How warm and fuzzy would you feel if your doctor was not an active and practicing member of an organization such as the American Medical Association? You might wonder where he would go to keep up to date about his profession and pursue continuing education.

Where would he learn about new technologies and techniques? Perhaps his employer would share some responsibility and send him to classes. Wouldn't you feel just a bit more secure in knowing that your doctor assumed personal responsibility in keeping updated about his profession?

The professional HVAC technician is not unlike a doctor. Not only do technicians have to get their arms around technology that has been around for 50-plus years, they must keep up with the brand-new technology that is bombarding the world on what seems like a daily basis.

Now, buckle your tool belt up a notch. Are you ready for this? Technicians might have it even tougher than doctors. Doctors can specialize in a field. For the most part, technicians can't. Doctors might choose to work solely on bones. This would be like just working on the furnace wiring. But not only do technicians have to work on furnaces, they must be aware of the building envelope, electrical system, fossil fuel, ductwork, controls - and that's just one system. How many systems are alike?

There are many ways an HVACR technician can keep abreast of new technology while continuing to perfect their skills. One way is through trade publications such as The News. Another way is through trade associations. Virtually every segment of our industry has a trade association, including manufacturers, wholesalers, contractors, and technicians.

A trade association is a group of companies or individuals who band together to enhance various capabilities, such as technical expertise, safety measures, education, and business training. Members pay dues to belong to the group. Usually, a trade association is governed by a board of directors. Officers often include a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer.

Association Features

Web site- Association Web sites often provide information about industry news, educational opportunities, and publications for sale, as well as a discussion area, membership information, career information, and the like. The Web site can be a valuable resource tool that lets prospective members find out what the association is all about. (What is its mission? Does it cater to contractors, wholesalers, manufacturers, etc.?)

Journals and newsletters - Most associations publish either a journal or newsletter; some publish both. These publications can help technicians learn what is going on in the association and keep them abreast of new technology and industry-related news.

Local meetings - Associations usually meet once per month. In addition to carrying out association business, the group might bring in a speaker to talk on a relevant topic. Some provide dinner and refreshments. These meetings provide an excellent opportunity to meet with fellow technicians and exchange information and ideas.

National meetings - Association chapters from across the country typically meet once per year. Events often feature a keynote speaker who addresses the group. Many associations hold educational seminars and bring in vendors to display their wares and technology.

Educational programs - Associations provide educational opportunities for members. These sessions might include seminars, as well as other educational materials, which can come on DVDs, audio or video cassettes, or over the Internet, as well as in print. Most associations provide a discount to members.

Safety programs - Some associations offer safety training and programs.

Certification - Many associations offer training and guidance for various industry certification programs.

Group discounts - Some associations offer discounts for car rental, airline, and insurance costs, as well as for services from other professional organizations.

How To Choose An Association

Choose an association that caters specifically to you, the technician. You are responsible for your professional development. Consequently, you need an association whose sole purpose is to help enhance your knowledge and skills. Contractor associations provide good technical training. The Internet can be a great tool for conducting research on various associations. You can visit and click on "Industry Links" for a listing of the industry's trade associations.

Nuggets Of Gold

If you begin your membership in an association with a mindset that focuses on the best method to utilize all of the available resources at the association's disposal to help in your personal development, you will be on the superhighway to sustained career growth.

Trade associations have mountains of gold. They call it knowledge.

There is probably more knowledge and information in the collective membership of an association than there is in all of the books and training material combined.

So, when you are attending association functions, network with fellow professionals. Show a veteran technician respect, demonstrate your desire to improve, ask questions about what you don't understand, and then commit to retaining that information.

David E. Rothacker is a member of the National Comfort Institute's advisory board and a National Comfort Team founding member. For questions or comments on Tech Basics, contact Rothacker at

Publication date: 10/25/2004