Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems control the temperature, humidity and air quality in the buildings in which we work and live. HVAC technicians repair and reinstall these systems and their many parts, such as motors, compressors, fans, pipes, ducts and thermostats. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) reports that in 2008 the average HVAC mechanic or installer made about $19 per hour. Those learning the trade on the job can expect to receive half the wages paid to experienced workers.
According to the BLS, many residential heating and air conditioning units will need replacement starting around the year 2018. This will increase the need for trained technicians. On-the-job training for HVAC gives you the opportunity to learn an “in demand” trade without loss of income. Although you’ll probably be paid less than a trained experienced technician, the work experience you’ll gain will qualify you to pursue future employment with increased pay.
Some employers may hire you to work as an assistant to an experienced HVAC technician or installer while you learn the trade. Others may expect you to fulfill an off-site apprenticeship program while you work for them. Enroll in an apprenticeship program by contacting the Sheet Metal Workers International Association or the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry. HVAC is also among the list of trades you can learn while enlisted in the armed forces.
Paid training in HVAC should teach the design and function of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration systems. During training you’ll learn to use meters, gauges and detectors specific to HVAC work. Trainers will teach you how to utilize safety practices when installing HVAC systems or making repairs. An HVAC trainee learns electrical work, carpentry, welding of pipes and sheet metal and some computer applications. After training, you’ll know how to diagnose and correct any problems in an HVAC system.
When you start training for HVAC, you will work under an experienced technician. At first you may only carry materials or clean furnaces, but as you gain more experience, you’ll do more advanced work, such as cutting and soldering metals and checking electrical circuits. During an HVAC apprenticeship program, you’ll spend a few hours per week taking classes in industrial math, measurements and safety standards. As training progresses, you’ll learn to identify refrigeration materials, and how to fabricate, install and service HVAC systems. You’ll spend several hours each week applying that knowledge while working for a company that installs or services these systems.
Most employers will require that you have a high school diploma or GED equivalency. They may be especially willing to hire candidates who have a background in a construction-related skill or those who have taken classes in mechanical drawings, blueprint reading, applied mathematics, physics, chemistry or computer applications. Once you have least one year of experience performing installations and two years doing maintenance and repairs, you may take tests given by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute or the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society. Passing any of these tests may improve your job opportunities.