Backing NATE Certification, 100 Percent

July 21, 2004
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Paul Margwarth, the Air Assurance training manager, reviews information about NATE certification.
At one time, Mike Rampey didn't realize that his HVACR firm was the first in the country to have all of its technicians certified by North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

Rampey and his wife Narissa are the owners of Air Assurance, a residential and commercial service company located in Broken Arrow, Okla.

Last year, the Rampeys decided they wanted all of their service technicians to achieve NATE certification, but they didn't pursue the goal with the intention of earning bragging rights as the first company in the nation to do so. They simply wanted to prove that their technicians were the most competent in the local market. In fact, the technicians at Air Assurance wanted to do the same thing.

According to Mike Rampey, it was the company's technicians who got behind the idea of NATE certification. "Our technicians are the type of people who want to learn and be the best," he said.

Hentkowski Inc., a residential and light commercial contractor located in Wilmington, Del., became the second HVACR company to have every service technician NATE-certified, and more contractors are currently working through the process in hopes of joining their ranks.

According to these contractors, it isn't enough to just have a couple of NATE certified technicians. The real key to success is a 100 percent NATE-certified team of technicians.

Paul Margwarth services an air conditioning unit. Margwarth, a NATE-certified technician, oversees the company’s training program.

Pride And Publicity

Mike Rampey decided to take the NATE exam last year to find out what it was all about. According to the contractor, he discovered that NATE could be used as an important tool in his company. Not only could it be used to get the attention of consumers, it could further boost the confidence level of the company's technicians.

Training manager Paul Margwarth and safety manager Michael Hernandez were enlisted to help the Air Assurance team get ready for the NATE certification. Both Margwarth and Hernandez are instructors for night courses at the Tulsa Technology Center.

The trainers conducted a couple refresher courses and used the Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise, or KATEs. The KATEs are used as an outline that spells out for technicians what information they need to know and study before taking the NATE exam.

Over the next year, each technician at Air Assurance took the NATE exam and passed. All 20 members of the technician team now have the core NATE certification, as well as certification in several specialty areas.

"They are all very proud of this accomplishment," said Narissa Rampey. "We didn't require them to get certified, we only suggested it. They did this for their own personal satisfaction."

She also said the fact that NATE is a nationwide certification program, and challenging to pass, only makes the accomplishment more satisfying for the technicians.

"We felt that this was something we could use in the future when people apply for a job," said Mike Rampey. "If they have NATE certification, that says something to us."

Air Assurance has started using the NATE designation in its marketing strategies. Narissa Rampey explained that the company uses the NATE logo in its advertising, brochures, radio spots, and other marketing materials.

"We relate NATE to the auto industry and ASE certification," she said.

According to Narissa Rampey, the marketing effort is working, and customers have been receptive.

An Extra Advantage

Having NATE certification does give a contractor an advantage when it comes to marketing. For those contractors that have a 100 percent NATE-certified team, there is an added benefit. NATE has begun to honor those contractors.

In August 2001, NATE launched its Consumer-Contractor Connection (C3), an online database of contractors employing NATE-certified technicians. Consumers can go to the NATE Web site (www.natex.org) and enter their zip code to find the nearest NATE contractor in their area. There are currently 19,000 different zip codes on the database.

"This puts companies employing NATE-certified technicians in front of consumers," said Carl Smith, marketing manager for NATE. "It is the second-most-visited NATE Web page and is referenced in all of NATE's public service announcement articles and radio spots, as well as in the Environmental Protection Agency's consumer brochure, ‘A Guide To Energy Efficient Cooling and Heating.'"

Contractors that have all of their technicians NATE certified get an extra bonus. By complying with the NATE 100 Percent Compliance Program, a contractor receives a certificate (which lasts two years), a press release for the local newspapers, and a listing on NATE's Roll of Honor, which is maintained on the NATE Web site.

"In addition, contractors earning this status have a pair of asterisks added by their listing on the Consumer-Contractor Connection business locator," said Smith. "The 100 Percent Compliance Program allows contractors to demonstrate how committed they are to technician excellence."

Staying On Top

Hentkowski Inc. was the second HVACR company to earn the 100 percent NATE compliance designation. The process of testing all of the company's technicians took over one year, and on May 20, 2004, the company received its certification from NATE during the Independent Heating & Cooling Council's monthly meeting.

Hentkowski's employees were trained through the Independent Heating & Cooling Council for the NATE exam.

"Our technicians have all been very open to taking the exams, looking at them as an opportunity to show our customers their proven knowledge of their trade," said John Hentkowski, owner of the company.

According to Hentkowski, the company was motivated to seek NATE certification because Carrier would soon be requiring certification to be a Carrier factory authorized dealer. He also explained that at that time, the company belonged to a dealer group called Servassure, which was promoting NATE certification to its members.

Certification has become a large part of Hentkowski Inc. The company requires CFC certification, defensive driving certification, and NATE certification.

"NATE certification has benefited us by helping us achieve Carrier Factory Authorized Dealer status," said Hentkowski. "We are the first Carrier dealer in Delaware to achieve this recognition. We believe that NATE certification will give our customers a better sense of comfort with our technicians and a greater understanding of the knowledge these technicians have."

Tad Borror, comfort advisor and service technician for Arctic Air in Berlin, Md., agrees that NATE certification is important for consumers. The company currently has all of its technicians NATE certified, with the exception of helpers.

Borror explained that in the state of Maryland, HVAC technicians do not have to take a test or participate in continuing education hours to renew their license.

All NATE-certified technicians must renew their certification every five years by either retaking the NATE exam or participating in a number of continuing education classes. "NATE makes sure that our technicians stay current," said Borror.

He asserted that technicians need to stay on top of changes in the industry, including new 13-SEER equipment and the use of R-410A refrigerant. Arctic Air has been using R-410A since 1996.

Borror said technicians who have taken the NATE exam have proven their skill level.

"This test is no cakewalk," he said. "The questions on this test are real world. If you've done the time, you should take the test."

Publication date: 07/26/2004

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