HVACR certifications provide technicians, their employers, and customers legitimacy. Much like a degree or diploma, certification offers a seal of approval that the individual doing the work is qualified, educated, and knowledgeable.
And, for HVAC contractors, some of the most coveted certifications available come from North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
“NATE certification differentiates us from our competition,” said Bobby Ring, president and CEO of Meyer & Depew Co. Inc. in Kenilworth, New Jersey. “We help our clients realize the difference between a contractor who uses NATE-certified technicians and those who don’t, and we’re proud to offer the superior service they’ve come to expect from our skilled technicians.”
According to Valerie Briggs, director of marketing and business development, NATE, more than 34,000 HVACR technicians have at least one NATE certification, which equates to an average of about 13 percent of the workforce, per numbers maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In parts of the country with partnering utility and manufacturing programs that require NATE certification, Briggs said the organization sees as much as 30 percent of HVACR techs with NATE certification.
BENEFITS FOR ALL
Whatever their reasons may be for seeking out certification, NATE offers a bevy of programs and aims to help technicians across the country constantly improve themselves while also providing value to other segments of the industry.
“Stakeholders throughout the HVAC industry value chain benefit from NATE technician certification,” said Briggs. “Manufacturers and distributors benefit because NATE certification encourages proper installation and service, which means fewer warranty returns and, ultimately, a better bottom line. Contractors recognize that NATE-certified technicians remain in the industry longer, have the proven knowledge to do the job right the first time, and are more productive than noncertified technicians. Educators and trainers benefit from the uniform testing standard of NATE certification.”
Jamall Dixon, technician, Davis Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. in Stafford, Texas, found out about NATE certification through his current employer, who recommends technicians get certified as a way to bolster their HVAC understanding and experience.
“I wanted to get NATE certified so I could gain knowledge and reassure myself of my current knowledge and experience regarding HVAC on how to effectively troubleshoot and repair equipment,” said Dixon. “NATE gives a road map for repairs if you are unaware of certain issues and also reassures your employer that you have the necessary qualifications and experience.”
Briggs highlighted a recent NATE survey of HVACR contractors that found a majority (79 percent) believe in the importance of attracting and retaining good people; however, fewer than one in four said their current hiring and human resource management methods were effective.
“At NATE, we believe training, subsequent certification, and continuing education can be used to help with that disconnect,” said Briggs. “As the HVACR industry braces for a predicted significant workforce shortfall in the next couple of years, efforts to build a workforce of competent, qualified technicians is needed now more than ever. That is why NATE launched new levels of testing [Ready-to-Work certificate exam and the HVAC Support Technician certificate] to assist contractors in hiring better candidates and providing them a career development path as they learn and grow professionally.”
The Ready-to-Work certificate exam, which was launched earlier this year, is offered completely online and has been taken by more than 300 technicians to this point.
“Our Ready-to-Work exam is a fundamental program that focuses on tool identification, general safety, electrical safety, and some heat-transfer knowledge,” said Anthony Spagnoli, manager of testing and education, NATE. “An exam like this allows contractors to hire employees based on their profile for service skills, showing up on time, etc., while filling in the technical skills themselves. It also allows them to use the exam as a way to benchmark techs to make sure they have bedrock skills and won’t injure themselves or others on the job while still having the ability to hit the ground running.”
Briggs said as those entry-level technicians — whether they are new to the industry or formally trained — work and gain greater experience, they may progress to a supporting maintenance role for HVACR equipment installation and service.
“To meet that need for a new level of testing, NATE has created the HVACR Support Technician certificate to test fundamental skills, basic airflow, and safety. The certificate also helps to verify knowledge of normal HVACR equipment operation,” she said. “The HVACR Support Technician exam covers topics linked to the current professional level certifications, but at a more fundamental skill level. We believe this certificate will provide those career-focused technicians the opportunity to advance and demonstrate their increased knowledge and skills, while providing the contractors an environment of continuous improvement.”
Dixon believes continually making new certifications available is important and provides benefits to techs at varying points in their careers.
“I will continue pursuing more NATE-provided certifications because I think they offer techs a great way to learn and refresh their knowledge,” he said. “It gives you a well-rounded view of the many issues that we as technicians are faced with every day. NATE refreshes veterans on practices they may have steered away from or even corrects how a veteran approaches issues they may have been doing incorrectly while informing new technicians how to be effective and precise in the field.”
Adapting to a changing workforce is obviously imperative, and NATE has diversified its certifications over the last decade with the implementation of online exams.
“NATE exams have been available online since 2007, and we’ve seen an increase in online testing over the years because of its convenience and immediate test results. It also allows proctors to host testing without much advance notice or registration,” said Briggs. “That being said, online testing for our certification exams does have to be in the presence of a proctor of any of our approved testing organizations.”
However, the launch of the Ready-to-Work certificate this year was NATE’s first un-proctored online exam, which Briggs said is more convenient because candidates and employees can take the exam anywhere, even at home, allowing greater accessibility. It is adaptability like this, as well as continually listening to technicians in the field, that will drive NATE forward.
“NATE-certiﬁed technicians earn higher-than-average salaries, are considered more valuable to their employers, and are preferred among customers,” she said. “We recommend, but don’t require, at least two years of experience for our service certification exams, and we hear from more experienced technicians every day who are pursuing NATE certification for their own sense of pride but also because more and more manufacturer dealer programs; utilities; and local, state, and federal programs are recognizing and even requiring NATE certification.”
Publication date: 9/12/2016