ARLINGTON, VA. — Toward the beginning of our conversation, the age-old contractor topic came up: train your employees with a chance of them leaving or not train your employees and having them stay. "But that conversation is for another day," said Ray Isaac, president, Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Rochester, N.Y.
The topic of education and certification was broached when talking about NATE, or North American Technician Excellence, the certification program for technicians in the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) industry, and the only test supported by the entire HVAC/R industry, including contractors, distributors and manufacturers. “If I certify my technicians through NATE, and they leave the company, they become my competitor. That’s how strongly I feel about NATE,” said Isaac.
NATE certification tests represent working knowledge of HVAC/R systems, according to the NATE website. Tests are developed by a committee of industry professionals nationwide, and the exams represent HVAC/R topics pertinent to contractors, educators, manufacturers and utilities alike. The tests are multiple-choice, knowledge-based tests. NATE candidates may earn Installation and/or Service certification in one or more of the following areas, including air conditioning, air distribution, heat pumps, gas furnaces, oil furnaces, hydronics gas, hydronics oil, light commercial refrigeration, commercial refrigeration, ground source heat pump loop installer, and senior HVAC efficiency analyst.
With individual contractors receiving certification and organizations receiving accreditation through NATE, according to Isaac, “There is no other certification body for contractors universally accepted in the industry.” Isaac is a staunch supporter of NATE, with 80 of his technicians gaining the highest level of specialties through NATE certification. "When you have completed the rigorous certification process, you become a pro in the trade,” said Isaac. “It's a good wagon to be hitched to."
There are no educational requirements to take an examination and become certified, but it is recommended that the technician have some formal HVAC/R training either though an employer, apprenticeship program or technical school and one or two years’ experience in the industry. Typically a person who has acquired the technical knowledge and experience in the HVAC/R industry will take a four-hour refresher course before taking the examination, and in many cases that is all the preparation that is needed.
“NATE does not directly administer the examinations as that is done by our many approved testing organizations, which include technical schools, wholesale distributors, manufacturers, utilities, apprenticeship programs, etc.,” said Don Frendberg, Chairman of the Board for NATE. There are actually no members of NATE, as the Board serves by invitation only and NATE simply provides the examinations to certify the competency of HVACR technicians in a number of different specialty areas.
There are a number of businesses that provide training and publish training materials to assist those preparing to take the examination. If you input a zip code on the website it will provide a variety of locations where testing is offered. The rule of thumb is it would cost between $150 and $200 to take the examination and when successful there is no other cost other than for recertification every five years, which can be done through retesting or achieving 60 hours of continuing education credits.
The NATE advantage
There are many benefits of being a contractor with NATE Certified technicians, which include all of the following:
• Having employees that are confident with their attainment of industry recognized competency and proficiency.
• NATE technicians enhance a company’s reputation for competency and that the job will be done the right way.
• A better experience for customers and greater word of mouth recommendations.
• NATE certified technicians are in demand.
• Knowledgeable consumers are requesting certified technicians.
• Contractors with 50% NATE technicians or 80% are included in the NATE C3 (Contractor Consumer Connection) Program. There is no cost to participate in the program; contractors receive a free listing on the NATE Consumer website, www.hvacradvice.com, including zip code contractor locator, advertisement of services and promotions; and NATE provides collateral advertising materials such as appliance stickers, and a NATE video for contractor website and brochures.
• NATE technicians tend to be long term employees, they are in demand by consumers which generates more referrals and the contractor is recognized highly by their peers.