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Take Charge of Your Life

by on February 21, 2017 5:00 AM

After searching for data on the number of Americans who have earned college and technical degrees, I realized that the numbers are not precise and vary depending upon your source. What is undeniable is this: We have significant gaps in the number of Americans earning both college and trade/technical degrees compared with the number of jobs that will need to be filled. This is due in part to the large number of Baby Boomers set to retire in the next decade.

It is also true because we as a country are doing a relatively average job of educating, advising and helping our youth (and adults who have been downsized) to figure out what they could be doing for career development and how best to do it. It is easy to blame this on insufficient government funding for education, the bureaucracies that plague the education system or the popular scapegoat, the parents. O.K., there are parents who are enablers, but I believe there is another player in this equation that must be held accountable: the individual.

Yes, YOU, the individual. You have a choice in being the victim or the victor. It’s time to take charge of your life and stop blaming others. It’s time for us to attack “entitled dependence” with vigor.

There are certainly exceptions for people with special needs, those dealing with mental and physical challenges. These individuals deserve financial assistance and support. I am addressing the entitled folks who simply seem to feed off the system.

I have written in the past about the importance of developing options and making informed choices. The problem I have observed is that we simply don’t invest enough time, money and energy in helping kids figure out what career paths not only excites them, but also put food on the table.  

While it is true that college graduates earn more money and have a higher standard of living over the long haul, not everyone is meant to go to college. This is especially true considering the staggering amounts of college debt that exist today. I will discuss the advantages of a “gap year” in a future article, but I want to turn the focus of this story on alternatives for students who either can’t afford college (at least right away), do not have the skills to succeed in college (as of now), or just aren’t interested in college (at least not as an 18-year-old).  

According to Tradesmen International, there is a severe shortage of applicants for well-paying skilled labor jobs, and that is predicted to grow through 2024.

There are a number of options for residents of Central Pennsylvania that may make more sense in the short term, especially for individuals who simply cannot afford to go to college right out of high school. Here are just a few options: Penn College in Williamsport, the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center, Triangle Tech in Dubois, Pittsburgh Technical College, South Hills School of Business and Technology in State College, and the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology (CPI) in Bellefonte.   

On Feb. 6, I traveled with Scott Good, the owner and president of Goodco Mechanical, to speak to Ken Hassinger’s HVAC class at CPI. We were there to discuss career development and the importance of “soft skills” in the job market. Another speaker, Brian Price, an amazing young man joined us as well. Brian graduated from Hassinger’s class in May 2016 and now works at Goodco, the CBICC small business of the year.

Scott Good has been teaching this class for several years and the students listened to his every word. He put a couple of the kids on the spot by conducting mock interviews, with their classmates offering their critiques. I spoke briefly about the importance of customer service, attitude and “people skills.”

But the star of the show was clearly Brian Price, the 27-year old recent graduate from the HVAC class. His journey is worth hearing as it should inspire you to persevere no matter what hand you are dealt.  

I was so impressed with Brian’s presence and his message at CPI. He is such a great role model for the young students in the class. But I had no idea what I would learn when I asked if I could interview him for this column. It’s both tragic and heroic.

Brian’s biological father was never a part of his life. I found out that Brian dropped out of school at age 14 due to his mom’s “situation.”

“Mother had substance abuse issues,” he said. “I had to quit school to work just so we could eat. Mom came to me with her problems. My mother was my anti-drug poster. I chose to go a different path.”  

He spent eight years in a foster home from age 5 with his great aunt Dolly and great uncle Charlie – a loving but very stern man. His first jobs were at one State College restaurant and as a delivery driver for another. But a lot of the restaurants in town laid off staff when Penn State students left for summer break. Meanwhile he made time to earn his GED. He then picked up part-time work at Redline Speed Shine and worked as a laborer .

A crucial turning point for Brian was when he turned 16. Jerry Wheeland (who he refers to as his real dad), a heavy equipment operator, came into his life and instilled a great work ethic in Brian. Jerry is still a best friend. They love fishing together, and Jerry loves being with Brian and his family.

Jerry told Brian, “Son, don’t be scared of anything, just do it. Don’t be scared of obstacles, just give it a shot.”

At age 18, Brian enrolled at CPI for the first time and tried nursing, but didn’t like it. So he dropped out and did skilled trade work mostly in construction. He was fortunate to get a good job at Appalachian Pre-Fab in Williamsport making parts for the Marcellus shale industry. It was great pay, but it only lasted three years and then he was laid off when the Marcellus hit a downturn.

He actually made more money in unemployment than from working but didn’t want to live off the government. So he went to work for American Carpet Plus at $10 an hour. His life took a positive turn and he got engaged to an old friend from his teenage years, Janelle. They married and he suddenly had two stepchildren. “They are my kids and I raise them as my own.”  

With a wife and family he knew he needed a career change. “I was thinking of going to IT school but Janelle said ‘You will be happiest working with your hands.’”

So Brian went back to CPI in the fall of 2015 in their HVAC program after he was able to qualify for grant money and got a student loan. He graduated in May and started full-time with Goodco just four days after graduation.

Brian credits CPI and its staff with giving a chance to prove his worth.

“Mr. Hassinger goes out of his way for his students, takes so much pride in his work,” he said. “The class assistant, Mr. Laub, was also a big help.”

He became good friends with Hassinger, a friendship that remains strong.  

“Going to college was simply not in my DNA,” Brian explained. “I wanted to get a trade. Attitude is so important. Gotta step out of your comfort zone, gotta brush off the dirt and keep going.”

I asked Hassinger to describe Brian as a student. “Brian is a remarkable young man. As a student he was very confident and self-assured. Some students are really unsure. Brian was passionate and focused. Brian’s willingness to help mentor the younger guys was genuine.”

I asked Brian, why Goodco? He answered, “Mr. Hassinger spoke so highly of Goodco and Mr. Good came in to speak to the class. I said to myself, this guy gets it. He treats his employees right. I knew that’s where I wanted to work.”  

Brian started as a residential HVAC installer and was assigned to a great mentor.  When his mentor relocated, Brian had such high ratings that Scott trusted him with the group leader position.

Scott founded Goodco in 2008 “at his dining room table with his two dogs” and it has grown to just under 50 employees. He said that CPI is a great training ground for the trades, not just for high school students, but also adults looking to change careers or add to their skill set. The professionalism of the staff is what impressed Scott.

“It flows from the teachers and administrators who live the mission set by [CPI president] Dr. Richard Makin,” he said.

Scott described Brian as a very humble young man who doesn’t toot his own horn. “He came to me and said give me an opportunity and let me show you what I can do for you. There was no sense of entitlement whatsoever.”

Scott promoted Brian due to his maturity and wanting to earn his own way. “He is so appreciative of the opportunity and gives us his all. He has lived through a lot and has come through because of a great work ethic and a super attitude.”

I asked Brian if there was an "a-ha moment" when all his values and attitudes kicked in, or did he always have such a pragmatic approach to work and life?

“Not any one moment. I have had my share of ups and downs,” he said. “Taking pride in my work, having self worth, being optimistic, and being practical are part of who I am. You can’t just crawl in a corner and find your safe space. You gotta tackle challenges. Sitting around moping and complaining is not me. I don’t want pity. I have overcome a lot, I am happily married and have great kids. We are very content.”  

Brian’s goal is to build a log home on land he owns. “We are humble people. All about family, about creating memories.”

When I asked Brian how he felt about revealing his story to the public, without hesitation he said,  “If it will help another kid then please, tell my story, the whole story.”

We hear about people who are living as “entitled dependents” and milking the system. Brian is living proof of the good that can come from taking charge of your life.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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