As part of its support for North American Technician Excellence, several York International distributors offer training to help dealers prepare for the NATE certification test.
Last year, several instructors throughout the state of Oklahoma were invited by York International Corp.'s Unitary Products Group to take the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) certification test free of charge.

Instructors took the NATE service core test at the expense of NATE, and the five NATE specialty tests at the expense of York.

The two-day in-service training program was just one way this manufacturer is supporting NATE certification and educational standards.

"There are 20,000 openings in the air conditioning industry for workers," said Dave Negrey, director of technical services and customer satisfaction for York. "There is a huge opportunity for trained technicians."

Negrey said that supporting training programs is the first step toward cultivating trained technicians. In fact, York recently donated $100,000 worth of HVAC equipment to Oklahoma technical schools to help them achieve accreditation through the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA).

The company has not limited its support for NATE to instructors in Oklahoma. UPG has created several incentives for its dealers to earn the certification. And York is not the only manufacturer backing NATE and encouraging its dealers to get on board.

One Standard

According to Negrey, York has been involved with NATE certification since its inception. The company "saw the opportunity to do what the auto industry had done," he said.

He explained that through manufacturer support, the auto industry was able to create certification that helped consumers identify qualified automotive mechanics. Negrey said the auto industry was able to create one uniform standard, something he believes was lacking in the HVACR industry when NATE was created.

"As a manufacturer, we support all avenues of education," said Negrey. "But there was no one, single certification at that time." With NATE, he said, consumers can be more confident that their systems will be installed by qualified technicians.

Manufacturer Support

Several other manufacturers were involved with NATE at the beginning and helped to develop one standard for service and installation. According to Rex Boynton, president of NATE, manufacturers were vital in getting the certification off the ground.

"In the early days, a lot of us recognized the size and the altitude of the mountain we wanted to climb," he said. "We wouldn't be where we are without the support of the manufacturers."

American Standard/Trane was one of those manufacturers involved in the beginning. The company helped support the certification financially (via the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute [ARI] and GAMA, an Association of Appliance & Equipment Manufacturers), and had a place on the NATE board from 1997 through 2002. The company is still actively involved on NATE's technical committee, which up-dates the exam and improves test questions on a regular basis.

"The primary benefit [of NATE] is that a singular certification program allows for a much higher opportunity for success and real industry impact," said Dave Pannier, president of residential systems for American Standard/Trane. "[NATE] removes customer confusion, eliminates nonproductive competition between separate certification entities, and allows for the best overall momentum for optimal results."

Several other manufacturers were also instrumental in the early development of NATE. According to Boynton, they are still playing a role in its success. In 2003, more than one-third of all NATE tests were purchased by manufacturers.

The Role Of Warranties

Why do manufacturers have such a large stake in NATE certification? In a word, warranties.

"From a manufacturer's viewpoint, our industry sees too many component parts replaced under warranty that are actually not defective," said Dave LaGrand, president and CEO of Nordyne. "Obviously, this is a tremendous waste of resources."

Trane execs also believe the certification can help curb unnecessary warranty claims that result from an improper system application or incorrect diagnosis of a problem. "Based on our analysis of warranty parts, we have observed a variation in ‘no defect found' returns," said Pannier.

He said these returns range to approximately 30 percent on compressors to about 60 percent on electronic components, such as printed circuit boards.

In addition, Pannier said, certification helps with basic customer satisfaction. This is even more important than the warranties. "Customers get better-installed systems that will meet their expectations with fewer problems and more optimal performance," he said.

Herman Kling, vice president of sales for Carrier Corp., agreed. He said that when it comes to finding a heating-cooling contractor, many customers don't know how to judge whether one company or the other is the best choice. "This helps to provide the best possible service to the consumer."

Kling also said he believes NATE gives confidence to the contractor and technician. It "provides contractors with the confidence in knowing that they can provide the best service," he said.

A Little Push

Many manufacturers supporting the certification have realized that they need to convey the message to dealers and distributors. Several manufacturers have made NATE a part of their company culture and are providing incentives to dealers to push them in the direction of certification.

Negrey, for example, is on the NATE advisory committee, which helps develop policy and review questions that will appear on the test. York's internal service representatives and factory support people are exposed to certification, and York's factory training is recognized by NATE.

The company also endorses NATE to its dealers through the York Libertiesâ„¢ program. These dealers receive incentives for employing NATE-certified technicians. The program reimburses dealers on a premium basis for any in-warranty work that is performed by a certified technician.

Negrey said these dealers can receive as much as $10 per hour extra when the warranty work is done by a NATE-certified technician. Dealers can use the money for anything they like, but York encourages them to put the money towards more training and recertification.

The company also encourages training that will help technicians achieve NATE certification. Negrey said that several of the company's distributors offer NATE-related training.

Training is an important part of Carrier's commitment to NATE as well. Kling said the company offers Web-based training. A potential test taker can log on to Carrier's NATE Core On-line Review Class and study four major areas that appear on the exam: electricity, motors, HVAC, and customer relations. Once enrolled, the user can review the Web-based information for two weeks.

Kling explained that technicians must recertify with NATE every five years. Technicians can earn credit towards recertification by participating in continuing education.

He added that NATE certification is now part of Carrier's Factory Authorized Dealer program. To be part of the program, a dealer must have a minimum of 50 percent of his or her technicians NATE certified.

At Nordyne, distributors and dealers are all encouraged to become certified. "We have helped to facilitate NATE testing and are developing a process whereby each of our distributors will have the opportunity to be set up as a test organization," said LaGrand. "We talk about the importance of NATE in all of our technical training classes, and we encourage our dealers to have certified technicians."

LaGrand also said that several Nordyne members are on NATE committees and the board of directors. "We look at NATE as something we're investing in for the long term," he said.

Pannier said American Standard/Trane dealers also receive incentives for hiring NATE-certified technicians. The certification is encouraged as part of the company's dealer programs, which provide extra benefits. The manufacturer also provides training to prepare for NATE, and picks up some of the costs involved in taking the test.

Is It Catching On With Customers?

In order for NATE certification to really catch on, these manufacturers said recognition from consumers is the next step.

"NATE has gained significant momentum, particularly during the past two to three years," said Pannier. "And yet, we've just scratched the surface. I believe the ultimate factor to get broad contractor support and engagement will be when the end customer demands NATE-certified technicians do their work."

American Standard/Trane advertises certification through its public Web site and its sales literature. Several of the other manufacturers supporting NATE have started using the logo in their advertising campaigns. Negrey said that using the logo in print ads could catch on with consumers the same way that the EnergyStar® logo has caught on.

"This signals to the consumer that the product and the contractor installing it have met certain industry criteria," he said.

Other manufacturers have participated in consumer outreach programs. For example, Negrey said York helped with an article that explained to consumers what to look for when choosing a qualified contractor. The article, which has appeared in major news publications, suggests that homeowners find a contractor that employs and hires NATE-certified technicians.

Kling said manufacturers are not the only reason for NATE's success. "It's because of the work across several industry organizations, not just manufacturers," he said.

According to Boynton, the manufacturers have the opportunity to get customers to look at more than just the product they are buying. "It's not just a system that the customer is buying," he said, "but the person who is actually doing the work."

Publication date: 08/30/2004