The National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) has been improving its 160-plus training centers across the country, having spent over $2 million in cutting-edge upgrades. (Photo courtesy of NEMI.)
No one can accuse Eric Emblem of thinking small. The executive director of the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) has set some high goals in regard to the not-for-profit organization's new HVAC Expertise certification program. By 2010, it is his and NEMI's aim to have 50,000 people certified at the new program's basic mechanic level.

"The work NEMI is doing today will create jobs and market share in the future," said Emblem. "NEMI was created to be the cutting edge of the sheet metal and air conditioning industry, and that's exactly where it is."

NEMI, which was created in 1981 by the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), has certainly been prepping for its new certification program, which is being offered by the International Training Institute (ITI).

NEMI has been laying down the groundwork at its 160-plus training centers across the country, having already spent over $2 million in keeping the equipment centers on the cutting edge. The program's aim is to ensure that certified HVAC mechanics, technicians, and master mechanics "are competent, reliable, and qualified craftspeople."

"Our certified professionals will ensure HVAC systems are installed and operating within established requirements," said Emblem.

"Normally, ‘established requirements' are the design specifications, if applicable and attainable given the equipment and installation involved. Otherwise, ‘established requirements' are applicable SMACNA standards. Only eligible applicants are candidates for HVAC Expertise certification."

Three Levels

The new certification program has three levels: HVAC mechanic, technician, and master mechanic. At the initial level, the eligible applicant must have been approved as a journeyperson by his or her local Joint Apprentice and Training Committee (JATC). To get to the next level, the eligible applicant must have completed the technician examination plus obtained and maintained an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) Type I, II, III, or universal card and passed at least one Industry Competency Exam (ICE), established by the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI).

To qualify for the master mechanic level, the eligible applicant must have passed the previous two levels, hold an EPA CFC universal card, and have passed the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) test consisting of the core test, the Air Conditioning Specialty elective test, and two of five electives.

"The systems that are going into businesses and buildings today are getting more and more complicated," said Emblem. "There is this constant change, which we have to address. It's one of the reasons why we came up with this certification program."

In the long term, one of the requirements of the new program will be to pass eight hours of education over a year's time, or pass one of the five disciplines offered by NATE.

"NEMI is committed not only to certifying the most advanced technicians, but also to finding the most advanced tools and methods with which to certify them. Research and development is vital for the future of the SMWIA and SMACNA," said Emblem.

Certification Is Priority

NEMI is a trailblazer in the areas of energy retrofit, clean rooms, indoor air quality (IAQ), and Performance Information Procurement Systems (PIPS) - or more commonly known as best-value contracting (BVC). According to Emblem, addressing each of these areas helps meet two goals: increasing man-hours for the sheet metal worker and increasing market share for the SMACNA contractor. NEMI has been recognized as an authority on improving indoor air environments on Capitol Hill and by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

"As NEMI continues educating both the public and the industry about the many research programs we're working on, opportunities and jobs will continue to grow for the SMWIA and SMACNA," said Emblem.

Under Emblem's guidance, certification has become one of NEMI's top priorities. In addition to the HVAC Expertise certification program, it created new standards for the Testing, Adjusting, Balancing Bureau (TABB).

"When you see the NEMI/TABB logo, you'll know the professional has gone through the most rigorous program available," said Emblem. "Technicians must master 14 service subjects and pass a five-hour written test, followed by a 14-hour performance test."

In addition, NEMI continually provides training courses through workshops and seminars in areas such as emerging markets, residential service retrofit, and a supervisor prep course.

"We held a course on customer relations at this year's TABB Conference, as well as a sound and vibration course that culminated in a certification exam," said Emblem.

Getting the 160-plus training centers working in unison was the challenge 10 years ago. Now each center offers classes that are uniform and equal to each other in every part of the country.

"That was quite a task, but now the courses are standard at every center," said Emblem.

"This makes it easier for contractors to hire employees from anywhere, knowing that what is being taught in Milwaukee is the same as in Detroit."

For more regarding the HVAC Expertise certification program, go to

Sidebar: Other Training Opportunities

In addition to what the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI) has to offer, other learning avenues in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry include:

  • The education department of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA) provides a select number of training programs for new business managers, business representatives, and organizers.

    Courses are generally conducted at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies at the Silver Spring, Md., campus. A small staff of four international representatives develop course content, training approach, and teaching techniques to facilitate learning of new administrative, organizing, and communications skills.

    Staff support is provided to the various SMWIA departments and Sheet Metal Workers Locals in developing new approaches to orient members, train local personnel, and plan strategies to build up membership and strengthen union work in the field.

  • The voluntary technical standards and manuals developed by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) contractors have found worldwide acceptance by the construction community, as well as foreign government agencies. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has accredited SMACNA as a standards-setting organization. SMACNA does not seek to enforce its standards or provide accreditation for compliance.

    SMACNA standards and manuals address each facet of the sheet metal industry, from duct construction and installation to air pollution control, from energy recovery to roofing.

  • SMACNA's technical resources department fields several thousand technical questions annually from architects, engineers, manufacturers, and government personnel.

  • More than 17,000 orders for SMACNA technical manuals are processed and shipped each year from SMACNA national headquarters. This translates into sales of more than 50,000 technical manuals, generating approximately $1 million in income for the association.

  • The International Training Institute (ITI), in collaboration with SMWIA and SMACNA, provides a number of opportunities to union members in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry.

    Some of the offerings include a curriculum for local journeyman and apprentice training programs, instructor training programs, certification of JATC training and testing programs, certification programs for welding, and assistance and enhancement to local training programs.

    Publication date: 10/10/2005