Ulster BOCES Grad Joins Family HVAC Business

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Cole Navara, it was a place where he was able to gain valuable knowledge, skills, and experience to prepare him to be a service technician in his family’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) business.

While he was a student at Kingston High School, Cole admits he wasn’t the best student and wasn’t a fan of traditional classroom education. He explains that listening to instruction wasn’t the best way for him to learn. “I didn’t really like it at all. In HVAC I was very good, in regular school—not very good,” he says. “I preferred being in an environment like BOCES where you learn about something and then you’re able to go back and reinforce what you learned by doing it.”

Unlike many high school students who attend the Career & Technical Center in Port Ewen, Cole didn’t learn about the various trade programs through his school counselor or by attending an Ulster BOCES high school visitation trip to explore program offerings. Cole had originally been a student in the Ulster BOCES Hudson Valley Pathways Academy (HVPA), which supports higher education learning and prepares students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math-based industries. “I wasn’t interested in computers, health, and engineering jobs,” he explains about HVPA’s courses. “I am not good with technology, but I am good with mechanical things so HVAC was a good fit. And by being at BOCES, I learned about all of the programs there.”

The eighteen-year-old is no stranger to the HVAC industry. Sixteen years ago, his father bought Britt & Graff, a home heating oil and HVAC repair business. The Port Ewen business has grown from two trucks and a few hundred customers to eight trucks and a few thousand customers and provides propane and fuel oil to residential or commercial sites.

According to Cole, one of the perks of the job is being able to work with family members, but he says it is always a professional environment. “I see my father at work and there he is the boss and at home he’s my father,” he explains.

The young technician says one of the most important things the Ulster BOCES HVAC program helped him to develop was critical thinking. “Troubleshooting is one of the most useful skills,” Cole states. He says his teacher, John Henriksen, was thorough when it came to teaching him and his classmates how an entire HVAC system works. “I use this on every job. Knowing how to fix a part is easy. Knowing a part is bad is the hard part,” points out Cole.

Cole says his teacher and the curriculum provided him with a solid foundation in the industry, including having the knowledge of how thermostats work and heat is delivered into homes and businesses. The program also honed his customer service skills. “It is very important to know the basic fundamentals,” Cole states.

He says he is happy with his decision to enroll in the HVAC program and having the knowledge to enter into a reliable career making a good income. “I am 18 and I’m going to have good job security in this field.”

According to Cole, his favorite part of the job is resolving the problem quickly and professionally for the customer. “It’s very rewarding to see the people happy that they are going to be warm that night or if it’s an air conditioning unit that they are going to be cool.”