HVAC technicians are among the most sought-after skilled workers in the U.S. job market.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers are expected to grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026. That's faster than the average rate of increase for all jobs in the U.S.
In order to enter this growing field, you have to undergo a specific training program. You must also pass EPA certification in order to get the right license to use your skills. Once those steps are complete, you can seek employment as an HVAC technician or work as a self-employed contractor. Beyond passing HVAC training, it's a good idea to seek out the right HVAC insurance to protect your business.
Choose an HVAC certification course
Before you start the journey to becoming an HVAC technician, it's essential to know the rules where you live.
According to the BLS, some states or municipalities require you to have an HVAC license before you can perform the job. So when you're ready to choose an HVAC technician school, you should choose one that will get you on the right path to fill those requirements. Some may also help you prepare for the EPA exam, which everyone must complete in order to work as an HVAC technician.
In addition, some programs might take into account your previous work in the field. This is of particular benefit if you already know something about HVAC and don't want to repeat skills training. The best HVAC schools offer different educational streams according to the experiences of their students. You might want to opt for a program like this that doesn't make you pay for HVAC training courses that teach you what you already know.
At the same time, a longer program might look better to employers. That's especially the case if your time spent learning to be an HVAC technician involves hands-on experience. When choosing your school, you might want to sign up for one that offers more hours of instruction, so you can graduate with more practice. That experience is generally more attractive to employers, or if you plan to open your own business, to your potential clients.
Once you know that your choice of programs will give you the skills and coursework you need to get your certificate, consider other intangible factors, like how each program might fit in with your life. Some of the things you might want to look at include:
- HVAC certification program cost
- Financial aid
- The flexibility of course schedules
- Opportunities for on-the-job training
- Mentorship opportunities
- Job placement programs
- The employment rate of alumni
In other words, you want to know what your experience will be like in school. You also want to know what kind of return you will receive on your educational investment once you graduate. These are largely personal evaluations that a career counsellor can only help you with a little bit—at the end of the day, you know your own goals and objectives for HVAC technician training better than anyone else.
Practice your HVAC skills while studying
Most HVAC technicians do finish some kind of postsecondary program. However, it is sometimes possible to work as an apprentice under an experienced technician for 3 to 5 years to get this training. According to the BLS, unions and contractor associations, among others, sponsor apprenticeship programs.
As a new participant in the HVAC industry, you may choose to take coursework while working with others who have more experience. When you are choosing a new program, you may want to be on the lookout for this kind of flexibility. In addition, some schools may have mentorship initiatives in place that help students connect with seasoned HVAC professionals.
The EPA requires anyone who works with certain refrigerants to get certified under Section 608. There are four different types of HVAC certification. Once you get a certificate, it doesn't expire.
- Small appliances (Type I)
- High-pressure appliances (Type II)
- Low-pressure appliances (Type III)
- All equipment types (Universal)
Your school may or may not give you the opportunity to sit for an EPA certification exam. There are some organizations that offer a day-long course that gives you the information you need for the test, and give you the evaluation and certification once the instruction is complete. While that is very useful for those who need either a different EPA certification or need to finish off their requirements before working in the field, completing this exam alone is often not enough to become a successful HVAC technician or contractor.
Apprentices don't have to have EPA certification as long as their certified mentor closely watches over their work.
Online vs offline HVAC courses
Some people experiencing HVAC technician training don't choose to take in-class instruction. This is possible with some online education programs. With an online program, you can often set your own pace for classes. You learn many of the same skills as traditional courses, but it may cost less money. Often an online program can prepare you for the EPA exam.
The benefit of an offline HVAC course is the one-on-one contact you have with instructors. You can ask questions in person. You may also get hands-on training with real equipment that may be missing from an online module. When choosing online or offline coursework, it's a good idea to review what's offered and see how closely it matches your goals for your HVAC training.
First steps after certification
Once you have completed your apprenticeship or education and passed your EPA certification, you are ready to put your skills to work.
You can get a job as an HVAC technician through your school's career office or by contacting employers directly. If you have worked under a mentor during your education, you can ask them if they can refer you to any organizations that are hiring. Some people choose to work independently as HVAC contractors. In this case, you're running your own business. You may hire other HVAC technicians to work with you or under you. If you pursue this route, it's smart to learn some business basics and purchase business insurance. This will help keep you and your business protected in case something goes wrong during a job.
Regardless of how you ultimately use your skills, becoming HVAC certified can lead to a rewarding career. Take the time to learn more about it so you can take the path that's right for you.