One test, one hvacr tech certification

September 12, 2000
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After years of vying for the attention of contractors, technicians, and the public, competing hvacr certification programs will be merged into one.

  North American Technician Excellence (NATE) will be the single umbrella organization that issues the certification. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) will become members of the NATE board of directors, and will help administer the testing.

RSES also will continue to offer its members-only CM and CMS certification programs.

Technicians who already have earned NATE, ACCA/ACE, or RSES (CM, CMS, or NTC) certification will be grandfathered under the new NATE program, or will have the option of taking the new test at no charge.

A complete grandfathering schedule will be released once a technical committee has finalized the new exam structure. Final exam pricing also will be announced at that time. NATE said it will charge a nominal amount to issue new credentials.

ACCA executive vice president Roger Jask urged any technician now thinking of taking the ACE, NATE, or RSES exam to “do it. Don’t hold back and wait for something new to come out. Take it. That’s why we’re grandfathering all these programs. Become certified now.”

The new “Air Conditioning Excellence” exams will use questions and subject areas from the current NATE and ACE tests. A test can be taken in a three-hour session, and passage earns certification.

Expected to debut this fall, the tests would cover installation and service of residential and light commercial air conditioning, gas and oil furnaces, heat pumps, and air distribution systems. “In the future, we’ll expand into other areas,” said NATE president Rex P. Boynton.

Coalition

NATE already had formed a coalition of many of the industry’s most influential organizations, including those representing manufacturers (ARI and GAMA), wholesalers (ARW), and engineers (ASHRAE), as well as utilities and government. It even had one contractor group, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association (PHCC-NA).

But ACCA and Ferris State University’s insistence on maintaining their own ACE program meant that NATE could not claim it offered certification recognized industry-wide. Only 700 technicians have earned NATE certification so far, with ACE claiming a similar number.

Ferris State is not expected to participate as a NATE member.

Negotiations to merge the programs began last spring. According to ACCA president Bob Keingstein, the association formed a small committee with a directive to “make it work. Come back with the deal. It’s right for the industry. We need one certification.”

NATE chairman John Garvelink said, “We applaud the visionary leaders of ACCA and RSES, who have joined the NATE coalition to provide a single standard of technician certification that benefits the entire hvacr industry.”

The agreement dramatically increases the opportunities technicians will have to take the new test. RSES has more than 400 chapters in the U.S. and Canada, and ACCA has 68 chapters. All can offer the exam. These outlets, combined with NATE’s existing locations, brings the total to nearly 600.

RSES international president Joseph A. Zeiner said the new NATE program “will possibly fit into the educational lineup of our new Technical Institute, which is a career-building technical program.”

A special technical committee, which includes representatives of all industry segments, will meet during the summer to review the existing question pools, evaluate technical content, and create the new tests.

As the certifying organization, NATE (through its ACE Steering Committee) will be responsible for exam development, issuance of credentials, and program marketing to both the industry and consumers.

NATE said it will publish new registration materials, curriculum guidelines, preparation guides, and update its education clearinghouse, testing organization, and other resources.

“NATE will be the owner of the tests,” Boynton said. “NATE sells the tests. An ACCA or an RSES chapter may choose to mark up the price of the test. They may choose to package a test with some training.”

Preparation

Roger Jask said ACCA intends to help technicians prepare for the exam. “Before a technician walks into the room to take the exam, he wants to feel comfortable. No one wants to fail the exam.”

Jask said ACCA already has one preparation program, an instructor guide and lesson plan. He also anticipated that ACCA will “work with other people to create programs that help people prepare for the exams.”

Zeiner said RSES also has training programs in place. “As a leader in providing training and education to service technicians, RSES has focused on certification for more than 40 years.”

However, he expressed “a fear” that training could become “an income stream” for those who are not committed to furthering the education of technicians.

“They could develop training materials that say, ‘Here’s the test, and here’s the answers.’ We have to position the test so that doesn’t happen. We don’t accomplish what we need if the training is teaching the test.”

Jask agreed. “No one should ever be teaching a test. We should be teaching a body of knowledge.”

Boynton said NATE will “maintain the same rigorous security we currently maintain so that test questions are not made available to the public. But we have an obligation to provide to the trainers curriculum guides or simple outlines of the components of the test. I’m sure we will do that. We need to provide the training community with the tools they need to help techs prepare.”

Will the concept of technician certification now gain some of the momentum that it has lacked?

“A big part of this is consumer driven,” Keingstein said. “The end-user is going to be asking for this. Once they ask for it, contractors will flock to get their people certified. It’s a dollars-and-cents issue.”

According to Boynton, “You will see an enormous push for people to get certified. We won’t reach everybody, but we have the prospect of reaching hundreds of thousands of technicians over the next 10 years.”

For more information, contact NATE at 703-610-9033; 703-610-9005 (fax); www. natex.org (website).

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