NATE Celebrates 10th Anniversary

December 17, 2007
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NATE has been around for 10 years now, and president Rex Boynton says he has “the gray hairs to prove it.”

Believe it or not, North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Rex Boynton, for one, can certainly believe it.

“Sure, I can believe it’s been 10 years. I’ve got the gray hairs to prove it,” mused the president of NATE.

From the time NATE was incorporated on Feb. 4, 1997, as a Delaware not-for-profit corporation to its current status in the HVACR industry, the road to unified certification has not always been smooth. To summarize, NATE is an independent, third-party certification body for HVACR technicians. NATE tests techs; others train.

As Boynton will be quick to point out, testing validates the technician’s knowledge and a training program’s instructions. NATE-approved testing organizations throughout the United States and Canada offer NATE tests. As of this month, candidates can earn installation and/or service certification in seven specialty areas: air conditioning, air distribution, heat pumps, gas heating, oil heating, commercial refrigeration, and hydronic heating. This month NATE also establishes senior certification, for those looking to become an efficiency analyst.

Boynton is especially proud of the fact there are now more than 25,000 professional technicians from across North America who, as he put it, “bring high levels of quality and value to the entire HVAC industry.”

Scott Boxer, chairman of the NATE board, is pleased with how NATE has progressed to date.

“One of the side benefits to the creation of NATE as an industry-supported organization is that over the years I have been involved, I have seen NATE become the vehicle that has pulled together all areas of the HVACR industry to discuss our most important challenges,” said Boxer. “NATE has provided many of our industry’s largest organizations a forum and reason to discuss mutual interests.

“In essence, an informal but effective industry coalition made up of ACCA, ARI, GAMA, HARDI, PHCC, RSES, SkillsUSA, ASHRAE, CARE, technical schools, utility companies, etc., has been formed because of NATE.”

Boynton took time out recently to talk to The NEWS regarding NATE’s anniversary and its first 10 years. We also asked the man in charge to look into his crystal ball to see what’s ahead for NATE in the next 10 years.

NEWS: Can you believe it has been 10 years?

Boynton: Sure, I can believe it’s been 10 years. I’ve got the gray hairs to prove it. Seriously, it’s been a quick passage of time with more than 132,000 tests administered to 60,000-plus technicians. Since our launch, we’ve assembled a broad-based coalition of industry leaders committed to technician excellence and our board of trustees is top-flight and unrivaled in the certification community.

We have created 21 knowledge-based tests and reached more than 150 million consumers with our message of who to call when they have a heating or cooling challenge. We’ve branded NATE as the certification of choice. In the contracting community, 96 percent say they know who we are and 75 percent of them agree that NATE certification is important to their business’ success.

NEWS: In describing the first 10 years, what would you consider to be the most thrilling news?

Boynton: Thrilling news? I suppose the unification of the ACCA Air Conditioning Excellence tests and the RSES National Technician Certificate tests with NATE’s tests in 1999 would be a real high-water mark. This brought all of the major industry players together in support of a single HVACR technician certification. Other thrills include recognition by the U.S. Department of Energy; Energy Star; Terre Haute, Indiana; and the State of New Hampshire.”

NEWS: In your opinion, what were the biggest obstacle, and/or challenge, you and NATE had to hurdle and/or face in the first 10 years of existence?

Boynton: There were several challenges, but clearly first and foremost was: Why do it? Technicians and contractors were not convinced it was necessary and many were afraid to take a test. We attacked their resistance by urging manufacturers to offer incentives to contractors to get their techs certified. We persuaded the training community to develop NATE preparation courses and review materials. And, we shared research results that showed consumers really prefer certified technicians.

NEWS: In your opinion, what do you perceive to be the biggest challenge, or challenges, for the next 10 years? What are the immediate goals of NATE, as well as its future goals?

Boynton: If we can deliver on our goals, we can manage the challenges. Over the next three, five, 10 years, we want to continue to deliver in these important areas:

1. Validate the NATE value propositions to key audiences. For the consumer, we want to reinforce that using NATE-certified technicians result in better system performance and higher customer satisfaction. For technicians, we have shown that NATE certification means better pay and improved job satisfaction. And for contractors, we’ve proven that certified techs have fewer callbacks, less warranty expense, and are more highly valued by their employers and consumers.

2. Establish NATE-certified technicians as the only trusted installers and servicers of HVACR equipment. By communicating the results of our consumer, technician, and contractor research, we will aggressively position NATE techs as the preferred installation and maintenance professionals.

3. Evaluate and implement successful product and service expansion. We want to expand our basket of certification tests; market test development services to licensing authorities; and offer a full-range of knowledge standards development beyond current HVAC residential and commercial tests.

4. Implement a financial strategy that provides sufficient income to grow NATE while sustaining current operations and developing an adequate reserve. The key here is to reach out to other funding sources, such as the government or grants, to manage expenses on the basis of best value and to establish a sound investment policy.

5. Provide an organizational structure that supports the success of NATE. This emphasizes the value of strategic planning and the importance of maintaining proper linkage with industry stakeholders.

NEWS: What is the number of NATE-certified techs NATE is looking to have by – is it next year? 2009? 2010? Anyway, with such a goal, how does NATE plan on meeting that goal of having X-amount of techs NATE certified?

Boynton: Our strategic plan sets a target of 150,000 NATE-certified technicians by the end of the year 2010.

NEWS: Now that the 10-year anniversary is here, what do you believe contractors and technicians who read The NEWS should know regarding NATE and its purpose?

Boynton: Looking forward, the mission and ambition of NATE should be to elevate professional standards for technicians across a range of industries; to stimulate and promote excellence in the performance of technical work; to recognize top-quality technicians; to attract new talent to the technical workforce; and to help consumers find the best technicians. We are committed to stimulating an environment of continuous learning and applied knowledge that leads to excellence in job performance and job satisfaction. We pledge to help technicians realize their true potential.

For more information, visit www.natex.org.

Sidebar: NATE Through the Years

1997: NATE is incorporated.

1998: U.S. Department of Energy recognizes NATE.

1999: Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) agree to merge their certification tests with the NATE test.

2000: The passing rate of those taking the NATE test is 48 percent.

2001: 10,000th technician earns NATE certification.

2002: More than 6,000 tests are administered this year.

2003: Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) joins NATE’s coalition.

2004: The 20,000th tech becomes NATE certified.

2005: In order to hold a contractor’s license in Terre Haute, Ind., city fathers pass a law this year requiring a contractor to have a NATE-certified tech on staff.

2006: New NATE tests begin development, including gas hydronic installation and gas hydronic service.

2007: Happy 10th anniversary. Also, NATE launches its Quality Circle Contractor for those firms that have 75 percent to 100 percent of their techs NATE certified.

Publication date: 12/17/2007

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