by Matt Michel

It's time for the certification holdouts to wake up and smell the java. Technician certification is here. NATE is it. Get with it or get left in the dust. In typical HVAC fashion, many people are dragging their heels, hoping this whole certification thing will just go away. Go ahead. Cling to that gravity furnace. Pine for those standing pilots. The world changes anyway. In time, even the HVAC industry changes.

Many contractors and technicians view NATE with the longing normally reserved for an overdue trip to the dentist. They don't want to pay for it. They're pretty sure it's going to hurt. And they're scared silly of problems.

Here are some silly myths contractors hold to be true.

Silly Myth #1: No One's Getting Certified. Wrongo, bucko. To date, more than 19,000 techs are NATE certified. That may be a drop in the bucket for an industry with some 800,000 techs in the field. But it's a start and tracks with automotive technician certification. There are 420,000 ASE certified technicians. A tad more than NATE, but they've had a 25-year head start.

Silly Myth #2: It's Too Expensive. Get real. It costs money to write good questions that address all areas of core competency, to put them into tests, to proctor the tests, and to administer the certification database.

If you think certification is a waste because your technicians might leave, don't worry. If you won't spend money to certify them, you probably don't invest in training, tools, trucks, or decent pay either. The better technicians will end up quitting anyway.

Silly Myth #3: It Doesn't Prove Anything. Yeah, right. So NATE doesn't test how well someone can turn a wrench. It does measure whether the tech knows if he should be turning a wrench. HVAC technology evolves every year. The HVAC tech who doesn't keep up-to-date will become an anachronism. It's the best system we have, developed by the best minds in the industry.

Look at it from a hiring context. What's a better way to evaluate technical competence: NATE certification or a steady vertical smile? Like Tom Calhoun (Calhoun Heating & Air, El Dorado, AR) said on the Service Roundtable, "If someone came to you with NATE certifications, you'd know that he or she has some knowledge."

Tom knows the value of NATE. He's NATE certified himself.

Silly Myth #4: It Doesn't Help My Business. Guess again. One Florida contractor recently reported a 20% reduction in installation callbacks as a result of NATE. Stan Zwaduk (Apple Heating, Ashtabula, OH) adds that his company's training program and overall company improvement, has resulted in an all-time low for callbacks, while gross margin per hour is rising.

Silly Myth #5: Consumers Don't Recognize It. Okay, consumers may not recognize it... yet. That will change. "(EPA) Energy Star promotes NATE in all of our HVAC-related guides and web content," says Chandler von Schrader from Energy Star. Manufacturers are also pushing it on their websites and in their sales literature. Consumer awareness takes time to build, but it is building.

Even without widespread recognition, progressive contractors are using it advantageously. Kevin Walsh (Schaafsma Heating & Cooling, Grand Rapids, MI) says, "We're advertising and promoting it regularly. I'm sure it will help close more jobs. It's part of the overall message about getting a quality installation."

Silly Myth #6: There's More Than One Certification Standard. This is the silliest myth of all. In my opinion, NATE is the recognized standard, supported by ARI & GAMA (which includes virtually all manufacturers), ASHRAE, the DOE, EPA, EPRI, EEI, HARDI, NEMI, ACCA, PHCC, RSES, the Service Roundtable, the National Comfort Institute, and others. Consumer Reports and every other consumer publication recommends it. I say NATE is the standard. Period. Moreover, the way things are headed, NATE certification will become required. State licensing authorities are seriously considering NATE certification as a requirement for HVAC technicians.

Get with the program. Get your technicians certified. Or, get left behind.

This rant is solely the opinion of Matt Michel, (matt.michel@ServiceRoundtable.com) CEO and president of the Service Roundtable, who is unabashedly biased in his views on NATE. If you'd like to respond to his opinion, send your comments to mailbox@contractingbusiness.com. The Service Roundtable is one of the industry's largest independent contractor groups. For more information, visit www.ServiceRoundtable.com.