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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2012

    The 5 year barrier?

    So it seems to be a fairly universal belief that it takes 5 years as a helper/apprentice to advance to full technician/mechanic status. Now I'm not talking about "classification"...I'm in the dirty south and we are sans union and no requirements in Louisiana whatsoever to get your HVAC state license other than paying for it and passing the state test. I'm referring to the ability to go out in the field and competently do HVAC work. Why so long? Is it because so many guys are stuck in attics pulling duct work for the first few years? Now I realize that all men are not created equally (the guy I replaced was a helper for 5 years and was never trusted to do even the most basic of tasks alone...hard working simpleton), but I'd really like to hear from some guys that were out getting it done after a year or two. I only personally know two HVAC company owners, and they BOTH went out on their own with only tech school and 2 years or less hands on experience. One of said companies (the one I currently work for) is older than I am, the other is 10+ years old and going strong with 3 trucks on the road and 5 full time employees. So what gives? Who out there among you has struck out on their own after a couple years and is still making it? Not just guys that started their own business after just a couple years, but also the guys getting paid real money working for other companies after just a year or two. How did you do it? I pay attention, ask questions, take notes (ya, the guy I work with thinks its HILARIOUS that I take notes in the field), let my tech relax and watch me do his work whenever possible, and come home and read my books and lurk on here. I'm guessing that's what you did???

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Calgary, Alberta
    They say it takes 10,000 hours of experience before your really good at something.
    That works out to about 5 years at 40 hours a week.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Kansas City, Kansas, United States
    i think 5 years is fair!

    8 years for commercial!

    after running service for five years you have seen enough different stuff that you can be pretty good!

    of course when i started there were no circuit boards or ignitors?

    there was still plenty to learn!

  4. #4
    I have been in this trade for 20 years and still run into stuff that makes me think, you can be a functional tech in less than 5 years yes but it literally takes years of f*****g things up and learning from your mistakes to be a seasoned competent tech. Just my.02

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    steeler nation
    i could be wrong,but, i get the impression you have been doing this for a couple years and you think you are ready for the big bucks. Maybe you are, but i doubt it.
    I have been in this trade since 86 and find myself humbled more often than i care to admit.
    Trust me, you aint seen nothin yet.
    IV IV IX

    use your head for something other than a hat rack.......Gerry

    We have freedom because somebody fought for it.
    We keep it because we are willing to fight for it.
    We lose it because we are not willing to fight for it.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    From what I've seen and experienced myself, I can tell you that in most cases, it takes 5 years just to get to the point where you're not breaking and @#$%ing up as much as you fix. I think it takes 10-15 years to be "good".
    The key to happiness is lower expectations.

    Don't pick the fly crap out of the pepper.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Chicago, IL
    Have to agree, took me about 4 years to move from installer helper to installer, about another month or two to quit worrying about the next days install, what am I doing tomorrow? Few more months to know I knew enough to handle most problems I walked into. Few more months, to stop being cocky and realize there is always something new to learn. Now I know, as long as I am in the business, there will always be something that I do not know or have yet to learn. This is a business of change, you learn something new everyday, if you don't, maybe you should be a plumber, water always flows downhill!!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Foothills of NC
    I think 10,000 hours is about right. I think you can get that in before the 5 year mark if youre putting a lot into it outside of work. I work at a commercial company, but when i was trying to learn i would help some local residential guys (on their side work)in the evening for free just to get some experience. I read a lot, spent some time trolling on this site, took some classes and even got my state license.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    SouthEast NC ICW & Piedmont Foothills
    experience doesn't necessarily equal ability; you have to posses a desire to be good/better.

    hang out at any parts house late in the day and see for yourself.
    It`s better to be silent and thought the fool; than speak and remove all doubt.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Northern VA 38 degrees N by 76 degrees W
    Having many years of experience at a specific trade means nothing if you do not know what is right and what is wrong. There are thousands of individuals in various professions that have not a clue what they are doing.

    Yo have got to have the desire to be the best at what you do. And you must have someone with knowledge to learn this from. Unfortunately most company owners are not concerned with technicians that are technically proficient, if you can convince a customer to purchase equipment and accessories you are considered a great technician.

    The sad part is if you do not have the complete knowledge base of how a piece of equipment should perform, it is impossible to give your customer the service they are paying for.

    Profit in itself does not equate to knowledge.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    hard to learn both install and service in just a couple years. 5 years gives a good time to get a good foundation in both.
    Contractor locator map


    How many times must one fix something before it is fixed?

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Pacific NW
    Slightly different perspective as worked for big corporations.

    First hvac type job was ductwork on new 707 aircraft (old guy, eh?) It was about 30 (thirty) years until I was the guy to call when all else did not work.

    As far as timing -- after just 2 years had been exposed to enough that I knew it would take at least 20 years to know what others around me knew -- but aircraft ECS (environmental control system aka HVAC) is maybe somewhat more complicated than residential hvac ?

    Heck, when I started doing residential in retirement for some friends, it took a couple of years on this board to learn some seemingly simple but very practical and useful details about residential systems (example - see the flare thread on mini-splits)

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    SE Michigan
    It took me 10 years in the trade working full time to feel confident to give it a go on my own. I would do installations in both residential and commercial when needed, service when needed, and help the boss with estimates when needed.

    I learned quite a bit, but after 22 years or so I still can be humbled by the simplest things from time to time and forget things as well. I can search for a tool for 10 minutes and find it in my back pocket. Ive looked for my glasses and they were all ready on my head.

    Its crazy!
    “Now the freaks are on television, the freaks are in the movies. And it’s no longer the sideshow, it’s the whole show. The colorful circus and the clowns and the elephants, for all intents and purposes, are gone, and we’re dealing only with the freaks.” - Jonathan Winters

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