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September 27, 2020

 

Complete Guide to HVAC Apprenticeships

HVAC apprenticeships can help new workers break into the field while making a little scratch.

The heating, cooling, and air conditioning field–better known as HVAC–is booming. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook will increase by an estimated 13% from 2018 to 2028. Who will fill those jobs? Most new grads are dead-set on college and turning their backs on trades, despite the fact that many trades now pay significantly more than many jobs that require a college education.

Of course, not just anyone can pick up a trade. You have to get training and ultimately certification to work on home heating and cooling systems. Even if you are not required to take a test, it looks good on your resume and for your employer. Some of these programs include the Industry Competency Exams (ICE) by North American Technician Excellence (NATE) or other certifications from ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America), AHRI (Air-conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute), and HARDI (Heating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International).

It can take less time than going to college and it costs a lot less–if it costs anything at all–but there are important steps you have to take to become an HVAC tech.

Becoming an HVAC Technician

Becoming an HVAC tech doesn’t happen by accident. Most professionals in the field put time and effort into learning about heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. However, the paths they take to this knowledge can vary wildly.

One option is to enroll in a training program. These are typically offered by trade schools and community colleges, although you may be able to enroll in a vocational program if you are still in school. In either case, it can take as little as six months and as long as two years. Plus, these programs cost money to attend (with the exception of vocation school during high school) and are often full-time.

If you want to earn a living while you learn your trade, an HVAC apprenticeship represents a better option.

What is an HVAC apprenticeship?

HVAC apprenticeships are programs where you learn on the job. You will work beside a more experienced HVAC tech and shadow them. Apprenticeships take longer to complete than most training programs–figure three to five years–but you often get good wages. Apprentices make about half what a qualified technician does, but it is still more than some other jobs pay. In contrast, you won’t earn anything from an HVAC tech training program.

HVAC apprenticeships are generally offered by a trade association or a union. The ACCA offers one as does Associated Builders and Contractors, and there is the Apprenticeship USA program from the US Department of Labor. You will be paired with a mentor for a set number of hours. There is also a classroom component. You will have to have a certain number of classroom hours too. These classes generally take place in the evening or on the weekend. The split is usually 2,000 hours of work in the field and 144 hours in the classroom. However, some organizations are more intensive. For example, Local Union #25 in Illinois requires 10,000 hours on the job and 1,000 hours in a classroom while Northeast Wisconsin Technical College offers an apprenticeship program that requires 7500 hours of fieldwork and 500 classroom hours.

How does an HVAC apprenticeship help you?

An HVAC apprenticeship helps aspirants learn the tricks of the trade. While a training program may help you finish more quickly, much of the information you’ve learned upon graduation is theoretical. Sure, you have practiced and maybe completed certain activities in a classroom setting, but that amounts to little next to actually getting your hands dirty on the job. You will learn some best practices by doing everything yourself, plus you benefit from the experience of someone who has practiced in the field for years. The same way that you will learn the best ways of doing things by doing those activities day in and day out, you can benefit from the experiences of your apprenticeship mentor. You will learn first-hand the tricks of the trade that your mentor discovered after years in the field.

Prerequisites for an HVAC Apprenticeship

The requirements for becoming an HVAC apprentice are minimal. Most programs only want you to be 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, and have a driver’s license. However, there are things you can do to make your application stand out. For instance, you may want to brush up on your math skills. Some apprenticeship programs require their applicants to pass a math test. Also, be prepared to explain why you want to be an HVAC technician and why you think you would be good at it.

How to Get an HVAC Apprenticeship

Getting an HVAC apprenticeship can be as easy as contacting your local union and seeing if they have any apprenticeship slots available. This could be an HVAC-specific union or one that is more tangentially related to the HVAC industry, like a sheet metal workers union. You can also contact a local HVAC business to see if they need a helper.