When I began working in the United Kingdom, there was no need to obtain a license to work on oil/gas heating, plumbing, etc. When it was time to shake the industry up to get rid of the bad apples within it, by announcing that licenses were to be introduced, a lot of shivers went up everyone’s back.
A governing body was set up, one for gas and another for oil. Plumbing licensing was not mandatory and still isn’t. A structured exam was put together that covered the oral and practical side. It covered nearly all the situations you may come across while you are out in the field. There were 16 licenses starting at the procedure to install and test a gas meter, and on through the whole system covering each section relative to the license.
GETTING THROUGH THE EXAMSThe exam made one pick up a regulation book — to study codes and more codes.
When I took the first exam, I was nervous to say the least, not knowing what they would say or expect me to do. It was very nerve-racking having an examiner watching me closely for the entire day, unable to speak with anyone else in the classroom. If there was something I didn’t know, I would occasionally be able to pick a book as a manner of reference.
I got through my first exam. I completed testing for all 16 licenses and I then went on to study for the oil exam. After getting a lot of help from friends with the studying side, I made it through the oil course, too. Now the licenses have to be renewed every 5 years.
It kept us on our toes, knowing that if we messed up out in the field, we would have our license revoked and, in turn, would be unable to work.
A considerable number of bad tradesmen left the industry, but some really good ones left too, which was a great shame. They were either too old to go back to school, or felt they were too old to learn something new.
I was very unsure of what it would do to the industry.
EVERYBODY WINSAfter two years with the new licensing laws in place, the work quality got a lot better. This gave our trade a far better image to customers, who knew that we had been tested for competency. If we messed up, we would be in serious trouble with the governing bodies and if it was serious enough, we would end up in court.
As time went by, the public became more aware that anyone who worked on their heating appliances had to be licensed; and customers didn’t mind paying that bit extra knowing they would get the job done right the first time.
In turn, wages went up because we were now responsible for our actions — not the companies we worked for.
If the individual messed up, he or she would be fined and/or prosecuted. The companies were happier with that. Manufacturers became involved with the concept of licensing and enforcement — so much so, that when a new boiler was installed it had to be commissioned by a licensed tech.
The morale of the industry increased.
Bad techs were left to the wayside. As wages began to rise, the number of people wishing to join the industry slowly grew. The younger generation became more interested in the industry. As wages grew, the people who came into the industry were better educated.
If parents paid for a top-class education, they saw their children come into careers that paid more than $5 an hour.
I feel the key word is competency. Licenses enforced and checked by a governing body is the way to go. This is, of course, my own personal view, from a personal experience of before and after licenses.
So, how are we going to move forward in the 21st century? What needs to be addressed? How can we be sure that anyone who works on gas and oil appliances is licensed — with some form and proof of competency?
Yes, the bosses know their people, but I think if a tech needs to study to pass the exams, they will put a little more time, effort, and thought into their actions. If they mess up they just don’t answer to their boss, but to the governing bodies too; and if serious enough, the courts.
The younger generation should be encouraged to spend money for the courses that stimulate an interest in the HVACR industry.
TRY, TRY AGAINIf a tech fails any course, have a program for teaching them. If they do fail, it doesn’t mean they are a failure but may only need a helping hand to polish their skills and eventually instill pride in themselves.
I personally have 20 years’ experience. I don’t know everything and never will, but I try to be the best I can. And the only way I can is to learn the correct way of doing things. I don’t rely on the old saying of “Well, I have been doing this 20 years and my way is the right way.”
A lot more people have to open their minds and question themselves. They should ask: Am I competent? How do I know I am competent? By the introduction and enforcement of licensing you will prove to yourself, your employers, and the public that you are indeed competent. You owe it to yourself.
The industry needs to give something back to the younger generation. The longer we leave competency to chance, the longer the industry will drag its feet, allowing the media to keep getting on our backs.
Licensing will provide individuals with better pride, better wages, and a better standard of living. If we all get together on this, we can make the trade a great place to be.
Stuart is a former U.K. resident who came to work in the United States in the spring of 2002. He is using his background in plumbing and heating as an employee of a New York City-area contractor.
Publication date: 09/30/2002