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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    Sahuarita, Arizona
    Posts
    15

    What Do Consumers Understand About Certification?

    I’ve had many discussions with technicians about going through the NATE, HVAC Excellence, or RSES testing programs, and one of the comments I get from some of them is that consumers don’t understand or care about a technician being certified; that their only interest is that the person who shows up to troubleshoot and fix their air conditioner will get it done right and for the most reasonable price.

    While I agree that there might be some consumers, whether they’re residential homeowners or commercial, that might fit that description, I don’t buy the idea of painting everyone with the same broad brush. So, I’ve spent some time asking others about this issue, and I found out about a situation while I was working in Florida that caused me to consider an interesting question about consumers and what they do or don’t understand about technician certification. In this particular situation it wasn’t an HVAC contractor, but an appliance service company that a parts distributor employee told me about.

    As it turns out, this particular appliance company, in addition to having their company name painted on their service vans, lists the fact that they employ “Certified Technicians”.
    Now, the question you want to consider here is that when a consumer sees a van for an appliance service company, and, in addition to the company name and contact information shown on the vehicle, the term “Certified Technicians” is listed, what is the customer’s impression of this listing, and what assumptions are, for the most part, automatic? Often, it is that when one of the technicians from this service company shows up to fix whatever specific make and model of appliance that needs repaired, he or she is certified (trained, informed, and tested) on that particular appliance or category of appliance. Well, in this scenario, that’s not what the “certified” listing means.

    In this case, the appliance service company paid $25 per technician to take an open-book, 50-question, multiple-choice exam through an outfit called NARDA (North American Retail Dealers Association, which is an organization that has offered this type of testing for appliance technicians who work on sealed systems in refrigerators and other small appliances. As people in the HVAC industry know, this is a Type 1 certification for technicians who service refrigeration systems containing less than 5 lbs. of refrigerant with a hermetically sealed refrigeration system (the formal definition of this EPA certification exam on refrigerant handling) and thereby listed on their van that the technicians they employ are “certified”.

    This certification is, as the EPA definition states, related to safe and legal practices regarding refrigerant handling and requirements for evacuating and charging refrigeration systems, and proper methods of leak testing a refrigeration system. It doesn’t speak to a technician’s competency related to any other aspect of servicing appliances…not servicing the electrical and air flow systems in a refrigerator; not for servicing gas or electric ranges, or washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, etc….it’s related pretty much to the safety and legal issues about refrigerant handling only.

    So, on the HVACR side of service, the situation could be similar and the consumer, if they didn’t know enough to look for specific information, such as the NATE logo, wouldn’t know the difference. For an HVAC service company the only things that would be different from an appliance company are that the cost would be somewhat higher, and the exam is closed-book. But it could be only 50 questions if the technician is becoming certified in Type 2 equipment (high-pressure refrigeration systems with more than 5 lbs. of refrigerant) rather than Type 1 equipment. Or, it could be that the technician accomplished a 100 multiple-choice question exam that covers not only Type 1, but also Type 2 and Type 3 equipment (low pressure refrigeration systems), which means the technician is considered to be certified as a Universal Technician.

    In either case, the “certified” term can be earned by taking an exam related only to the EPA rules and regulations relative to safe and legal refrigerant handling practices.

    I’m aware that NATE has implemented a media program to let consumers know that they should be asking about technician certification when they call for service on their HVAC equipment, and I’d like to see comments from others about the issue of certification, credibility, etc…

    Learn from yesterday….Live for today….Look forward to tomorrow.

    Jim Johnson

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    Winston-Salem NC
    Posts
    1,133
    At the most my clients are interested in seeing my workman's liability policy paperwork and general liability coverage. Most of the time they don't even ask about that, much less verify.
    Given I do no advertisement other than word of mouth and handing out business cards, my vehicles are plain white vans, with no numbers or names on them, and there is no "company" uniform, other than a dress code.

    The "certified technician" thingee is basically a "trust me, I know what I am doing" feel good marketing ploy. The average consumer is not going to be qualified to judge the competency of the technician, nor the competency of the certifying company. All they will be able to see is if their problem is fixed and how that business interaction went.

    There is a automotive certification program that has been around for years, which I can recognize it if I see it, and I never use it as a guide to getting my vehicles worked on. I use word of mouth to see who does a good job.

    Guy up in the county I used to live in is who I call to fix my appliances (yeah, I would rather pay him since he charges less than I do). I have no idea what certifications he has, what kind of experience, nor even what he looks like. I'll call him, tell him where the key is and he'll get by fix, or estimate cost, and I will leave him a check in the mailbox or on the kitchen table if he is fixing it and getting the part. I picked him because he has been in business for about 30 years, and has a strong customer loyalty base. And he charges a fair price for properly done (or at least it works for quite a while) work.

    That type of stuff is far more important than certification in my opinion.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Location
    Southern NJ
    Posts
    1,241
    What certifications do you want your mortgage broker, butcher, or kid's gym teacher to have?

    All are trades with specialized knowledge just like HVAC but I don't know anything about mortgage brokering so whatever letters he has behind his name are just letters to me. They're important to him because he takes his trade seriously but outside of his trade, they're just letters.
    Ryan
    Maintenance Guy
    -----------------
    naysayer, skeptic, conspiracy theorist

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Houston, Texas
    Posts
    11,874
    Quote Originally Posted by Jimtta View Post
    I’ve had many discussions with technicians about going through the NATE, HVAC Excellence, or RSES testing programs, and one of the comments I get from some of them is that consumers don’t understand or care about a technician being certified; that their only interest is that the person who shows up to troubleshoot and fix their air conditioner will get it done right and for the most reasonable price.

    While I agree that there might be some consumers, whether they’re residential homeowners or commercial, that might fit that description, I don’t buy the idea of painting everyone with the same broad brush. So, I’ve spent some time asking others about this issue, and I found out about a situation while I was working in Florida that caused me to consider an interesting question about consumers and what they do or don’t understand about technician certification. In this particular situation it wasn’t an HVAC contractor, but an appliance service company that a parts distributor employee told me about.

    As it turns out, this particular appliance company, in addition to having their company name painted on their service vans, lists the fact that they employ “Certified Technicians”.
    Now, the question you want to consider here is that when a consumer sees a van for an appliance service company, and, in addition to the company name and contact information shown on the vehicle, the term “Certified Technicians” is listed, what is the customer’s impression of this listing, and what assumptions are, for the most part, automatic? Often, it is that when one of the technicians from this service company shows up to fix whatever specific make and model of appliance that needs repaired, he or she is certified (trained, informed, and tested) on that particular appliance or category of appliance. Well, in this scenario, that’s not what the “certified” listing means.

    In this case, the appliance service company paid $25 per technician to take an open-book, 50-question, multiple-choice exam through an outfit called NARDA (North American Retail Dealers Association, which is an organization that has offered this type of testing for appliance technicians who work on sealed systems in refrigerators and other small appliances. As people in the HVAC industry know, this is a Type 1 certification for technicians who service refrigeration systems containing less than 5 lbs. of refrigerant with a hermetically sealed refrigeration system (the formal definition of this EPA certification exam on refrigerant handling) and thereby listed on their van that the technicians they employ are “certified”.

    This certification is, as the EPA definition states, related to safe and legal practices regarding refrigerant handling and requirements for evacuating and charging refrigeration systems, and proper methods of leak testing a refrigeration system. It doesn’t speak to a technician’s competency related to any other aspect of servicing appliances…not servicing the electrical and air flow systems in a refrigerator; not for servicing gas or electric ranges, or washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, etc….it’s related pretty much to the safety and legal issues about refrigerant handling only.

    So, on the HVACR side of service, the situation could be similar and the consumer, if they didn’t know enough to look for specific information, such as the NATE logo, wouldn’t know the difference. For an HVAC service company the only things that would be different from an appliance company are that the cost would be somewhat higher, and the exam is closed-book. But it could be only 50 questions if the technician is becoming certified in Type 2 equipment (high-pressure refrigeration systems with more than 5 lbs. of refrigerant) rather than Type 1 equipment. Or, it could be that the technician accomplished a 100 multiple-choice question exam that covers not only Type 1, but also Type 2 and Type 3 equipment (low pressure refrigeration systems), which means the technician is considered to be certified as a Universal Technician.

    In either case, the “certified” term can be earned by taking an exam related only to the EPA rules and regulations relative to safe and legal refrigerant handling practices.

    I’m aware that NATE has implemented a media program to let consumers know that they should be asking about technician certification when they call for service on their HVAC equipment, and I’d like to see comments from others about the issue of certification, credibility, etc…

    Learn from yesterday….Live for today….Look forward to tomorrow.

    Jim Johnson

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    4,068
    I think they mean zero to the customer.

    They can be helpful for the tech in his search for a job or even a raise. They can show a boss or potential boss at least some level of interest and commitment in furthering your knowledge in the trade. For me, the over used cliche "I dont need no stinking badges" applies.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Posts
    3,140
    A lot of customers don't give a crap about smilie faces, gold stars, stickers, or merit badges. All they want is cheap.

    The ones who give away the farm ruin it for those of us who actually care about our profession and spend years building our credentials and expertise.
    The key to happiness is lower expectations.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Baton Rouge, LA
    Posts
    1,120
    I think what you guys a re failing to understand here is, not what it means to the customer, but what it means to you as a technician or an owner.

    To an owner a good cert. program like RSES or NATE tells me that my technician knows better then to be a "Gas and Go," or "Beer Can Temp" tech.

    To you as an employee it means you have the right to ask for better pay as you are a nationally recognized technician with proof of your knowledge.

    It also means if you use it to the best of your ability you can be above the average technician who can not just get the job done but get it done right.

    It also will make you valuable to the company as someone who can fix the problem others can't because you learned the information. Which is job security.

    Continued education in the HVAC industry can take you anywhere. I know friends with masters from universities that are getting laid off. But one training program in this industry can jump you up to the top 5 in your company.

    If you get the chance to gain certification in anything take it.

    Who cares what the customer knows or cares about it.
    If you're too "open" minded, your brains will fall out.
    Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    Winston-Salem NC
    Posts
    1,133
    I have no problem with training and continuing education. I advocate everything that is free or paid for by the boss and then all you can afford after that.

    Certification shows me that some folks are good at passing tests. Doesn't tell me they are good at fixing things, and that's not even fixed right, just fixed.

    I know too many NATE certified technicians that shouldn't be working on pretend HVAC/R systems, much less real ones. I have known too many folks who were "factory trained" to buy that as a basis of how good of a technician they are.

    And yes, I am aware NATE and company are yadda, yadda, yadda, national, yadda, yadda, yadda best indicators, yadda, yadda, yadda. But point is that they don't work for me when it come to choosing a technician or a company. All I can go by is what I have seen, in my area.

    And poster above, I have a MA and am back to turning wrenches for a living.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Baton Rouge, LA
    Posts
    1,120
    I will make a note of the fact that Salem has a lot of people who are good at tests and lazy at work thanks for the info.
    If you're too "open" minded, your brains will fall out.
    Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Utah
    Posts
    15
    Though it may not be the winning argument in their decision to buy from you, I think it is another arrow in your quiver. It's another argument for you and does express your or your companies continued persuit of excellence. I think on some level it does inspire more confidence in the tech that acquires them.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Location
    Winston-Salem NC
    Posts
    1,133
    Quote Originally Posted by XcelTech View Post
    I will make a note of the fact that Salem has a lot of people who are good at tests and lazy at work thanks for the info.
    Lol.
    Winston-Salem, TYVM, Salem is some city up north somewhere.
    And like any other place in the world, we have good techs, bad techs, lazy techs and hacks, with a fair share of dudes that do OK.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Wake Forest, NC
    Posts
    352
    Quote Originally Posted by stonewallred View Post
    Lol.
    Winston-Salem, TYVM, Salem is some city up north somewhere.
    And like any other place in the world, we have good techs, bad techs, lazy techs and hacks, with a fair share of dudes that do OK.
    Old Salem is just outside of downtown, and even though the folks there dress like pilgrims the bakery there makes some mean pastries and cookies!

    As for certifications, I pursued mine more for what it says to prospective employers than what it says to customers. I certainly dont know everything, or even close to it, but I have been in residential HVAC for 14 years and have learned a lot... I wanted prosepctive employers to know I have developed trade specific skills during my 14 years, not slid by... It was my way of graduating from parts-changer to certified parts-changer...

    Customers only care about cost and getting it diagnosed and fixed the first time. A certified tech who cant identify and repair a problem is less kosher than an uncertified one who can and does in the customer's eyes.
    It's not rocket-science...

    It's electromechanical thermodynamic engineering

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Posts
    3,140

    Some of my certifications include:

    Getting burned with molten brazing alloy and flux certification

    Getting shocked certification

    Getting poked in the top of the head with a piece of threaded rod while climbing a ladder certification

    Inhaling phosgene gas certification

    Absorbing copious amounts of carcinogens and solvents through your skin certification

    Being blinded by the sun on a white rubber roof in July certification

    Getting stung by wasps and bit by spiders certification

    Slipping and falling on a wet roof first thing in the morning and busting your @$$ certification.

    Getting cut with sheet metal certification

    Have to call the wife and let her know you’re working late because your job got rained on and now you’re 3 hours behind schedule so you won’t be able to make the dinner reservation you’ve had for a week certification.

    The key to happiness is lower expectations.

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