UA apprentices earn while they learn

Special to CONTRACTOR WASHINGTON Service technicians who become certified in a new United Association program can be awarded 30 college credits if they successfully complete the training and certification process and they get paid to do it. The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinklerfitting Industry of the United States and Canada jointly developed

Special to CONTRACTOR

WASHINGTON — Service technicians who become certified in a new United Association program can be awarded 30 college credits if they successfully complete the training and certification process – and they get paid to do it.

The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing, Pipefitting and Sprinklerfitting Industry of the United States and Canada jointly developed its STAR Certification program with Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. STAR — which stands for Service Technician Air-conditioning and Refrigeration — was unveiled in late June at the Annual UA Pipefitters Convention in Orlando, Fla.

The STAR program offers substantial benefits for service technicians, contractors and their end users, said UA General President Martin Maddaloni.

“The UA STAR Certification is the highest standard in the heating, cooling and refrigeration trade,” he said. “The significance of this new program lies not only in the benefits it provides for service technicians. It gives contractors a marketing edge and provides end users with a better-trained and highly educated workforce. Now, more than ever before, the UA can stake its claim as the premier provider of training for the piping industry.”

Mechanical Service Contractors of America has endorsed the program. The MSCA is a national trade association representing more than 1,100 firms involved in the service, maintenance, retrofit and repair of heating, air conditioning, ventilating, refrigeration and plumbing in commercial and industrial facilities.

“We’ll be assured that whoever passes the exam will have had good service training,” said Barbara Dolim, MSCA executive director. “Not all service training is up to par today. We do see a benefit in forcing local service training.”

Although the STAR program initially addresses air conditioning and refrigeration, specialty exams are being developed in other fields of service where UA members work. The sprinklerfitter test is finished, and testing will begin in August, said Steve Allen, UA assistant director of training and UA STAR administrator. The exam for plumbers and pipefitters should be completed by October, he told CONTRACTOR. The tests and certifications for plumbers and fitters will use the UA STAR name as well.

Citing U.S. national average figures, UA Director of Training George Bliss said that instead of owing $25,000 or more to attend a university, apprentices would begin earning about $31,000 while they learn their trade. After their fifth year and successful UA STAR Certification, service technicians can earn as much as $77,500 per year and earn 30 credits toward an associate’s degree in HVACR or construction supervision, he said. Techs who want to complete their associate’s degree can earn the additional 30 to 35 credits through the UA’s regional training system.

“Our service technicians advance in their careers faster than many BA graduates,” Bliss said. “Now, in addition to offering them a lucrative career, we are able to award college credits to build on. This is good news for the industry.”

The UA STAR Certification examination, administered by a representative of the National Inspection-Testing-Certification Corp., consists of 199 questions that test applicants for expertise in piping, plumbing, heating, ventilation systems, steam systems, air conditioning and refrigeration, electrical, controls, lifting equipment, safety, mathematics and customer service.

“It’s important that this is a third-party exam,” Bliss told CONTRACTOR.

He added that a “couple thousand” journey workers probably will participate in the program in its first year, but that more people will join as time goes on.

“We expect huge numbers in the years ahead,” Bliss said.

The UA represents pipefitters, sprinklerfitters, service technicians and plumbers. More than 300,000 UA members belong to more than 400 individual local unions across North America.

Apprentices will prepare for the UA STAR Certification exam throughout their five-year training program. When they pass the exam, they receive certification and become UA STAR-certified service technicians.

The STAR program has no connection with North American Technician Excellence, another program that tests and certifies – but does not train – HVACR service techs. NATE is a coalition of several industry groups, including: Air Conditioning Contractors of America; Plumbing-Heating- Cooling-Contractors -National Association; Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute; Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association; and Refrig- eration Service Engineers Society. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently approved NATE to provide certification tests to veterans and other eligible persons.