If there is one issue that all HVAC contractors can agree upon, it’s that no one likes callbacks. Those return trips to fix problems, or assuage a customer’s concerns, cost money, and can reduce the goodwill a customer feels toward the contractor, thus decreasing the possibility of a referral.
That’s why keeping the number of callbacks to a minimum is the goal of any contractor, and one way to do that is to increase the amount of training that they — and their technicians — receive.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
HVAC systems are very complex, and, if technicians do not have the proper training, there are a number of ways installations or repairs can go wrong, resulting in a callback. Typical reasons for callbacks usually include incorrect installations, improper diagnosis of a problem, or poor repair jobs, said Alex Hutcherson, vice president, HVAC, Ferguson Enterprises. “These problems can often be avoided if a technician is experienced, knowledgeable, and trained with the proper set of skills and tools to install, test units, and make repairs.”
According to Howard Weiss, executive vice president, ESCO Group, the problems associated with improperly trained technicians and contractors can be seen in a recent ESCO Group study of residential HVAC systems, which showed:
• 72 percent are oversized, which can impact the occupant’s comfort and health, energy consumption, and equipment life;
• 68 percent are improperly charged, which can affect energy consumption by 18-25 percent;
• 70 percent have improper airflow, which affects both sensible and latent efficiency and decreases energy efficiency; and
• 91 percent remain untested for combustion safety and efficiency, even though a minor air/fuel ratio inaccuracy will affect energy efficiency by 18-20 percent.
“The net result of each of these problems is an unnecessary callback. In order to resolve these issues, contractors and technicians need a strong foundation in proper equipment sizing, critical charging procedures, airflow, psychrometrics, and combustion efficiencies,” said Weiss. “In addition, the last decade has seen many technological changes, ranging from ductless split systems to combined heat and power systems to variable refrigerant flow systems. As technologies change, contractors must invest in training to keep their businesses current and relevant. The money they invest in training will come back to them quickly in the form of reduced callbacks.”
More training will definitely reduce the number of callbacks, said Larry Konopacz, manager of training and education, Bell & Gossett Little Red Schoolhouse. “System components often fail because they are mismatched to the system, not because of a manufacturing defect. Simply replacing a failed component without understanding why it failed may result in repeated callbacks. By understanding how a system operates and identifying the reason a component failed, technicians are able to properly resolve the issue and stop callbacks.”
Tom Stephan, an instructor with the Goulds Water Technology Factory School, also believes more training results in fewer callbacks — and, the more practical, the better. “Factory training is an effective way to simulate real-world installations and troubleshooting. In fact, my preference is practical and tactile training in short amounts of time, because contractors tend to retain the information longer if they are involved in tactile training. And, as it is with other types of training, if the training is not applied within a short period of time, the memory tends to fade.”
HELP IS AVAILABLE
Fortunately, training is readily available from all corners of the HVAC industry, including trade groups, associations, distributors, and manufacturers. Taking advantage of educational opportunities is important, because when HVAC technicians are highly trained, they are able to properly install and troubleshoot systems, which means fewer callbacks and the ability to take on more work. This translates to increased productivity and higher customer satisfaction, said Hutcherson. “When contractors are known for having knowledgeable and efficient technicians, they’re able to build a reputation in their markets as the go-to business for HVAC installation and repair.”
To that end, Ferguson offers a variety of educational opportunities, from basic HVAC training that covers the inner workings of an HVAC system to sales, business, and customer service training.
“We offer hands-on training, where a technician can work on operational equipment in a classroom setting. In addition, we offer brand-specific training on both unitary and ductless systems. These classes help technicians learn how the technology works, as well as how to install, troubleshoot, and repair equipment,” said Hutcherson.
Bell & Gossett also offers numerous educational opportunities, including eight different three-day training seminars at its Little Red Schoolhouse. “I believe face-to-face training, whether in the classroom or in the field, offers the best interaction between the student and instructor and results in the highest level of retention for most students,” said Konopacz. “That way, if students are unclear about the way a topic was presented, they can ask a question and get immediate clarification before moving forward.”
Contractors can also take a hands-on approach to technician training by utilizing the resources offered by ESCO Group. The organization develops training manuals, software, and training packages for the HVAC industry and also offers more than 70 industry certifications that help HVAC professionals validate their knowledge throughout each stage of their careers.
“Contractors and technicians can take a large number of our specialty certifications, which are geared at demonstrating their retained knowledge to perform a given task,” said Weiss. “These exams are specifically designed to identify any weaknesses or deficiencies in knowledge or ability, so they can determine what type of supplemental training is required.”
North American Technician Excellence (NATE) exams also provide training feedback, designed to help contractors and technicians identify gaps in knowledge or skills and close the gap between current knowledge level and mastery, where appropriate, said Valerie Briggs, marketing and business development director, NATE.
“NATE offers 21 certification programs and recently updated its recertification program to encourage technicians to attend at least eight hours of training annually. With all of the training opportunities that exist in our industry, including our network of more than 500 NATE-recognized training providers, contractors can take advantage of many different training resources to build their own workforces and then test their competencies by using NATE certifications as their benchmarks.”
In fact, Wade Mayfield, board chairman of NATE, and president of Thermal Services, Omaha, Nebraska, has done precisely that by creating Thermal University, an in-house apprentice program that builds on NATE certification and training. “A company of any size can work to strengthen its staff training and development with things as simple as asking technicians to identify the most difficult challenges during the week and discussing them at service meetings or by sending technicians quiz questions during the week to help keep them sharp. The goal is to keep them engaged and constantly learning, which can result in better employees, better service, and, thus, a better business,” said Briggs.
For contractors who are skeptical about the benefits of additional training, Stephan has a few words of wisdom: “I’ve never met a customer who’s had too much training. Even for seasoned professionals, there is always something new to learn.”
Publication date: 7/13/2015