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Lindsay Diaz and her son stand in what's left of their home after tornadoes tore through North Texas on Dec. 26, 2015.KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.The problem's known as asset poverty, and it doesn’t discriminate. A job loss, health emergency, even legal trouble can be enough to plunge a third of our friends and neighbors into financial distress. One Crisis Away puts a human face on asset poverty and the financial struggles of people in North TexasExplore the series so far and join the KERA News team as they add new chapters to One Crisis Away in the months to come.One Crisis Away is funded in part by the Communities Foundation of Texas, Allstate Foundation, the Texas Women's Foundation, The Fort Worth Foundation, The Thomson Family Foundation, and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

North Texas Is Home To Thousands Of Unfilled Jobs That Typically Pay $24 Per Hour

According to JP Morgan Chase, some 42,000 “middle skills” jobs in North Texas will remain unfilled this year and next. Those are trades like electrician or dental hygienist—things that require training after high school but not a four year degree. These jobs pay a median salary of $24 per hour.

Getting certified doesn’t cost much or take much time, and the pay waiting on the other side can be hefty.

Hands On Training

Nobody is born knowing how to check Freon. At the end of a residential air conditioning class at Cedar Valley College, 15 guys will have it down. Low Freon is a common issue on air conditioner repair calls, so the students in this class need to know how to diagnose it.

They’re about halfway through a ‘Tech III’ certification program. Once they finish that, they can jump right into employment as a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning—or HVAC technician.

Tim Mullis is ready to work.

“I’m looking for the future. Money’s not what it needs to be, so I want to make sure that I can provide for my own future,” he says.

The 40-year-old already works for a home security company and says he earns a decent hourly wage. Saving for retirement though, isn’t something he’s able to do.

“When I’m old, I’d like to have the money to do the things that I want to do, not just live check to check like most Americans nowadays,” says Mullis.

Job Security And Earning Potential

With his HVAC certification, Mullis won’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck—at least according to instructor Chris Colquitt.

Starting out, technicians take home about $15 an hour with full benefits and lots of potential overtime. Colquitt says, pay raises happen fast.

“I have some of my former students making $30, $35 dollars an hour now,” he says.

Colquitt says HVAC techs with a few years under their belts can open their own businesses—and earn even more. And in a state like Texas, job security is a given.

“Seven, eight, nine months out of the year we have to run our air conditioners in our homes and if our air conditioner goes out, we’re going to get it fixed, on the same day that it goes out most likely,” he says.

The Middle Skills Gap

The work in these “middle skills jobs” is there, Colquitt says. The problem is, there just aren’t a lot of people training to do it.

“There are so many job opportunities in this field, and it’s so hard to find qualified technicians to fill the positions,” he says.

So what does that training cost?

At Cedar Valley College, a Tech III certification for Dallas County residents, will run about $2,800 spread out over three or four semesters.

That’s about 12 times cheaper than a four-year degree from a public university in Texas—which adds up to a little more than $33,000.

Working in IT, as a veterinary tech or electrician for example have similar training paths, with similar price tags.

Making A Change

A lot of the students at Cedar Valley are eligible for Pell grants and scholarships that help knock down that tuition even more and many of these guys work part time while they’re getting certified.

Bryant Mills, 19, earns $10 an hour at Walmart. He says even jumping up to entry level H-VAC pay will change his life dramatically.

“It’ll make a whole lot of difference,” he says. “I can spread it everywhere I want to spread it and take care of business so I can take care of business.”

His first order of business? Moving out of his mom’s place and into an apartment of his own. He loves the trade, learning the ins and outs of heating and cooling, and working with his hands. He’s equally excited about the financial stability that comes with it.

“Like they say, money rules the world, says Mills. “So it’s a good option for some money.”

Hopefully money he can count on two semesters from now, and for many years to come.