The buzzword in training and education has been distance learning. The idea is actually not new. Colleges and training facilities have been offering opportunities to earn a degree or certification through correspondence for some time.

But in recent years, hvacr training centers have been toying more and more with the idea. Is it possible to gain the needed technical training through distance learning? For some technicians, finding adequate training in hvacr can be a challenge. Two organizations are solving this problem by sending technicians all they need to learn the trade on their own.


The Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-conditioning Wholesalers Association (NHRAW) has been offering distance learning in the form of correspondence courses since 1962. In fact, 1,000 industry members took courses in NHRAW’s Home Study Institute last year. And over time, 50,000 people have taken the courses.

Also, the study program has been accredited through the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education & Training Council since 1969. The organization has just recently accredited the school for the sixth time.

Bud Healy, director of edu-cation for NHRAW’s Home Study Institute, has been with the association since its founding. According to Healy, NHRAW used to have traveling schools for dealers, but soon found that they were not reaching as many people as they could.

NHRAW then decided to start correspondence courses, and began in 1962 with courses in basic heating, cooling, and hydronics.

By 1969, NHRAW was able to redesign the program and earn accreditation. Over the years, the organization has dropped and added courses, but for the most part the home study program has been very successful with approximately 1,000 enrollments each year.

Healy says that the program works very simply. With payment of tuition and enrollment, the students are sent a textbook, worksheets, and a study guide.

Through communication by e-mail and letters, students are told what lessons to learn and when the next exam will be. These exams are then sent to the student and must be completed by a certain time. The exam is then e-mailed, faxed, or mailed back to the school for grading.

Graded material is then sent back as quickly as possible. After completing the course, the student receives Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

The home study program is that simple. Of course, there is a certain amount of hands-on training that is needed. Healy says that this is up to the student and s/he will have to go to a local career center.

But this is not a problem for most enrolled in the program; they are usually employees of member firms and companies. Healy says that the distance learning program works just like on-the-job training.

“If a wholesaler has a new hire, they put them in an introductory course to understand the basics of the people they serve,” said Healy.

Part of the success of NHRAW’s program has not only been the convenience, but the helpfulness to the student. “To make distance learning work, you have to make the student feel he is in a class of one,” said Healy.

If students have any questions about lessons or are stuck on a question, they can e-mail their queries to Healy or to another NHRAW instructor. This way, Healy can get back to the student as quickly as possible.

To back up the program’s success so far, Healy says that there is a 76% completion rate.

But with all the convenience NHRAW provides, Healy says that students have to be disciplined in order to succeed.

“You can’t do home study and succeed if you do it casually and as a second thought,” said Healy.

Van's Heating and Air Conditioning (DePere, WI) put Neil Lennon through the Technical Training Program at Quality Technician Training Center; the company now says Lennon is one of its top technicians.

Quality Technical Training Center

Much like NHRAW, the Quality Technical Training Center also offers correspondence courses. But unlike NHRAW, Quality Technical in Las Vegas, NV, also provides the hands-on training necessary for technicians to enter the field.

Art Leonard, school director of the center, says that its correspondence course is key to the shortage of qualified technicians.

He explains that some contractors do not have access to training facilities in their area and may not be able to have a convenient place to send their employees for training.

“If they need training, they can’t afford to send them for long periods of time,” Leonard said.

Once enrolled with the training center, the student will be involved in approximately 90 hours of correspondence study. The first part of the training is all theory; this includes basic heating, air conditioning, and plumbing, to name a few topics.

Like NHRAW’s program, the students study a new lesson each month and then submit their tests by mail to the training center for grading. After they have passed the initial correspondence courses, with no lower than an average of 70%, the technician is then sent to the center for intensive, hands-on training.

Leonard says the technicians come for one week of training, totaling 60 hours (10 hours a day).

The school has also recently opened a 7,200-sq-ft training facility just minutes away from the current center to provide hands-on training for visiting technicians.

Leonard says the new facility has “complete lab stations for heating, air conditioning, and plumbing.”

He also says that a great deal of the technician training is intended for the beginning technician. Most of the hands-on focuses on troubleshooting a number of different units.

Leonard explains that the intensive week of training helps the technician adapt to the equipment he or she is working on. It also helps the contractor in a number of ways.

“Company after company is looking for qualified people,” said Leonard. “We say to the employer, you hire somebody and decide whether they are worth the training. Hire someone with qualifications you want and then send them to our facility.”

Leonard also says that the training center is looking to expand. This includes opening the training to the general public, including advanced correspondence training and possibly distance learning on the web. This way students can access tests and lessons over the computer.

Josh Abdon, a technician at Joe Ellis Heating and Air Conditioning in Greencastle, IN, had the opportunity to attend the Quality Technical Center and take part in the correspondence course.

Abdon says that the best part of taking the course was the instructors. “The class is great,” he said. “The easiest way to describe it was [the instructor] made it easy to understand and walked you through it.”

Besides the hands-on technical training, Abdon says that the correspondence course was a great benefit. He had the opportunity to study at his own pace during the times he felt were most convenient. It also helped because it gave him the opportunity to continue working while studying on the side.

Abdon’s employer paid for all of his training, which included hands-on training in Las Vegas. The total cost was near $3,000. Abdon says his boss made sure to check up on him. “He made sure I didn’t drag my feet, and made sure I was getting through the class,” he said.

publication date: 01/29/2001