Never a dull moment has been a way of life in the HVAC industry over the past year or so, and that includes North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

Since the start of last year, the training and certification organization has introduced a major new certification option and expanded its virtual services. When the federal government broke the logjam surrounding a comprehensive HFC phasedown plan, that accelerated the need for another new action item as well.


Exam Flexibility

NATE’s biggest rollout last year was its CHP-5 certification pathway. Marketing manager Daisy Weill said that when NATE conducted contractor surveys in recent years, “we learned that most contractors wanted the exams to be less stressful on technicians.

“They believed their technicians would be more likely to pursue NATE certification,” she explained, “if the pathway to certification was in smaller segments and it was easier to schedule exam testing sessions.”

With the mission to modernize in hand, a group of volunteers worked on developing CHP-5. The team comprised contractors, product managers, engineers, educators, and distributors to cover a range of perspectives and expertise.

The final product launched as CHP-5. Instead of the more monolithic, longer certification testing, CHP-5 breaks content into the five subject tests with ample time after each to prepare for the next.

One part of the more flexible approach: Technicians can take the five exams in any order they prefer.

That said, Weill reported that so far, “the majority of the technicians take the exams in our recommended order: HVAC Fundamentals, Electrical and Controls, Comfort and Airflow, Installation, and Service.”

NATE believes this works well because it mimics how technicians tend to learn in the field.

The emphasis on testing flexibility extends to not just what but how, thanks to NATE’s live online proctored exams. NATE had already planned to launch this feature in the summer of 2020, but when the pandemic hit, it fast-tracked the program for an April 1 start.

The original idea was to help technicians fit in exams to better suit their schedules. The subsequent decision to move up the launch came out of the desire to enable more technicians to pursue their certification at a time when COVID-19 had forced slowdowns, if not temporary closures, in many places.

For online proctoring, NATE partnered with Examity, an online proctoring platform. The platform allows technicians to take their tests from home.

“An Examity qualified proctor monitors test candidates remotely in real time using their webcam in order to ensure the integrity of the exam,” said Weill. “Additionally, after the session is complete, Examity reviews a recording of the session.”

Technicians can use the online proctoring to take any of the EPA 608, HVAC Support Technician Certificate, and NATE Certification exams, including the CHP-5 exams.


Nate Study Guides, and in Spanish Too

Only several months before the CHP-5 launch, NATE had introduced a different initiative: official study guides. The NATE Technical Committee and Learning Solutions group in Scranton, Pennsylvania, had collaborated to create those.

Through the NATE online store, users can buy a guide corresponding to a given exam. This includes each certification exam pathway and the specialty exams, Weill said.

“We also have a study guide for each of our NATE certificate exams, the HVAC Support Technician Certificate, and the Ready to Work Certificate. The guides include lots of graphics and have practice exam questions at the end of each chapter.”

Weill had a suggestion when asked about any item that she felt contractors could be taking more advantage of for their business.

“Many contractors don’t realize we sell Spanish-language versions of the HVAC Support Technician guide and the Ready to Work Study Guide,” she said. “Additionally, for technicians ready to take their NATE certification exams, we offer Spanish language versions of the NATE Core exam and Service exams for the Air Conditioning, Heat Pump, and Gas Heating specialties.”


Team Tracking and Homeowner Outreach

NATE did not have data or research to show that NATE certification specifically translates to improvements like reduced callbacks. However, Weill did offer data that supports how investing in the process can yield rewards in terms of marketing or company profile. She cited research that found “87% of consumers wanted certified technicians to work on their home comfort system.”

Direct contact with homeowners does not end there, despite the company’s primary focus on contractors and technicians. Weill mentioned that over 5,000 consumers view and use the NATE Contractor Locator each month. That represents a free marketing opportunity for contractors, who may list their business in the locator at no charge by joining the NATE Consumer Connection Program (C3).

Creating the C3 account does not include only that benefit — which Weill stressed was for contractors of all sizes, from one-person operations to multi-location contractors. C3 users can also log in to track all of their employees’ certification progress and Continuing Education Hours.

In order to join the C3 program, contractors must have 25% of their technicians NATE-certified and then complete an online application. At that point, they can enter their techs’ NATE ID numbers and track future progress.


On Deck: A2L Refrigerants

As for NATE’s own future progress, current priorities include developing the new A2L-related refrigerant exam along with continuing to promote the CHP-5 and online proctoring opportunities. Weill said that NATE plans to release both its A2L exam and corresponding study guide in October of this year.

Until then, any technicians itching to up their game can work toward the Senior Level Efficiency Analyst certification. Technicians must hold two NATE service certifications (one heating and one cooling) in order to tackle that exam and reach the figurative summit of NATE certification.