Spotlights

Job Description

If you’ve ever been in a climate-controlled building, you’ve enjoyed the handiwork of an HVAC Technician! These hard workers install and repair heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) as well as refrigeration systems in residential and commercial buildings. As you might have guessed, HVAC systems regulate internal room temperature, and in some cases humidity and air quality. That’s critical not only to keep occupants comfortable but to also ensure safe storage for things like medicine, food products, and perishable goods.
 
HVAC Technicians are also responsible for performing continuous maintenance, such as inspections, cleaning, changing out parts, and refilling substances. Some technicians gain additional training to handle specialized HVAC systems and processes like commercial refrigeration, testing and balancing, solar panels, and radiant heating systems. These jobs involve a high degree of compliance with government regulations to keep everything safe and as environmentally-friendly as possible! 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Ensuring comfortable home and business environments for people to live and work in
  • Constant variety of work settings
  • Continuous learning opportunities
  • Working in an evolving, technology-driven field
2019 Employment
376,800
2029 Projected Employment
391,900
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

 

  • Meet with clients and bosses (building managers, landlords, homeowners) to review work to be performed
  • Review building layouts and work specifications; draft detailed designs and work plans
  • Install HVACR systems in buildings, following manufacturer guidelines
  • Safely install electrical components, including wiring
  • Run diagnostics tests to ensure proper operation
  • Discuss potential problems and solutions
  • Troubleshoot malfunctions and offer cost estimates to customers
  • Maintain, fix, and replace old parts
  • Plan out a maintenance schedule 
  • Keep logs of all work done
  • Ensure all needed parts are on-hand or available 
  • Comply with applicable state or local codes and other building standards

Additional Responsibilities

  • Travel to and from job sites; ensure vehicle is fueled, stocked, and ready
  • Perform minor equipment adjustments as needed to ensure peak system performance
  • Use hand or powered tools as needed to install parts or equipment
  • Follow all recommended safety protocols and wear recommended protective personal equipment
  • Train and supervise new hires
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Ability to work independently
  • Attention to detail 
  • Commitment to safety
  • Customer-service skills
  • Decision-making, sometimes under pressure
  • Good hand-eye coordination
  • Patience
  • Physical stamina
  • Resilience  
  • Resourcefulness
  • Skills for organizing activities
  • Sound judgment
  • Time management
  • Visualization

Technical Skills

  • Ability to perform routine maintenance 
  • Knowledge of safe equipment operation
  • Knowledge of electrical systems and safety protocols
  • Ability to select proper tools for the job
  • Familiarity with a wide range of hand and power tools, such as drills, voltage meters, torches, bolt cutters, calipers, circuit testers, chisels, drills, flowmeters, gas detectors, glue guns, hygrometers, pliers, magnetic tools, wrenches, pipe cutters, lifts, refrigerant compressors, scanners, and safety harnesses, among many more
  • Some knowledge of algebra, geometry, applied physics, engineering, and general technology
  • General design skills
  • CPR/first aid training
  • Industrial control software such as Alerton Ascent Compass
Different Types of Organizations
  • Educational institutions 
  • Governmental agencies
  • HVAC contractors    
  • Large companies such as retailers
  • Medical industry
  • Self-employed 
Expectations and Sacrifices

Working with HVAC equipment is inherently risky. Technicians are exposed to many hazards and there’s a daily risk of being injured from burns, electrical shocks, or muscle tears, as well as from handling flammable and/or toxic materials such as refrigerants. These chemicals can also cause frostbite or skin damage, which is why it is so critical that workers always follow good workplace safety practices and wear all protective gear. 
 
Other sacrifices relate to work schedules, since HVAC Techs might have to work weekends or night shifts. Many job sites are remote, so there can be significant driving involved. Meanwhile, equipment located outdoors will require workers to endure possibly harsh weather conditions including heat, sun exposure, or rain, wind, or snow. 

Current Trends

Buildings will always need climate controlled conditions to keep residents, workers, or other occupants happy. Thus, the HVAC industry outlook is strong and stable, with trained techs projected to be in demand in the coming decade. Those qualified to work with “smart” HVAC technologies, or those with other specialized areas are more likely to win contracts as the world increasingly shifts to more eco-friendly systems thanks to global green initiatives. 
 
That said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that workers who focus more on just new installs might occasionally struggle with lulls in activity as construction declines during economic downturns. Meanwhile ductless units have become a bit of a trend for businesses wanting inexpensive upgrades. The bottom line is, don’t put all your eggs in one basket! Try to learn about as many areas as you can.

What kind of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…

When they were younger, HVAC Technicians were likely curious about how things worked, especially when it came to mechanical components. Picture them tinkering with mechanical toys, discovering their internal mysteries and secrets or figuring out how to fix those objects if broken. Essentially, many grew up with a sort of builder’s mindset, becoming handy with tools as they patiently toiled away repairing objects at home.
 
Workers in this field clearly don’t mind physical work, nor do they shy away from a bit of discomfort or exposure to the elements. Some probably grew up with a natural aptitude for mechanics; others might have been trained to assist with things like automotive or home appliance repair, and simply found their way into the HVAC sector because it seems like familiar territory to them.  

Education and Training Needed
  • HVAC Technicians need at least a high school diploma (or GED) but don’t need a university degree
  • Many finish some post-secondary education, which can be beneficial for landing a job
  • Vocational schools and community colleges offer HVAC certificates that take a few months to complete; some students opt to earn their associate’s degree which usually takes two years if attending full-time
  • Courses applicable to this career field include HVAC system design and installation, residential and commercial systems, refrigeration and electrical systems, math, physics courses, and even plumbing 
  • 3-to-5-year apprenticeships are a popular way for workers to learn On-The-Job
  • Many apprenticeships are sponsored by unions or associations, to help workers gain practical experience learning while getting paid
  • An apprentice will work under the supervision of a professional technician, gaining confidence with tool usage while assisting with basic labor tasks such as cutting pipes, insulating refrigerant lines, or cleaning dirty furnaces
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires Section 608 certification for workers handling hazardous refrigerants (such as CFCs or HCFCs)
  • Optional and advanced certifications include: 
    • ESCO Group’s Heat Pump Installer Certification or Master Specialist Hands On Residential Air Conditioning    
    • National Registry of Environmental Professionals’ Certified Refrigeration Compliance Manager
    • North American Technician Excellence, Inc.’s Light Commercial Refrigeration Service 
  • Some states require HVAC Techs to obtain a license; HVAC School lists a state-by-state breakdown of requirements 
Things to look for in a program
  • HVAC Technicians don’t require a university degree, but they can prepare by completing training programs at a trade school or community college
  • You can also complete certifications via ESCO Group, which offers “portable and stackable credentials at all levels and stages in the careers of those in the HVACR industry”
  • Check to see if courses you take are accredited by the HVAC Excellence and Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA)
Things to do in High School and College
  • Take high school shop classes to get hands-on experience with common tools
  • Sign up for community college or vocational training classes to learn about HVAC equipment installation, maintenance, and repair, plus metalwork, blueprint reading, welding, safety, and CPR/first aid 
  • Volunteer or work part-time to build up your practical work experience; it’ll look good on a resume or job application!
  • Keep a log of the tools and equipment you learn how to use
  • Find local apprenticeships and programs from HVAC associations
  • Watch YouTube videos or shows that capture what the day-to-day is like for this career
Typical Roadmap
HVAC Technician Gladeo Roadmap
How to land your 1st job
  • The best way to get any job is to either be qualified or trainable. If you don’t have the necessary academic credentials or work experience, demonstrate on an apprenticeship application that you’re worth investing in!
  • Read job postings to see what skills and experiences are needed, then finish as many of those as you can before applying
  • Be honest about your background, use correct industry terminology, and list any completed extracurricular activities that demonstrate potential
  • If you can work part-time to learn the ropes beforehand, do so! Shadow your mentor or boss, ask questions, and gain skills
  • Tell everyone in your network that you’re looking for jobs; they might point you the right direction
  • Ask an editor or your college’s career center if they can review your application for mistakes or ways to enhance it
  • Look on job portals such as ZipRecruiter, SimplyHired, Indeed, and Glassdoor for open positions or apprenticeships
  • Don’t forget about Craigslist; many smaller companies use it for advertise jobs
  • Search Apprenticeship.gov and HVAC Insider’s job board 
  • Be a consummate professional during interviews and review a few sample interview questions in advance to prepare
How to Climb the Ladder
  • Be on time for work, always be ready, add value, and show a desire to learn and excel
  • Master every skill and perform the highest quality of work possible
  • Take very good care of your tools and inventory
  • Explore the wider world of HVAC outside the scope of your daily duties
  • Knock out additional courses, volunteer to attend training, and get certified on core, advanced, and specialized duties. See the below sites for certification options:
    • North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
    • Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association (RETA)
    • HVAC Excellence in partnership with Esco Group
  • Obtain your license if needed for your job (or the job you want)
  • Take your apprenticeship very seriously, because there are plenty of others waiting for such opportunities
  • Talk to your boss! Odds are, they’re a wealth of knowledge but sometimes they don’t offer up information unless directly asked
  • Take the initiative—study those technical manuals!
  • Learn directly from manufacturers’ representatives when you interact with them
  • Read up on trends and developments
  • Train new workers once you’re expert enough to impart knowledge. Act like a leader, whether you’re paid to be one or not
  • Know and comply with safety standards and always wear your protective gear. Nothing angers an employer more than a workplace mishap that could have been prevented if the employee had taken proper precautions the way they were trained 
Recommended Resources

Websites

  • Air Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigeration Institute
  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America
  • American Society Of Heating, Refrigerating And Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
  • Associated Builders and Contractors
  • HVAC Excellence
  • North American Technician Excellence
  • Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association
  • Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • United Association Union of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders, and Service Techs

Books

  • Audel HVAC Fundamentals, Volume 1: Heating Systems, Furnaces and Boilers, by James Brumbaugh
  • HVACR 101, by Joseph Moravek
  • Refrigerant Charging and Service Procedures for Air Conditioning, by Craig Migliaccio
     
Plan B

The job outlook for HVAC technicians is projected to grow four percent in the next decade, but it can still be competitive. If you are interested in exploring options in other related areas, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Handbook and O*Net Online for additional career information on jobs such as:

  • Boilermakers
  • Electricians    
  • General Maintenance and Repair Workers
  • Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters
  • Sheet Metal Workers
  • Solar Photovoltaic Installers
  • Stationary Engineers and Boiler Operators
  • Wind Turbine Technicians
  • Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians Bright Outlook
  • Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics
  • Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Except Engines
  • Motorboat Mechanics and Service Technicians

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Source: Interview, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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