The potential for growth and development exists across the entire HVACR landscape, but perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than in the area of refrigeration technology.
According to careerinfo.net, a 21 percent rise in employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers can be expected across the U.S. by 2022. That increase represents a jump from 267,600 employees up to 323,500. With the room for growth clearly there, it becomes important to ensure the next generation of refrigeration mechanics is properly trained and prepared for the tasks at hand.
The School of Supermarket Refrigeration Technology (SSRT), Fayetteville, Georgia, opened its doors in 2014 and has a stated goal of creating learning success stories, one student at a time, using reality-based training.
The state of Georgia closely follows the national trend of growth for refrigeration mechanics and installers as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections anticipate a 25 percent increase in employment by 2022.
“We feel as if the refrigeration area is underserved as far as supermarket systems and commercial refrigeration systems go,” said Allen Burke, instructor at SSRT. “We believe the area needs a school like this, and this is the perfect time for it.
“We are trying to do many things for the students, including hands-on training with real equipment,” continued Burke. “The types of equipment they will be using in the field is what we want to be sure they use in our classroom. I learned in the Army that hands-on training is much more effective than lecturing. You need to be in the real environment to learn properly.”
The school strives to keep class sizes small, so students can repeat tasks and retain what they learn better,” said Burke. “We are also working to certify the training so employers know we train students to the standards they expect of their technicians.”
SSRT’s curriculum is fairly straightforward and similar to other schools across the country. Its supermarket refrigeration technology program takes six to nine months to complete and includes six training modules: fundamentals of commercial refrigeration systems, compressor rack system components and operation, refrigerated case systems components and operation, compressor rack electrical systems, service procedures and techniques for refrigeration systems, and preventive maintenance checks and procedures.
This is similar to the curriculum of more established schools, such as The Refrigeration School, Inc. in Phoenix, which offers a six-month refrigeration technologies program and has many of the same principles in its class offerings.
“These classes show we want to be a school where contractors and technicians can learn the trade and new things happening in the industry,” said Burke. “SSRT is a place contractors can send employees and trust they will learn new systems.”
According to Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) most recent “RV Consumer Demographic Profile,” the number of recreation vehicle (RV)-owning households grew to a new peak of 8.9 million households in 2011, up from 7.9 million in 2005. According to the report, 8.5 percent of U.S. households now own RVs, up from 8 percent in 2005.
In an attempt to tap into the unique RV refrigeration market, Roger Ford opened Ford’s RV Training Center (FRVTC) in Benton, Kentucky. Ford hopes the school helps HVAC technicians broaden their knowledge bases to include the skills necessary to execute RV refrigeration repairs.
“I’ve worked with RV owners for more than 30 years, and many report bad experiences at RV service centers,” said Ford. “They’re just searching for someone who knows how to properly work on their vehicles.”
Ford’s RV training center provides online and hands-on training options. Hands-on training is limited to four students per class and takes only five days to complete. The entire curriculum, which includes an RV Absorption Refrigeration Reconditioning class and an RV Absorption Refrigerator Controls class, is designed to teach technicians the theory and requirements for diagnosing, repairing, and installing RV absorption refrigerators and cooling units.
The reconditioning class covers shop and safety operations, tools, troubleshooting fundamentals, fundamentals of controls used in RV absorption refrigerators, theory of operation, repair, testing procedures, and recharging of cooling units.
The controls course dives deeper into the controls used in RV absorption refrigerators but is not actually a requirement for graduation from FRVTC. “So many people from the HVAC industry have contacted us in the last few years looking for service, as this is really a new market,” Ford said. “Most people we train are from the HVACR industry, and they’re looking for something to add to their business, but this training also provides the skills for a stand-alone business.”
Ford believes most RV owners simply discard their cooling units when repairs make more financial sense. To counteract this, Ford’s website offers do-it-yourself videos for minor RV refrigerator troubleshooting as well as an instructional guidebook.
“RV owners are desperately searching for technicians who offer this unique RV refrigeration reconditioning service because it saves them money and is environmentally friendly,” said Ford. “RV owners contact us regularly from across the nation in hopes we can refer them to a technician in their area who has been trained by FRVTC. This service brings in local customers as well as the many RV owners who are traveling.”
The Refrigerant Phaseout
One important aspect of any new refrigeration school is staying current with the ever-changing refrigerant landscape. One glaring development includes the ongoing phaseout of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as detailed in Title VI of the Clean Air Act, implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
R-22, in particular, has long been a popular choice for heat pump and air conditioning systems, but it is being phased out in favor of more environmentally friendly alternatives.
“The changes in refrigerants that are available, and the laws, are something we have to keep an eye on,” said Burke. “Right now, the best way to make sure we are current on everything is to follow all the industry news and pay attention to announcements from refrigerant manufacturers.”
RV refrigeration has the added benefit of not relying on harmful HCFCs, so the phaseout has largely been a moot point for Ford.
“RVs use an absorption refrigerator,” said Ford. “It uses ammonia for cooling, so we don’t have to keep up with refrigerants much at all and there is no involvement with the EPA. Cooling units have really only had one major change in the last 50 years and are still using the same chemicals.”
With 12,370 projected heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanic and installer job openings expected by 2022, having an educated and informed base of refrigeration technology students will only become more important in the coming years. Institutions like SSRT and FRVTC are helping to equip refrigeration prospects with the skills they need to succeed.
Publication date: 1/26/2015