” he said. “I was fresh out of the military, and like most vets we are led to believe that once we leave the service, we will have hundreds of employers waiting with arms wide open.”
Lalicker quickly learned that this was not the case. Despite the skills he developed in the military, he found that he was not yet job-ready. He took some classes with Southern Illinois University and began attending Craven CC in 2012, but with no real plan in place, he began to lose focus. He knew he wanted to enter the workforce and make a difference, but he wanted to do it on his own terms.
“I was tired of working towards someone else’s dream,” he explained. “I wanted the freedom of being my own boss and not having to live in fear of losing my job.”
Lalicker observed an opportunity to provide distinguished customer service in the community as a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technician. “I saw a huge need for HVAC technicians in our area that actually do quality work and actually care about the customer,” he said.
He noticed that younger generations had begun to stray away from trade skills, and he realized the HVAC industry needed more young people to replace the retiring ones. At just 35 years old, the father of four knew he could potentially have a long, successful career ahead of him. He also knew he needed to obtain the proper training.
Inspired with his business idea, Lalicker decided to seek certification through the college’s Workforce Development (WFD) department. “My experience at Craven had a huge impact on me making the decision to start my small business,” said Lalicker. “I enrolled already knowing I was going to start my business.”
Earlier this year, he completed HVAC 1 and 2 and Electrical 1, earning National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certifications in each field. His experience at Craven CC had more of an impact on his life and career than he ever expected. He was especially impressed with the updated equipment and the level of thoroughness and genuine concern shown by college employees.
“The staff and instructors gave me the confidence I needed—knowing I wasn’t alone—and still to this day, they offer assistance if needed over the phone or in person,” he said. “It did benefit my career tremendously. I had instructors with 30 years of experience in the field. I had staff there every step of the way.”
Lalicker officially started his business, Shock & Aww Residential HVAC, in April. In less than a year, he’s already retained 180 customers and hopes to have 200 by the end of the year. While he does the majority of the work, his wife is taking on the role of finance manager.
“As owner and technician, I answer and perform about 95 percent of all service and repair calls,” he said. “I also settle disputes with customers and offer advice and training on their home units. I am the human resource manager, technician, maintenance manager, marketing manager and friend all in one.”
On top of running his HVAC business, just last month Lalicker began working as a facilities maintenance supervisor at Vidant Beaufort Hospital, where he is in charge of facilities maintenance such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, mechanical and painting. He previously worked at BSH as an electronics/electrical technician III for nearly five years.
Recently, the training Lalicker received at Craven CC came in handy when he came to the aid of displaced animals after Hurricane Florence. Since many of the animals were forced to stay in an overflow shelter with inoperable air conditioning units, Lalicker decided to provide them with cool air.
“I volunteered my services to repair as many units as I could to ensure the animals had adequate cool air during the hot days after the hurricane,” he said. “Labor, parts and refrigerant were all free.”
Despite his overloaded schedule, Lalicker couldn’t be happier. Owning and operating his own business and serving the community he lives in has been a gift, and he said it means a lot to him to see his customers around town.
“Many know me by name, and I am proud to say many have become my friends,” he said. “I must ensure I do excellent work at a fair and honest price. I take pride in taking care of people.”
As for returning to school, Lalicker hasn’t completely ruled it out. However, he is satisfied with the education and certifications he received at Craven CC.
“I don’t see the need as of now to return to school,” he said. “One day perhaps I will return, but from a financial standpoint I don’t think it will be necessary.”
For students who are unsure of their career aspirations like Lalicker was, Craven CC’s certification programs could be the ideal choice. From nursing and real estate to barbering and HVAC, students have selections from all across the career spectrum.
In addition to providing essential training to successfully enter the workforce or enhance current careers, WFD programs at Craven CC provide a low-cost and streamlined alternative to a traditional curriculum program. Financial assistance is available to qualifying students through hurricane relief funding or VA benefits.
For more information on Craven CC’s WFD programs and certifications, contact 252-638-7248 or WFDinfo@cravencc.edu.
This article also appeared in the New Bern Sun Journal.