Given the number of retiring baby boomers and the lack of new talent entering the trade, the industry is facing an uphill battle when it comes to closing the skills gap.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates there are 267,600 HVACR mechanics and installers currently employed in the U.S.
A new study conducted by the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation estimates at least 115,000 new HVACR workers must be trained by 2022 to meet the anticipated demand of skilled workers.
North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is hoping the development of two new exams — a job-readiness certificate exam and certification-level exam for less experienced technicians — will provide a pathway into the industry or to a professional-level certification for new or less-experienced technicians.
The examinations were recently developed by NATE’s Technical Committee, which is comprised of contractors, educators, manufacturers, and working NATE-certified technicians. The committee develops and oversees each exam’s Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise (KATE).
“These exams came about because NATE recognized a need for the industry to offer more for technicians that have less experience than the typical certified technician,” said Brett Sumpter, technical trainer for Morris-Jenkins Heating and Air Conditioning in Charlotte, North Carolina. “These certificates will not only help people into the industry, but will provide continuing education for current HVACR technicians. We hope to encourage growth while also building an industry of more competent technicians.”
These exams are scheduled to be made available in early 2016 to help contractors hire better candidates and to provide technicians with a career development path as they learn and grow professionally, said Anthony Spagnoli, manager of testing and education, NATE.
While the exams were developed at the same time and are both scheduled for release in early 2016, they serve different functions and will benefit different types of technicians.
“The job-readiness exam came about from conversations that the chief operating officer of NATE, John Lanier, and I had with different contractors,” said Spagnoli. “They gave us this idea of a tiered exam structure. Current NATE exams are generally for more senior, advanced technicians. These new exams provide a pathway to those certifications. Our technical committee mapped out that path through these entry-level certifications.”
The job-readiness exam entails an evaluation of knowledge and skills of the fundamental concepts of an entry-level technician, said Charles White, vice president, technical and code services, Plumbing-Heating-Cooling — Contractors Association (PHCC). “These may be basic maintenance-type skills, but include an ability to detect abnormal conditions that may need an advanced-level technician’s attention.”
The job-readiness exam covers basic skills that are highly desirable in a new hire who doesn’t have any experience or formal HVACR training, said Sumpter. Basic knowledge of tool identification, measurements, and job site safety would be the key parts of the exam.
A recent report from Burning Glass Technologies found that postings for technician and installer jobs remained open 12 percent longer than other similarly skilled jobs nationwide. Demand for technicians and installers is outweighing supply across the country, which means entry-level technicians who do gather the necessary knowledge and skills will have great opportunities for success in the industry.
Perhaps most importantly, Sumpter said the job-readiness certificate will help a contractor to differentiate between hiring candidates who, in the past, may not have been certified. This will also allow certified technicians to start in the field as soon as possible with less initial training needed from the employer.
Spagnoli said the certification-level exam, as well as the job-readiness exam, will help contractors hire better technicians because the contractors on the technical committee who created the exams know exactly what the needs are of contractors out in the field. NATE will also be conducting beta tests for both exams where technicians will actually take the exam and determine its effectiveness.
“The certification-level exam is an assessment of basic skills and safety concepts,” said White. “It’s intended to be Internet-based with basic training resources available. The exam should be an introduction to the industry for prospective technicians and an indicator of starting knowledge.”
The support technician exam encompasses skills that a contractor would expect a helper or support technician to know after being in the industry for approximately six to 12 months, said Sumpter. “Having a basic knowledge in construction, system components, and installation are a few of the areas covered in this exam.”
“The certification-level exam is going to come with training materials for technicians to review before taking the exam,” said Spagnoli. “[The exam covers] things like safety precautions, tool identification, and other aspects technicians need to know if they are going to be hired. Contractors interview technicians, make sure they have a good attitude, and then teach them the technical side of things. This exam will make sure they already know the technical side of things and help identify technicians who have a baseline knowledge of the job requirements.”
ADDRESSING THE GAP
Both of these exams are also clear attempts to directly address the technician gap.
“Everyone knows there is a serious labor gap coming up,” said Spagnoli. “These new exams will help technicians guide their career development. Existing exams are designed to guide workers later in their careers, but these exams help technicians make their way through the early stages and get to that point later in their careers.”
White is hopeful that increasing awareness of HVAC job qualifications will help individuals choose HVAC careers. “These new tests will facilitate a pool of candidates to assist contractors in filling job opportunities and promoting growth in their businesses.”
“We certainly hope these certificates will help bridge the technician gap,” said Sumpter. “The goal is to make it easy for technicians to not only enter the industry, but to also grow throughout their careers. These types of certificates will help to close the technician gap by creating a more competent technician.”
With the BLS estimating that the number of HVACR mechanic and installer jobs will increase by 21 percent through 2022, nearly twice the growth of employment overall, filling those opportunities with well-trained and knowledgeable employees will only become more important moving forward.
Publication date: 1/11/2016