For many years, certification has been a confusing situation. For every hvac organization there was another certification exam, whether it was the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) or the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES).

The number of different certification tests made it difficult to determine which technicians and contractors were up to par. Within the last few years, organizations such as ACCA, RSES, and several others joined forces to create one industry-supported certification body, known as North American Technician Excellence (NATE).

Since its inception, 10,000 individuals in the United States have been NATE certified, as well as 300 in Canada. Although this is an impressive number, some say that NATE has a long way to go. According to Carl Smith, NATE’s director of marketing, consumers are beginning to demand that the technicians working on their hvac systems be certified.

“NATE’s mission is consumer driven,” said Smith; “87% of homeowners want certification.”

Smith goes on to say that customers want to know that their technician is knowledgeable and trustworthy. By creating one recognizable certification standard, supported by the industry, consumers will be able to know right away which technicians are qualified.

NATE is in many ways like the automotive standard for certification, Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). ASE was developed out of the need for consumers to know that their cars will be serviced by an individual with adequate training. When an individual takes his or her car in for repair work, they can look for an ASE patch or a sign that says “ASE Certified.”

NATE would like to do the same thing. When a technician or contractor has passed the NATE test, they can advertise this accomplishment and let consumers know that they are “one of the best.”

“The fact is that the consumer is going to be requesting this. Customers know what they want. Therefore, contractors need them [certified technicians]. They are a marketing advantage,” Smith said.

Smith also says that there are several other advantages to hiring a certified technician, especially one that is NATE certified.

“People who are certified stay in the industry longer,” Smith said. “The reason for that is simple. If you take an interest in your career, you are more apt to stay with it.”

Smith emphasizes that NATE certification is not mandatory. Technicians and contractors taking the exam proclaim an interest in their careers and a willingness to succeed. He also says that this interest in the industry makes a technician more productive and more self-confident.

A CERTIFIED point of view

Vincent Schwede, who works in technician support for CFM Equipment Distributors, Inc., in Sacramento, CA, has been NATE certified for roughly a year. He is also this year’s NATE Certified Technician Olympic Winner. (See related story, page 14.)

Schwede had been a technician for 15 years before taking his current position in technician support. Part of the reason Schwede decided to become NATE certified was to set an example for the other technicians that work under him.

“The techs are the grassroots of this industry,” Schwede said, “and how the public views us is important.”

Besides adding more professionalism to the industry, NATE certification can directly benefit contractors and technicians, according to Schwede.

“I think the good techs will be able to demand more money,” Schwede said about NATE technicians. He also said that the certification instills a sense of accomplishment. “It has definitely given me much more confidence.”

Schwede also believes that contractors will have more confidence in certified technicians and will feel more secure sending them out on a job.

Although there are several benefits, Schwede feels that the message of what NATE has to offer still needs to reach more people.

“I think it is just starting to trickle down. Since the whole industry has adopted it, the momentum is in getting technicians and seeing the need,” Schwede said. “I think it has some ways to go. I’d heard of NATE, but not until recently.”

Getting the Word Out

Schwede is not alone. Although there are approximately 10,000 NATE-certified technicians, some contractors either do not know what NATE is or have not completely embraced it. Part of the problem, obviously, is that the program is so new.

Brian Galvin, contractor for Excell Refrigeration in Lantana, FL, has had some concerns with NATE. Currently, Galvin does not require any kind of definite certification, but he says that he has looked into NATE for his technicians.

Part of the problem, according to Galvin, is that his business is focused primarily on refrigeration, and the NATE exam mostly covers heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

Also, Galvin says, “I think most of our techs would be hard-pressed to take it.” He says that the cost of the test may be too much for his technicians to afford.

But Galvin is not opposed to NATE certification. He says that the certification can be a definite boost to business, if a consumer is aware of what NATE is and how it works.

Rick Sims, contractor for Johnson’s Air Conditioning in Naples, FL, also feels that NATE certification can be a great benefit. But he too feels NATE still has some hurdles to get over.

First, Sims believes that NATE still needs to get its name out, not just to the industry, but to consumers. Although 87% of homeowners may want a certified technician, Sims says that NATE is not as recognizable as ASE.

“I would like to see a number of customers who know what NATE is,” said Sims.

He adds that only people in the hvacr industry would know what NATE is because they occasional come across the acronym in their career. But even so, Sims believes more people in the industry also need to be aware of the program. Although techs may come across NATE, they may not know exactly what it is all about.

Sims adds that only the most committed individuals in the hvacr business are taking the certification exam. The appeal of the certification has yet to find the average technician.

With these obstacles aside, Sims does feel NATE is a great idea and a great way to see who the qualified technicians are.

“NATE is voluntary, so the people who are in it and taking the test are the best,” said Sims.

For more information on NATE, contact 877-420-6283; 703-610-9005 (fax); or visit

Publication date: 11/03/2000

Sidebar: NATE Names Winner of Technician

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) held its first annual Certified Technician Olympics (CTO), and the inaugural winner was Vincent Schwede of CFM Equipment Inc. in Sacramento, CA.

Seven NATE-certified technicians from across the United States competed in Atlanta, GA, for the title of “Top Tech.” The “Magnificent Seven,” as they were called, competed in events from September 6-9 at ComforTech 2000. All of the competitors were hands-on field service technicians with high scores on the NATE exam within the last 12 months.

For the competition, each tech was asked to diagnose and correct the problems on three simulators and one computer program. The winner of the competition would be the tech to do all of this correctly and in the least amount of time. Each finalist had 20 minutes in which to solve a problem, but most spent an average of 10 minutes per problem.

Schwede was the first to correctly diagnose each problem and emerged as the winner. But he had stiff competition; three other competitors solved all the problems correctly, and only two minutes separated their finishing times.

For Schwede’s efforts, he was presented with a glass trophy, and all of the techs took home NATE shirts, personalized technician toolboxes, and finalist certificates.

The other competing techs were: Bill Chambers from Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, OH; Paul Thomasson of City Wide Mechanical in Dallas, TX; Jack Waterman of Donnely Mechanical in College Point, NY; John Newman of the R.E. Michael Company in Beckley, WV; Chris Poole of Riteway Ventilating Company in Tucson, AZ; and Wesley McKoy of the Robert B. Payne Company out of Fredicksburg, VA.

Next year’s NATE Olympics will be held in Nashville, TN, at ComforTech 2001.