Enterprise Corp. president Dick Starr (left) discusses a control upgrade with one of his technicians. The Cleveland contractor employs UA STAR-certified journeymen.
Physicians, lawyers, and many other professionals have testing standards to measure their skill levels and show the world they excel in their chosen field. Leaders at the United Association (UA), a multi-craft union representing service and piping technicians in the HVACR field, believed their industry needed a similar testing standard, one to delineate which workers have outstanding skill levels and are highly qualified.

In the end, the UA STAR certification program was born.

"UA service technicians receive state-of-the-art training, and this program identifies those with the highest degree of proficiency," said Donald House, the UA's director of HVACR service.

"Plus, the program has been recognized by major standard-accrediting organizations and requires a solid base of education or work experience. UA STAR certification offers end users the best of the best."

Working With Ferris State

UA developed its STAR certification program in conjunction with Ferris State University (FSU), located in Big Rapids, Mich. In fact, the certification exam was created based on the results of a study UA did with FSU.

"Ferris State interviewed service technicians nationwide and in Canada, and used the information to create a 65-page task analysis, from which the 200-question test was developed," explained Steven H. Allen, director of instructional technology for UA.

"The questions on the exam were then pilot-tested. A national cross-section of beginning, intermediate, and experienced technicians took the exam, and the results of this test effort were found statistically valid by Ferris State."

To take the UA STAR exam, a technician must have either five years of work experience or have graduated from a five-year union apprenticeship.

Successful completion of the exam earns applicants 32 hours of college credit toward an associate's degree in HVACR technology or construction supervision from Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich. At last report, over 57,000 college credits have been issued.

Both associate degree programs transfer directly into FSU's bachelor's degree programs. The UA STAR certification program is endorsed by the Mechanical Service Contractors of America (MSCA), which has initiated its MSCA STAR Qualified program. The program recognizes contractors who meet stringent quality specifications and submit supporting documentation.

"Employing UA STAR-certified technicians is one important criteria for MSCA STAR qualification," said MSCA executive director Barbara Dolim. "Together, UA STAR certification and MSCA STAR qualification gives contractors a marketing edge and provides end-users with a highly trained workforce. It's a win-win situation."

What's On The Test?

The UA STAR certification exam tests applicants for expertise in mechanical systems, air conditioning and refrigeration, ventilation systems, safety, electrical, heating, piping, mathematics, controls, steam systems, lifting equipment, customer service, and plumbing.

According to Allen, the UA STAR test is administered and supervised by FSU and the National Inspection Testing Corp. (NITC), an internationally recognized third-party personnel certification agency. NITC's participation, along with that of FSU, helps the UA STAR test meet the criteria of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accreditation and the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) ISO-9002 certification, said Allen.

"Organizations that test and accredit workers must also meet specific standards, and those standards are determined by ANSI," he added.

Many manufacturers consider ISO certification fundamental to doing business internationally. Therefore, many manufacturers prefer working with technicians meeting those standards. According to Allen, the UA STAR exam is the only test of its kind recognized by ISO. "ISO certification means that the UA STAR exam has met an important international standard, respected worldwide," he said.

Contractors who employ UA STAR-certified technicians find their enhanced skills make for greater productivity and customer satisfaction. Just ask Bert Miedler, president of Thermodyne Mechanical Services Inc., located in Northbrook, Ill.

"All of our journeymen are UA STAR-certified," said Miedler. "They've received continuing education though local Mechanical Contractors Association chapters, and different suppliers have held night classes. They also take UA Local 597 night classes. Our clients have been extremely pleased by their performance."

Thermodyne was designated as an MSCA STAR for meeting and surpassing the stringent business and HVAC service standards set forth by MSCA. Twenty-five percent of a company's service journeymen must be UA STAR-certified to become MSCA STAR-qualified - and Thermodyne went beyond that.

Dick Starr, president of The Enterprise Corp., located in Cleveland, also employs UA STAR-certified journeymen.

"Clients often tell me I have the best people in the industry," he said. "One person once told me, ‘Your technicians analyze problems, while others just treat symptoms.'"

The Enterprise Corp. was the first contractor to receive MSCA STAR qualification in Ohio. "We have a strong industrial base of customers, and they appreciate that we employ technicians with certification recognized by ISO," said Starr.

In the eyes of House, the UA STAR certification exam offers greater opportunities for technicians, a more marketable workforce for contractors, and "superior results" for end users, "making everyone an equal winner in this industry trifecta."

"ANSI accreditation, ISO certification, and the five-year work experience or apprenticeship requirement combine to make the UA STAR certification exam the standard to which all workers in this industry should aspire," he said.

For more information on the UA STAR certification program, visit www.uastar.info.

Publication date: 06/06/2005