Jenny Smith, Affil.AIRAH
Jenny Smith, Affil.AIRAH, has spent a generous amount of time in the HVAC&R industry. Over the course of her almost 40-year career and in running her own company, About Airconditioning, she has championed diversity and the importance of women in the sector.
With her time working in vocational education, she has helped inject women into Australia's non-traditional trades. This effort is also evident in her involvement in our Women of AIRAH Special Technical Group.
It culminated in recognition from the industry (including at the 2019 HVACR Leadership Awards) and from the United Nations, too.
Smith was included in the UN Environment Programme's Women in Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Industry: Personal Experiences and Achievements publication – available to download here.
She also sits on AIRAH's Northern Territory division committee.
What brought you to the HVAC&R industry?
I applied for a federal Australian apprenticeship in HVAC&R, and I was the first woman to be employed by the federal government as a test case in the Northern Territory. I loved the trade, and I pioneered my own career path and success.
I had genuinely gifted tradesmen who saw my love for it – taking me under their wings and taught me well. I have had several apprentices in my time and have enjoyed sharing my love of refrigeration and air conditioning with them.
How long have you been a member of AIRAH?
I have been a member of AIRAH for five years, and I’m on the Women of AIRAH committee.
What's your favourite HVAC&R-related memory?
When I was a young tradesperson working on the Royal Australian Air Force base in Darwin, I got a callout on a Saturday morning. It was for an air conditioning failure in the main central communications centre. I responded immediately – dressed in bicycle pants and a singlet on my push bike, as I was a mad fit cyclist.
I was known by sight on the base. I rode across, entered the plant room and was checking out the safety controls when a high ranking officer approached me and asked: ”Where’s your daddy?”
I responded with: “He can’t help you, as he’s an engineer. But I, however, have worked out the problem.” He was so embarrassed, and I always smile when I recall his blunder. It has not been the only time this has happened, though.
What's something everyone should know about you, your work, or the HVAC&R industry?
Very few women work on the frontline of the HVAC&R industry. But it is a rewarding choice.
It’s an area where women can excel, and there are many exciting career paths that can lead to business ownership, management, project management and engineering roles. These are positions that are in need of women and what we bring to the table. If you can imagine it, you can do it.
How have you seen the industry change in your time?
I came from the era of ammonia and R502 systems. I watched them get phased out, and then saw some freons – like ammonia – make their return.
Safety standards have risen, but bacteria and mould still need to be further addressed. From step controllers, staging compressors and fans, to the age of digital system controls and sensors recording usage and measuring detail … it has allowed efficiency control we couldn’t have dreamed of.
I’ve also seen buildings being controlled by our mobile phones; split systems flooding the domestic markets and becoming mass produced; and women being encouraged to enter the trades.
How do you see the HVAC&R industry developing over the next 100 years?
The future will see us developing better freons that are not as dangerous to the users.
Sensors will continue to measure and provide more data on systems. This will allow for minute control for maximum capacity and outcomes.
Bacteria and moulds will be properly addressed to create spaces that they cannot thrive in. They will continue to be collected and neutralised.
Tradespeople will become more IT-based and less like a mechanic. Workplaces will change, with dial-in applications being a requirement.