Monthly Archives: June 2011

Here at Technical Training Associates, we get inquiries on a regular basis from people who are interested in “getting into the business” as they say, and they’re looking for training on how to perform the electrical troubleshooting and refrigeration system servicing tasks required of a technician who services air conditioning equipment. Their profile, pretty much exclusively male, varies somewhat when it comes to background, and experience, and age.

“I’ve been an electrician (or carpenter, or plumber, or another trade of choice) for years, and I’ve been thinking about getting into the A/C business”,  is one profile, while there are others who are younger,currently in fast food, retail, truck driving, or something else totally unrelated to a trade or craft.

Regardless of their age and background, they are usually calliing because they’ve been doing an on-line search for something like “air conditioning training” or “air conditioning school”, or maybe even “air conditioning training videos” because they’ve already made the decision not to go to a trade school or community college for their training, but instead want to learn on their own at home.

And, also regardless of their profile, they often have other questions beyond the technnical side of the the HVAC, or HVACR if you prefer, business. Questions  (and often some false assumptions about) licensing and/or certifications required for employment, or for becoming independently employed in HVAC repair and service are common. And in some cases, we even get questions about whether or not the HVACR business is a good business to get into, employment-wise as far as avoiding seasonal layoffs, or business-wise as far as, well, being able to find enough business to stay in business.

Yes, it’s quite a conundrum for those not familiar with the HVAC craft and the business of it, and there’s so much to know…..but in this, and the segments of this blog to follow, I’ll do what I can to educate those who are uninitiated regarding the specifics of “getting into the A/C service business”, dispel some of the myths that are common to our craft, and, if nothing else, help someone decide that the HVAC business isn’t for them.

I’ll begin by addressing the question of licensing…..for a company-employed technician, not an independent operator.

The answer to the question, “What kind of license do I need?” or the statement/question of assumption, “I need to get licensed, so what do I do?” is, it depends on what state you’re in.

Some states, such as Kentucky, require that any technician who performs service on air conditioning equipment must obtain a license. And, there may also be a requirement, such as there is in Kentucky, that every technician working in this field needs to complete a given number of hours of continuing education annually in order to renew that license. Other states may have no requirement whatsoever for somebody who is employed as an A/C  service technician.

Note that what I’m talking about here is “Licensing” not “Certification”. They are two completely different subjects. Obtaining a certification, whether it’s a trade or industry certification, or government-required one, involves testing to demonstrate competency. That’s pretty much a given. When it comes to technician licensing, though, there may be some testing involved, and then again, maybe not. In some cases, the only requirement to get technician-licensed as an employee to begin with, is to pay the required fee.

To figure out where you fit in regarding the subject of technician license requirement, do some research. There are several HVAC-related sites that you can visit and ask questions about what’s required (or not) to get started as an A/C technician in your particular state, and if there’s one thing you can take to the bank about those in the HVACR community, there is always someone willing to respond to your inquiry on a thread or discussion board about “getting into the HVAC business”…..that is, if you’re serious about it….more on that later.

If you visit the Links page on this site, you’ll find someplace to get started on your quest for information.

Part 2 next week….

Jim

Some technicians, and some service company owners, are of the opinion that consumers don’t care about certifications; that all they are interested in is getting their equipment fixed and getting it fixed at the lowest price possible. Well, no doubt there are some consumers that fit that profile, but, as in any situation, painting everyone and everything with the same broad brush is, to put it simply, just not the right way to go.

To look at this fairly and with a common sense approach, consider the idea that consumers actually fit into one of two fundamental categories. They are either shoppers, or they are customers.

What’s the difference between the two?

A shopper’s primary focus is price. A customer’s primary focus is value.  And that, as they say, is all there is ’cause there ain’t no more.

So, the shopper fits the profile of a consumer who doesn’t care about technician certification (though, when pressed, will likely admit to being caring about technician competency) and their primary concern is getting service or repairs accomplished at the lowest possible price.  Why does a person take this approach? It might be that they just don’t have the funds in the form of cash, money in their checking account, or via a credit card to pay for professional service. Or, it may be that they believe that the above is true when it actually isn’t. Whatever the case, there’s no reason to spend any more time thinking about this type of consumer. Instead, focus on consumers who fit into the customer category, someone who understands that what they want is a good value for their money spent.

A customer does care about technician certification. Certainly, they won’t have a complete idea of what it takes for a technician to earn a certification, but they understand the basic concept of certification and they will, by nature consider it a benchmark of credibility. For example, if they notice that the technician who has come to their home to service their air conditioning system has a NATE (North American Technician Excllence) patch on their shirt, they may ask what it stands for. And, they’ll likely accept the explanation without questioning whether or not it is credible.

They won’t think to ask “So what is this NATE? Are they an organization that the state or federal government oversees in order to make sure that the certifications they grant are the real thing?” 

Or, they may not even bother to ask what the letters stand for, or for any explanation of any kind, simply assuming that it must indicate that the technician is competent and will be able to get their system up and running again because, after all that’s what they agreed to pay for when they called a reputable service company.

The point is, yes, customers do care about technician certification, not just the lowest price possible for a repair.

Jim

Beyond the relatively minor confusion that we sometimes see in regard to HVAC and appliance technicians and the structure of certification programs, there is the consumer; the person who calls and requests service on their furnace,comfort cooling system, refrigerator, washing machine, etc… and assumes that the technician who shows up will be capable, competent, and, if necessary, certified.

Sounds reasonable enough.

However, in some cases, the “certification” that consumers assume is there….well, just isn’t. Consider these two scenarios:

A consumer sees a van for an appliance service company, and, in addition to the company name and contact information shown on the vehicle, the term “Certified Technicians” is listed. What is the customer’s impression of this listing, and what assumptions are, for the most part, automatic? Often, it is that when one of the technicians from this service company shows up to fix whatever specific make and model of appliance that needs repaired, he or she is certified (trained, informed, and tested) on that particular appliance or category of appliance. Well, in this scenario, that’s not what the “certified” listing means.

In this case, the appliance service company paid about $25 per technician to take an open-book, 50 multiple-choice question exam (Type 1 for technicians who service refrigeration systems containing less than 5 lbs. of refrigerant with a hermetically sealed refrigeration system is the formal definition of this EPA certification exam on refrigerant handling) and thereby listed on their van that the technicians they employ are “certified”. This certification is, as the EPA definition states, related to safe and legal practices regarding refrigerant handling and requirements for evacuating and charging refrigeration systems, and proper methods of leak testing a refrigeration system. It doesn’t speak to a technician’s comptency related to any other aspect of servicing appliances…not servicing the electrical and air flow systems in a refrigerator; not for servicing gas or electric ranges, or washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashsers, etc….it’s related to refrigerant handling only.

For our second scenario, this one on the HVAC side of service, the situation is similar. The difference is that the exam is closed-book and can be only 50 questions if the technician is becoming certified in what is known as Type 2 equipment (high-pressure refrigeration systems with more than 5 lbs. of refrigerant) rather than Type 1 equipment. Or, it could be that the technician accomplished a 100 multiple-choice question exam that covers not only Type 1, but also Type 2 and Type 3 equipment (low pressure refrigeration systems), which means the technician is considered to be certified as a Universal Technician.

In either case, the “certified” term can be earned by taking an exam related only to the EPA rules and regulations relative to safe and legal refrigerant handling practices.

Now, if in either case, the listing on the side of the service vehicle stated “Factory Trained Technicians”, that would mean something more than what I’ve described above, and consumers need to be aware of the difference between the two descriptions that are supposed to be an indicator of technician competency….though, again, not exactly what the consumer may assume.

There’s more to talk about on the issue of technician certification, and I’ll continue my rant on this subject in my next post.

Jim

On a fairly regular basis, I find that there is some confusion about technician certification in the HVAC industry, and I’m not just talking about consumers.  For example, some technicians who work in the air conditioning and refrigeration business are of the impression that they are required to hold a certification on R-410A in order to work on those refrigeration systems. Not true.

The confusion on this issue likely comes about from a misunderstanding about the two types of certification categories that exist relative to the HVAC industry. These categories are:

1. Those required by federal or state law.

2. Those that are industry-sponsored certifications and are voluntary; not required by any federal or state law.

The most common in the required certification category, of course, is the EPA Section 608 refrigerant handlng certification that is required of every technician who performs service on refrigeration systems. It is simply a violation of the Clean Air Act of 1990 to connect a set of gauges to a refrigeration system, add refrigerant to a system, etc…without being certified

In the second category are certifications that technicians can take a test to earn, and their purpose is to demonstrate  competency. The R410A certification I mentioned above is one example of this type of certification. NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certifications also fit into this category.

Both types of certifications serve a purpose. One brings a technician into accordance with law, and the other provides an opportunity for a technician to improve his or her understanding of their craft (after all, one just doesn’t sit down and take a closed-book exam without some preparation and learning), and then convey their higher level of competency to their customers.

My stance on voluntary, industry-sponsored certification is that, while it may not be required by law, every technican should pursue it in order to improve their skills, provide the best possible customer service, and raise the standards of the industry in which they’ve chosen to pursue their craft.

The points I’ve made in this post are only the beginning of what I have to say about this subject. In my next post, I’ll delve further into the the topic of HVACR technicians and certifications.

Jim

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