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New Tools to Help You Recruit, Train Technicians

Originally published: 09.01.15 by John Lanier

NATE poised to launch new testing for all experience levels in the industry.


North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is pleased to partner with HVACR Business magazine to present this important Workforce Trends Research. Our goal was a better understanding of the role that training, education and certification plays in the recruiting and hiring process of HVACR technicians, and we think you'll find these research results rather interesting, and a catalyst for further research and discussion in the future.

You'll see one of the key findings is that while a majority (79 percent) of contractors believe in the importance of attracting and retaining good people, less than one-fourth said their current hiring and human resource management methods were effective. NATE believes training, subsequent certification and continuing education can be tools to do just that.

For nearly 20 years, NATE has provided certification testing for the HVACR industry's finest technicians. The NATE certification exams represent working knowledge of HVACR systems and are designed to be challenging.

Wade Mayfield, president of Omaha contracting firm Thermal Services and current NATE Board of Trustees chairman, has referred to the NATE exams as being at the "PhD level." Like Wade, most who have taken the exams agree

they're geared toward experienced technicians who, perhaps, also have taken higher-level training via an HVACR trade school program.

Currently, those experienced and highly trained technicians represent a small percentage of the technicians working in HVACR today.

As the industry braces for a predicted significant workforce shortfall in the next couple of years, NATE will soon launch new levels of testing to assist contractors in hiring better candidates and provide them a career development path as they learn and grow professionally.

Beginning in 2016, NATE will introduce a new certificate level exam that covers basic HVACR knowledge and safety — the first of its kind offered by NATE. This job-ready certificate program (with NATE-provided training guides) will allow contractors to hire based on profile, with a certificate to demonstrate if candidates are ready to enter the HVACR technician workforce.

Nearly 90 percent of the contractors surveyed in this research say they hire based on a profile. For example, work ethic, problem solving skills and personality to name a few. Then later provide the necessary training to work. This program will also help contractors widen their candidate search pool and invite newcomers to join the industry, regardless of educational background, while also measuring understanding of basic HVACR-related tasks.

We will also make this exam more convenient by offering it as an online, un-proctored exam that candidates and employees can take anywhere — even at home — for greater accessibility.

As entry-level technicians work and gain greater experience, they may progress to a supporting maintenance role for HVACR equipment installation and service. At that point, we know it may still take more years of work and training before they would be ready for the complexity of the current NATE certification exams.

We also know via this research, however, that more than half of contractors surveyed use training and certification as a vehicle for technician retention and loyalty. To meet that need, NATE will introduce a new, second-level certification exam that will test fundamental skills, basic airflow and safety and verify knowledge of normal HVACR equipment operation.

This certification will provide those career-focused technicians the opportunity to advance and demonstrate their increased knowledge and skills, while providing continuous improvement to the owner's business.

It's important to note these new exams are designed to help recruit and retain new talent into the HVACR industry and do not replace the current NATE specialty exams available.

The current nine NATE specialty exams (Air Conditioning, Heat Pump, Air Distribution, Gas Heating, Oil Heating, Hydronics Gas, Hydronics Oil, Light Commercial Refrigeration, and Commercial Refrigeration) represent a higher, third-level of competency and will continue to test those with advanced skills in installation, service and components.

Those who have been awarded NATE certification prior to January 2016 will automatically be placed at this level. In addition, NATE will continue to offer the master level HVAC Efficiency Analyst certification to test on advanced topics in service, design and efficiency, as well as specialized certifications in Ground Source Heat Pump Installation and HVAC Performance Verification.

We're excited to provide the industry with these new offerings, in part thanks to this important research and the feedback we have received from owners of contracting firms.

I invite you stay in touch with us as we launch these programs in the near future and, as always, please visit us at www.natex.org for questions and assistance.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to help prepare this industry for a bright future ahead.


John Lanier is the chief operating officer for North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the nation's largest non-profit certification organization for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians. For additional information, visit www.natex.org.


About John Lanier

John Lanier


John is the chief operating officer for North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the nation’s largest non-profit certification organization for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians. For additional information, visit www.natex.org.


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