Mike Markarian
HERSHEY, Pa. — Several years ago, National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) looked into upgrading an existing certification program, enhancing it into a three-tiered program designed to recognize the talents and educational levels of oil heat technicians.

Mike Markarian, director of NORA educational programs, based in Watertown, Mass., gave a seminar at the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) convention on the importance of NORA certification for technicians. Markarian answered a simple question about why companies should train technicians.

“Whether your company has a formal training program or not, you are paying for one,” he said. “You are paying for one through the profits of your company, especially if your techs are not certified.”

Markarian said that having certified technicians leads to a higher rate of customer satisfaction. “This leads to a higher gross margin in fuel oil sales because of the higher rate of customer retention,” he said. “Customers will pay the price if they can perceive that they are getting value. After all, 30 percent of oil customers are price-oriented.

“This also relieves the burden of ‘defensive pricing’ of services due to poor quality of service. Proper pricing will allow you to pay your technicians a proper rate.”

Markarian said that certification also leads to a better work environment and fewer callbacks. “[It] lowers the technician’s stress level in the office and leads to longer terms of employment,” he said. “Lower callback rates lead to more productive time; repeat calls are a hidden cost that cuts into profits.”

Three-Tiered Certification

Markarian said that students that begin NORA training with only classroom training are often behind the learning curve. He would prefer to see students get some hands-on knowledge of the business first. According to the NORA Education Center’s Web site (www.noraed.org), there is a definite need for certification on all levels:

“Continuing education helps ensure the best technical performance throughout the oil heat industry. [The] Oilheat Certification Program recognize(s) technicians who demonstrate the experience and skills to maintain heating systems at optimal efficiency and perform service work of the highest quality. The program represents a national standard for oil heat training and is designed to add credibility and recognition to master technicians (Silver Certificate) and advanced master technicians (Gold Certificate), as well as a new Bronze Apprentice level.”

The minimum criteria for each certification level are:


1. An apprentice must have at least 80 hours of formal classroom training in a NORA-approved program.

2. Pass the Silver Exam.

After three years of experience in the field and another 24 hours of NORA-approved continuing education credits, they automatically qualify for Silver Certification.


1. Minimum of three years work experience as an oil heat technician verified on company letterhead, signed by company owner or manager.

2. Minimum of 100 hours of educational training.

3. Passage of a test that is based on the Oil Heat Technicians Manual. Tests are held periodically throughout regions where oil heat is prominent in the marketplace. A schedule of exams is available from the state/

regional oil heat association serving your area.


1. Completion and passage of the Silver National Certificate Program and Exam; or accepted into the Silver National Certificate Program from an oil heat state association certification.

2. Minimum of five years’ work experience as an oil heat technician verified on company letterhead, signed by company owner or manager.

3. Minimum of 120 hours of oil heat education training beyond basic oil heat technician courses.

Certification at both Silver and Gold is good for five years only. Recertification is necessary and can be accomplished by accumulating 24 NORA continuing education credits before the recertification deadline, or retaking the Silver or Gold exam.

If a student resides at a distance from an exam site and travel is not feasible, the student can e-mail the NORA Education Center at info@noraed.org to make arrangements for certification.

Markarian has special praise for the Oil Heat Technicians Manual. “I think it is the best instruction manual in the industry,” he declared. “It has everything in it that a person needs to be a good oil heat technician.”

He talked about some of the book’s contents, including a section on carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. “I had a CO death in my company,” Markarian said. “Anybody who tells you that CO poisoning isn’t a problem doesn’t know what they are talking about.”

Markarian said the challenge of getting students into the classroom is made even greater by outside influences. “The regular school system is working against us,” he stated. “The perception is that if you go to a vo-tech school, you are a failure.”

Sidebar: About NORA

The National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) was established through the cooperative efforts of oil heat trade organizations and supporting interests throughout the United States. The effort became reality in February 2001 following Congressional approval, the president's signature, and the oil heat industry's approval by vote to create and fund the alliance.

The alliance is funded by a contribution of two-tenths of a cent for every gallon of No. 2 fuel oil and heating oil that is destined for end-use heating consumption in the marketplaces where NORA is in effect. (That encompasses over 20 states and the District of Columbia.) A portion of NORA's annual budget is devoted to education and training within the industry. The National Oilheat Certification Program and related educational materials produced by the NORA Education Center are important components of the NORA program.

Publication date: 06/23/2003