Certification is just for technicians, right? Wrong. In reality, having certified technicians brings a wealth of benefits to the technician, your customers, and your company.

Let's start at the top. The first and foremost reason to have technicians earn certifications is that you gain a verifiably more knowledgeable technician.

Let's take the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) technician certification tests as an example. Not everyone can pass the NATE tests; passing rates remain very consistently in the 66% to 68% range every year. Therefore, when a technician earns a passing grade, it verifies that he or she is more knowledgeable than an uncertified technician.

What are the benefits to having a more knowledgeable technician? How about fewer callbacks? Technicians who know what they're doing do the job right the first time.

Some contractors have reported to us that having their technicians NATE-certified has had a measurably positive effect on their bottom lines. For these companies, fewer callbacks and improved gross profit margins can be directly attributed to having certified technicians

Fewer callbacks means more calls per week. This means more profit for the company, while at the same time reducing the amount of technician downtime because the tech isn't running callbacks.

Meanwhile, the customer is happier because the technician did the job right the first time. This happy homeowner will tell neighbors and friends about your company when they ask for referrals. Remember, the technician is the face of your company, and the impression he or she makes will often determine whether or not the customer will call you again.

The Benefits Add Up
It's likely that a certified technician will remain in the HVAC industry longer than a non-certified tech. If someone cares enough about his or her job to go out and earn a certification, that's a sign that this person is investing in his or her career. Such workers are less likely to be transient.

A technician wouldn't have invested the time to earn a certification if he or she didn't like the job or didn't see a future in it.

Similarly, certified HVAC technicians tend to be retained by the same company longer than non-certified technicians. Certified technicians tend to be viewed more positively by their managers than other technicians with the same amount of time and grade and skills, but who are not certified.

Many contractors have told us they have additional compensation programs to benefit certified technicians. These programs vary widely, and can consist of a higher hourly rate, first choice of calls, more overtime, etc. But the common thread is that contractors who have certified technicians view them as more proficient, and reward them tangibly.

The extra investment is worth it. Many manufacturers have programs that require a participating contractor to have certain percentage of certified technicians. And this percentage appears to be increasing in some areas. In addition, some manufacturers pay more per hour for warranty work for contractors who have certified technicians.

Getting the Word Out
NATE offers a variety of ways for contractors to promote the fact that they have certified technicians on staff. If you have 25% or more of your technicians certified, your company will be listed (for free) on the NATE Consumer Contractor Connection.

New features on the Consumer Contractor Connection allow consumers to simply type in their zip code to get a list of contractors who have NATE-certified technicians within a specific radius of their homes. Moreover, if you have more than 75% of your technicians certified, your company will be listed first among all those in your area.

Support is also available in the form of NATE marketing kits. These kits include NATE logos; sample Yellow Pages ads and tips on how to put a good ad together; and public service announcements, both audio and written, that you can put in consumer newsletters or use as your "hold music" to educate consumers about their HVAC systems and NATE.

With NATE certifications made visible by arm patches and truck decals, you've set yourself above the competition and given consumers a reason to trust you. If you give people a reason to trust you, it's going to improve your business.

Also keep in mind that at NATE, we take great pride in ensuring that our certification tests are valid, reliable, and defensible. HVAC engineers are thinking up new things all the time, so we don't imagine that we can create a test that will be valid forever. The NATE technical committee reviews hundreds of questions each year to ensure that the tests remain as up-to-date as you need your techs to be.

Licensing vs. Certification
Some say that licensing is a must for our industry. While NATE supports licensing of HVAC companies, licensing represents a minimum standard. A driver's license, for example, indicates that the holder has the minimum qualifications necessary to be on the road. Certification is a notch (or two) above licensing.

Consider helping your technicians become certified. You might just find yourself with more knowledgeable technicians, more revenue-generating calls, better consumer perception and feedback, fewer callbacks, and a stronger bottom line.

'MAN ON THE STREET' FINDS CERTIFICATION GETS THUMBS-UP

We did an informal survey at HVAC Comfortech 2005 in Nashville, and the initial results are intriguing. We talked to 52 people, 33 of whom were contractors. The rest were technicians, manufacturers, and wholesalers. Of those we spoke to, 36% said they had certified technicians, and 36% said they did not or weren't certified themselves. Nine percent said they were planning on earning their certification, and 18% said it wasn't applicable or didn't give an answer. So the results we obtained were from a very diverse group of people.

When we asked, "Should certification be required of all technicians," 45% said yes, 24% said no, 3% had mixed emotions, and 27% didn't give an answer.

We also asked, "Does NATE certification differentiate a technician from other technicians?" We then left the question open-ended and received the following responses: 24% said NATE certification sets technicians apart; 37% said NATE-certified technicians have proven knowledge; 16% said certified technicians are more credible; 2% said certified technicians had increased competency; 6% said certified technicians had more pride in their trade; 3% said certified technicians had met the national standard; 2% said it didn't make any difference; and 8% didn't give an answer.

We found it interesting that about 90% of this diverse group of respondents gave answers that fall under the heading of, "It sets technicians apart in a positive fashion."

— Carl Smith