Anyone who services or installs HVAC equipment must be taught about R-410A, and some type of instruction is necessary for industry professionals to learn how to safely handle the new refrigerant. Attending a conventional class on R-410A may not be feasible for many people, but now there are other options. Courses on R-410A are readily available either online or on CD, making it possible to obtain the necessary training at a time that is convenient for each individual.
ONLINE ADVANTAGESOnline educational opportunities have exploded over the last 10 years, and in 2001, Chris Compton, founder and CEO of HVACReducation.net, decided the time was right to offer online courses for professionals in the HVACR industry. As Compton noted, “You consistently hear contractors complain that there aren’t any technicians or that they can’t get them trained. We offer a solution to this problem by providing online training so that contractors can grow their technical workforce themselves.”
At this point, HVACReducation.net offers more than 1,250 hours of curriculum that covers everything from entry-level subjects such as Fundamentals 101 and HVACR Safety 102 all the way up to courses on advanced troubleshooting and building automation systems. The online organization also offers a course on R-410A titled “Refrigerant Technology for HVACR Technicians.”
Compton stated that the course on R-410A is extremely comprehensive and offers the best value for the least cost, as it includes six modules that cover refrigerant background, regulatory requirements, basics, safety/handling/service considerations, components/retrofitting/charging, and system troubleshooting. The course is designed to familiarize technicians with the differences between R-22 and R-410A and give them the practical knowledge necessary to service R-410A systems.
At the end of each module, users must take a quiz, then a final test is given at the end of the six modules. If the users score 75 percent or higher on the final exam, they receive a certificate of completion, as well as a shoulder patch to sew on their uniform shirts, stating they are qualified to work on R-410A systems.
As with the other courses offered, the R-410A course is open-entry, self-paced, and open-exit. The user has a subscription to access the course for 60 days, so it’s possible to spend as much time as needed on a certain module or subject. Each user is also assigned a mentor to answer any questions that may come up during the course. Compton noted that HVACReducation.net does not offer any course without a subject matter expert attached. “Online students are just like any students; they need to be supported by somebody.”
Compton believes that online training is exactly what’s needed to mitigate the technician shortage in the HVACR industry. “The huge advantage of online training is access. More than 80 percent of the U.S. has access to the Internet, and education is one of the best applications for the Internet that there could be. Cost to the end user is very competitive, and if you take a look at how online education eliminates commuting to a particular place at a particular time, thus disrupting someone’s personal or professional life, there’s no comparison.”
Scott Nelmark, manager of training services, Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), Norman, Okla., agrees that accessibility is the key, which is why the manufacturer offers online training on R-410A to service technicians. “It is not always easy for a technician to take time off of the job to attend a live seminar. Online learning can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Our customers have the latest training information literally the day we upload it - and it is theirs to use on their time schedule.”
JCI offers a course titled “R-410A Overview,” which is available through the company’s ProficienTECH online training program. The manufacturer also offers an online course titled “Air Conditioning Systems,” which contains detailed information about R-410A. Nelmark stated that the courses are designed to explain the many important differences between R-410A and R-22 systems in an easy-to-understand format.
“We have offered media-based and online R-410A training for a number of years,” said Nelmark. “We’ve also offered traditional training methods (live presentation, hard copy manuals, etc.) for many years prior to the e-learning initiative. The best training includes a mix of instruction and hands-on. Our goal is to equip the technician with knowledge of what to look for and procedures to follow when venturing into the field.”
CD MAKES LEARNING EASYAnother way for technicians to learn remotely about R-410A is to use a program available on CD. The AC&R Safety Coalition created such a program titled “Universal R-410A Safety and Training.” The program, which consists of a manual and an interactive CD, was developed to help train technicians in the proper safety, handling, and application of R-410A. Topics covered in the course include the phaseout of R-22, refrigeration and air conditioning fundamentals, refrigerant chemistry, refrigerant oils, and safety.
According to Howard Weiss, marketing director, HVAC Excellence, Mount Prospect, Ill., “The AC&R Safety Coalition was formed by Ferris State University, ESCO Institute, the Indoor Air Quality Association, HVAC Excellence, and RSES, in order to design a unified training program, which will help limit the liability for the wholesaler, manufacturer, and contractor when training technicians in R-410A. The program can be offered as an online course, a self-study course, or as a course given in an actual classroom. In fact, many supply houses offer this as a one-day class at their various locations.”
What is important to many individuals is that this program offers a way to learn necessary information in remote locations, so that they can obtain the training they need in R-410A without having to drive miles and miles to a class, added Weiss. “We offer various materials with this program - everything from an interactive CD that people can use to learn remotely to a Power Point presentation that instructors can use to either give the course online or in a classroom setting.”
The program is offered in multiple formats, so that technicians can take advantage of the method that best suits their particular learning style. Some may prefer to read the material at home, while others want to be taught the material in a classroom setting. If taking the self-study route, technicians who have questions about the material have the opportunity to ask an expert for help. If the technician takes the course online, questions can be posted directly to the instructor and an immediate response can be given.
Regardless of the way in which technicians take the course, they must take an online test at the end of the course to demonstrate their knowledge of R-410A. The closed-book test can be taken at various locations, including a technician’s local supply house. Once finished, technicians are notified instantaneously as to whether or not they passed the test.
Even though there are only a few months left before R-22 equipment will no longer be manufactured, Weiss believes there are still numerous technicians who have not been trained to safely use R-410A. “I expect that at the end of the year, there will be people in this industry saying they didn’t know we were switching to R-410A.” That might lead to a late-year boom in the need for training.
Regardless of the looming phaseout of R-22, Weiss expects the need for R-410A training will continue well into the future. “Four out of 10 people in the HVACR industry are expected to retire within the next decade, and our industry is supposed to grow anywhere between 9 and 26 percent. We’re going to have a lot of new people who need to go through training to learn about R-410A, so as long as our industry continues to grow, there will always be a need for training classes on R-410A.”