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Graduate Testimonials

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Making Moves for CNC Machining: Michael Phelps’ Story


Derek Brown's career journey is a testament to the power of a skilled trades education. His story is one that's marked by passion, hard work and continuous learning – all of which have been instrumental in shaping his successful career in the trades.1

Currently, Derek is the HVAC install manager at Thornton & Grooms in Farmington, Michigan. His role keeps him busy as he works with multiple groups of people each day. "A typical day on the job for me would be dealing with communication with customers, service technicians, installation technicians and our internal staff, including our sales team," he says. It's about ensuring that the team is equipped and ready to perform their jobs successfully every day.

Derek's journey into the trades sector wasn't accidental. Right after his military service, he found himself drawn toward the trades.

"I had a passion to be in the trades," he admits.

After he completed his technical trades training, he tried his hand at different jobs within multiple industries before ultimately landing in HVAC management.

His education played a crucial role in this journey. It was more than just a piece of paper for Derek.

"It allowed me to be able to expand my horizons. It gave me the opportunity to see what was out there," he shares.

Derek highlights how his education helped opened the door to his career in the trades.1

One of the most impactful aspects of his education was the exposure to electronics.

“The electronics side of things at school allowed me to expand my horizons. That’s what stuck most with me,” he says.

Today, Derek takes pride in his team's ability to learn everything from electrical to plumbing to HVAC, which he believes is a strength of students coming from technical trades education.

Derek's education didn't just open doors; it helped to create them.

"My education has allowed me to push past and do whatever it is I want to do,” says Derek.

He worked tirelessly to reach his goals and credits his education for helping him build the foundation needed to eventually rise to become a leader in the industry. Derek is also passionate about people and their career growth.

"My ultimate goal is to get them to where they want to be. A lot of people want to be in my shoes or they want to be an owner of something, and that’s my passion,” shares Derek. “My passion is seeing people grow, seeing people continue to expand…”

Looking ahead, Derek's vision includes mentoring and developing future leaders in the industry.

“Next for me would be for the next people to step into my shoes. I want to continue to mentor and continue to develop, coach and train supervisors and managers to be able to expand our business and continue to be what we need to be out there,” says Derek.

For those considering a career in HVACR or any trade, Derek has some words of wisdom: “Do not limit yourself… There’s a demand in the industry for skilled workers, and with the rapid advancements in technology, continuous learning is crucial.

“You have to continue to push yourself, to learn the new technology, to learn the advancements and to learn how everything is operating now,” he says. “Do not stop. Continue to educate yourself.”

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