I grew up in Kenya Highlands, where you hardly ever need cooling or heat—and it is never humid. So I had no exposure to A/C or heating technology. In my country, plumbing is one of the best paid jobs, but people don’t want to do it. Not only is the plumbing poor in people’s houses, but the city sewage is not well done—it’s not very clean.
In Kenya, I had completed a Bachelor’s degree in Social Science. I couldn’t find a job—there were no employment opportunities for me. In the United States, I would need to attend additional classes to be considered as having a Bachelor’s degree; but I had a family to provide for.
Later I bought my own truck and started a small business. I would leave early in the morning, while my young daughter was still sleeping. Often when I returned home at night she was already in bed. An early talker; when she was only two years old she would ask me, “When will you come home?”
Searching the internet for employment training, I looked for schools with an electrical program. I found two schools—one that was close to my home, and MTTI, which was a little further away. Deciding on a Sunday night that I was ready to go to school, I first checked out the other school; then on Wednesday I visited MTTI.
I met with one of the Instructors, who walked me through the Building Trades program. Don explained how the program is run and what training I would receive. In the shop, he showed me the plumbing that the class had just installed, and the room inside the house module that students had just painted. He showed me photos of framing, sheathing and siding of the module; electrical and plumbing installation; decorative interior archways, finish carpentry, wallpapering and painting. I would learn to use hand and power tools, and have an introduction to HVAC and green energy technology.
Coming into the program with just a little electrical background, I liked that that program would expose me to new areas and new ways of doing things. I thought to myself, “If I don’t go to school right now, I might change my mind.”
Coming from a ‘metric country’, I had to learn to measure in inches and weigh in pounds. Now I can measure in both systems and convert from one to the other. Trade language differs from spoken language, especially when you have to explain things technically. Some of the words used in my home country are not the same as what we say here. For example, here we say ‘hot, neutral and ground’; in Africa, we still use ‘positive, negative and earth’.
They didn’t want to just pass us and have us go out to work. They taught us to fully understand why we did each task in a certain way and how to do it. Don and Pat walked their talk. They would tell us we have to wear safety glasses—and they would wear the glasses and the boots every day. I appreciated their preparedness and professionalism.
He opens up your mind to think about doing things in different ways. He believes almost anything can be fixed—at least until it is completely damaged. Even now, I hear his voice in my head, saying, ‘You can do this, or you can do that to make it work.’
That same week the company that was advertising came to the school to meet with Erin, the Career Service Specialist. East Side Enterprises had discovered MTTI and wanted to learn what the school and program offer. My performance in the class was good; Erin called me to meet with them. They also contacted my instructor for more information about me.
It was a 3-hour drive each way in my own car–I was not given a company vehicle. I called Erin, and my instructor, Pat. I needed to find another opportunity quickly—one that offered some schedule flexibility so I could give time to my family.
The company owns gas stations with markets in them—last year they opened one in New Hampshire, two in Rhode Island and one in Massachusetts. In the past they had used outside vendors to maintain their properties; they decided they wanted their own in-house technicians.
They care about making sure my family is happy—they will ask me, ‘How is your family doing?’ They have given me a company truck full of tools and they provide support whenever I ask for it.
It is all important. I need to know some HVAC, because their markets have walk-in and stand-alone coolers. The job also involves heating and cooling of the buildings.
It is very important to know how to work safely. I paint and do roofing. What I learned at MTTI helps me know how to handle a ladder and work at heights or on a canopy. At school, I learned how to use power tools. On the job, if I am not cutting through a wall, I may be cutting pipes. When I demolish a wall inside a building, I know how to control dust. Terminology is important—for example, ‘miter saw’,’ double bevel’—you need to know what they are talking about when they tell you to use it.
Now I can work in almost every trade. There is no need for someone to train me from scratch—I am not an expert in any one thing, but I am trainable in any trade. Because of what I learned in the Building Trades program, I can apprentice in plumbing or electrical, carpentry or HVAC. Working with East Side Enterprises, I use all these of these skills as a maintenance technician.
At MTTI I learned how to learn. If I open a wall on the job, and find something unexpected, I ask myself: ‘What would Don and Pat do?” My training has given me confidence to face any challenge and find creative solutions.
Training in multiple trades opens unexpected doors. For example, I can train and certify for maintaining underground storage tanks that hold petroleum—and make good money.
I think about going back to Kenya to help my country. There are people in Africa who were injured in the war; they can’t access parts of their houses. I would like to use what I have learned in the US to help them make their homes handicap accessible.
I know places in Africa where there is wind every day, and sun every morning. Wind and solar energy would give people hot water every day. Someday, I may take all the knowledge and skills I have learned back home, and introduce green energy technology to Kenya.
Top – Displaying the Table Made With Hand Tools
Middle –Instructors Pat Church and Don Desforges Present Cyrus With His Diploma
Bottom – Using Power Tools in the Module