That’s the motivation behind a relatively new initiative started by the Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) titled the Certified Counter Specialist (CCS) program. This certification program is one of the many initiatives that are part of the HARDI Market Center Distribution (MCD) plan.
“The Market Center Distribution concept is entirely focused on the value and strength of each of the distributors' individual local branch locations,” said Don Frendberg, HARDI executive vice president and COO. “Distribution success is defined by the ability of those local branches to know, service, and anticipate the needs of their specific markets and in particular customer demands.
“Distributors’ counter personnel are the embodiment of Market Center Distribution, prompting HARDI to develop the Certified Counter Specialist program. CCS offers for the first time in our industry a standard, four-phase, knowledge-based template for counter professionals structured enough to be applicable to distributors anywhere but flexible enough to ensure that enrollees’ expertise is focused on the needs of their local market. In essence, this is what Market Center Distribution is all about.”
THE CERTIFIED COUNTER SPECIALISTHARDI’s Education Committee defined the objectives of CCS as follows:
• To establish industry-recognized standards of performance, education, and training for the counter position in HVACR distribution.
• To encourage training and education, as well as practical experience, among counter personnel.
• To demonstrate to customers and suppliers the importance of Market Center Distribution by cultivating more knowledgeable sales support personnel.
• To increase awareness among potential entry-level young people of the minimum requirements for wholesale counter sales positions.
“Our No. 1 goal with CCS is to recognize the importance of the counterperson,” said Bud Healy, HARDI director of education. “The second goal is to establish training standards for new people and for educators.”
CCS provides four levels of recognition for specific educational and training achievements:
• Assistant Counter Specialist (for the person starting out);
• Associate Counter Specialist;
• Senior Associate Counter Specialist;
• HARDI-Certified Counter Specialist (the highest achievement).
The four levels are tied into four levels of compensation, too. “This is an opportunity to tie compensation to the various four levels,” said Talbot Gee, HARDI vice president. “We hope that certification will help with the recruitment of people because they will be able to know and understand the position, thanks to written standards.
“The value of the program now is that you can bring in a new person and enroll them in the four-level program, which gives them an understanding of their career path. And it legitimizes their role within their company.”
The HARDI Education Committee has established minimum (mandatory) educational and training experiences for each level of recognition. These sessions are based on federal regulations involving safety and hazardous materials training, plus industry credentialing for technical knowledge and skills. The latter includes North American Technician Excellence (NATE), Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA), and other national technical certification programs.
“If a person works with refrigerants they may be required to get EPA certification, which HARDI recognizes but does not administer testing for,” added Healy.
“In many cases, a NATE-certified technician will be able to talk with a NATE-certified counterperson,” said Frendberg. “The top two levels of certification require an equivalent of NATE certification from the counter people.”
DISTRIBUTORS ARE DOING ITcfm Distributors Inc., Kansas City, Mo., currently has 24 employees actively enrolled in CCS, including parts’ counter manager Susie Smith. Smith started her first class in 2004 and became the nation’s first certified counter specialist in 2006.
“Our employees that have enrolled have done so to service our customers’ better, feel more confident in their job while developing a higher level of self-esteem, and become move valuable to our company and the industry,” said Kevin Morris, cfm parts director. “The HVACR industry is always in a state of change, from new government regulations, new products, new refrigerants, and new technology. A counterperson must be able to assist the customer/contractor in any of his needs. In order to do this, the counterperson must have a basic working knowledge of the heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems.
“The basics of business operations, customer relations, and skills are in my opinion as critical as the mechanical side of the business. We also spiff employees $50 for each course they pass, and the offer is open to every employee from the receptionist on up.”
Morris noted the CCS program helps with employee retention, too. He said that cfm has a very low turnover rate due to the fact the company grows it employees by training them and giving them the support and tools they need to become excellent in their careers. Part of that training includes involvement in their local communities, an idea supported by HARDI. “The total MCD concept even goes outside of the HVAC realm and into support within the local community,” said Frendberg.
Bob Munch Jr., vice president of Munch’s Supply Co., New Lenox, Ill., said his company places a strong emphasis on employee and dealer education. “We want to have the best trained counter people in the industry,” he said. “Their education is a key component to performance evaluations.
"We put a tremendous emphasis on the HARDI training program.
“One of the issues we had with training was getting employees to take the initiative to train themselves. This is difficult to accomplish, so we put together a program that gave the employee incentive for achieving certain levels of HARDI certification. We currently have 33 people signed up. Of those, 22 are actively progressing and have achieved various levels of certification. Three people have completed the program.”
Following the CCS model, Munch’s ties employee education to a counterperson’s compensation program. “We use the HARDI program as the core of this compensation program,” said Munch.
“This is an excellent recruitment tool because a person who seeks advancement can see that they can become educated and also receive additional compensation for their effort. For an employee who may be working in the warehouse but wishes to transfer to the counter, they can begin the program at anytime. When a position opens up, they are at the top of the list for placement.”
For more information, visit www.hardinet.org.