How can technicians ensure they are striving for greatness at every turn and push themselves to get better at every facet of their job? And, how can contractors encourage personal growth within technicians without seeming as if they’re only pointing out technicians’ shortcomings?

These are all difficult questions to answer outright. Replace “technician” with the more broad term “employee,” and do the same with “contractor” and “boss” and you have conundrums that can pop up in any office, board room, or job site across the country.

In the realm of HVAC, a unique opportunity presents itself in the form of contests that can test technicians’ prowess at different skills. While encouraging direct competition between employees each and every day can have both positive and negative effects, friendly competition outside of the workplace can have plenty of great rewards.

I first noticed these types of events firsthand at the AHR Expo two years ago in Chicago. A manufacturer had setup a skills test for hand tools at its display booth. Contractors, technicians, and an assortment of bystanders all stepped up to the plate and put their abilities to the test with a variety of tools. The prize for the best time, which I can’t even remember, seemed largely inconsequential. There is a natural inclination to compete within all of us, and if that competitive nature spurs professional growth, then it is a true win-win situation.

And those who were actually doing the swaging and flaring of a copper tube at the booth were competing against each other only in the loosest sense. What they were really doing was taking advantage of a fun opportunity to test their own abilities.

In the 2016 edition of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association (PHCC) Educational Foundation’s HVAC Apprentice Contest, apprentices tested their skills in brazing, wiring, troubleshooting, air testing, and recovery & charging methodology.

Referencing the PHCC contest, Thomasena Philen, education partner administrator, Daikin North America, said, “As a technician in the field, especially for those learning on the job, it’s very hard to identify knowledge gaps. I like to say, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ Participating in contests raises the bar for technical excellence and helps technicians identify the skills they could sharpen.”

There are, of course, actual winners and final standings for the contest every year, but all who compete gain more than a chance at prize packages. A competition like this is a chance to practice practical job site skills, watch and learn from fellow competitors, network with contractors from across the country, and see which areas of a technician’s skill set need the most improvement.

Affording technicians the opportunity to take part in events like this can provide positive dividends for any and all contractors.

It was the musician Rain who said, “The biggest competition is myself. I am not looking to follow others or pull them down; I’m planning to test my own boundaries.”

Give your technicians every opportunity possible to test their own boundaries. If they manage to have some fun with a flaring and swaging tool along the way, then they can only be better off because of it.