Hvac technicians who have already been certified under the main industry tech-certifying bodies may automatically be eligible for certification under the North American Technician Excellence’s (NATE’s) new Air Conditioning Excellence (ACE) hvac certification program.

The NATE ACE exam, released in August, is designed to test and certify installation and service techs working on residential and light commercial hvac equipment.

Certification programs figured into the grandfathering process include the old NATE program, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA’s) ACE program, and the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society’s (RSES’s) National Technician Certification programs.

“There are 1,000 guys certified with [the old] NATE [program],” said Rex Boynton, NATE president. “Once the others are grandfathered in [from other association certification programs], we expect that number will swell to about 3,000.”

Techs who earned credentials under the old NATE, ACCA ACE, and RSES NTC programs will automatically be awarded the appropriate new certifications. Current RSES CM and CMS certificants also are grandfathered under the new exams. Techs who have passed some but not all of NATE’s old modules or ACCA ACE units may earn their certification either by completing the old exam or taking the appropriate new exam.

NATE is the single umbrella organization that issues the new NATE ACE certification. ACCA and RSES became members of the NATE board of directors and are helping to administer the new test.

Sears: interested?

There have been murmurs that Sears has expressed interest in getting its hvac subcontractors’ technicians certified through the NATE ACE program. However, Sears’ director of hvac business development Fitz Callender said last week it was too early to make any announcement.

“Sears executives are interested in getting their guys certified,” confirmed Boynton.

It is uncertain if Sears will use NATE as its certifying body. However, Boynton believes that Sears’ technicians will be well-trained before certification testing.

“They don’t want their techs to fail,” he said, noting that Sears will probably use prep guides, sample questions, and will be running techs through early pilot tests.

Getting certification would be a strong marketing tool for Sears’ consumer relations, believes ACCA executive director Roger Jask. He added that some contractors may get their techs certified if they think of Sears as a competitor.

“Fear forces people to get things done,” said Jask, adding, “You’ve got to be competitive. If you’re playing catch-up with certification, then you’re not competitive.”

Jask advises contractors with technicians who can pass the NATE ACE exam to “get ‘em in right away.” He then recommends that contractors train their remaining techs and test/certify them when they’re ready.

Not a cakewalk

The NATE ACE exam is not an easy test, said Boynton.

“People without hvac experience will not pass,” he said.

He recommends that industry newcomers still take the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute’s (ARI’s) Industry Competency Exams (ICE).

“While both the ICE and ACE exams help students and technicians demonstrate their skills and knowledge, each program measures different levels of expertise,” said Leslie Sandler, ARI manager of education.

ICE is administered to students with less than a year of field experience and who have completed at least 75% of a training program, including all basic or core courses.

NATE-bound technicians may earn certification in one of more specialties related to the specific hvac equipment/systems they work on: air conditioning, air distribution, gas heating, heat pumps, and oil heating.

According to Boynton, the pass rate for the old NATE test was low, approximately 29%.

“The tests are thorough. They are tough but fair,” he said.

Regarding the new test, he said, “I’d be astounded to see more than 50% to 60% pass.”

They remain optimistic

Jask is maintaining a positive attitude regarding NATE ACE, even though some contractors remain loyal to the respective old tests.

“I think the reaction [to the program merger] has been positive,” said Jask. “People close to it [the old ACE program] have a hard time giving it up. We’ve all rolled into NATE certification, but it’s still the ACE test and training program.”

Before the unification, the cries for one certification program were much louder than the voices of those who wanted their programs to stay the same. In fact, before the combination of the programs, Boynton said there were extended, serious discussions with ACCA and RSES regarding the feelings of their memberships.

“My suspicion is that there are some [members] who will prefer things the way they were,” said Boynton. “I understand some of the discontent. But over time some of that will subside.”