- Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency Association, http://www.acca.org/
- Achrnews.com, Study reveals top 10 states for HVAC employment, http://www.achrnews.com/articles/122634-study-reveals-top-10-states-for-hvac-employment
- IBIS World, Heating and Air Conditioning Contracts in the US: Market Research Report, http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=1945
- Energy Market Innovations, California HVAC Contractor and Technician Behavior Study, http://www.calmac.org/publications/ca_hvac_behavior_study_finalreport_2012sept14_final.pdf
- Western HVAC Performance Alliance, http://www.performancealliance.org/
- North American Technician Excellence, http://www.natex.org/site/386/About-NATE/What-is-NATE
- Projections Central, California, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- Environmental Protection Agency, Section 608 Technician Certification Programs, http://www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/608/technicians/608certs.html
- Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, http://www.ahrinet.org/site/1/Home
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC Mechanics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- California Employment Development Department, HVAC Technicians, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/OccGuides/Summary.aspx?Soccode=499021&Geography=0601000000
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, HVAC Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes499021.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, HVAC Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/heating-air-conditioning-and-refrigeration-mechanics-and-installers.htm
- NATE, Certifications, http://www.natex.org/site/353/Technicians/Certification-Basics/101
- EPA, Section 608 Certification, http://www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/608/technicians/608certs.html
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, the central functions of the system that controls temperature and air quality in both homes and commercial buildings. An $82 billion dollar industry in the US, according to market research from IBISWorld, the HVAC industry is an in-demand sector, with growing opportunities throughout the country -- especially in California.
"It is a great industry with increasing demand and excellent growth potential," says Ruzwa Cooper, President of Cooper Oates Air Conditioning a commercial mechanical contractor that serves the Sacramento and Central Valley Region.
HVAC technicians are trained professionals responsible for installing, maintaining and repairing heating, cooling, ventilation and refrigeration systems and equipment in commercial properties, industrial properties, residential buildings, and homes. Traditionally, HVAC professionals specialize in installation or repair and maintenance. Cooper points out the two roles require different skill sets. "A service professional relies on diagnostic and troubleshooting skills to fix problems and may handle three to four repairs per day at several different buildings. On the other hand, new construction and installation professionals are responsible for taking a set of plans and making those plans real. They could be on a job site for several weeks at a time."
HVAC Apprenticeship Training and Degree Programs
Cooper's biggest piece of advice for prospective students and professionals?
"Just get started," he says.
HVAC is a broad career field, one that has multiple entry points for new employees. The two most common educational avenues include on-the-job training through apprenticeships and formal certificate degree programs. "It doesn't really matter which way you start," Cooper remarks. "You can start by working in the field without a degree to see if it is work you can do and enjoy." The on-the-job path can take different forms. For example, Cooper's company has its own training program for individuals that meet core competencies in the field, sponsoring them to attend Sacramento City College to complete the school's Mechanical Electrical Technology (MET) program. Apprenticing is another common form of training in HVAC. Provided by local unions, apprenticeships may last up to five years and typically require approximately 2,000 hours of technical and professional training and other 144 hours of related education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Education is an individual thing. Everyone has to figure that out," says Cooper. "On-the-job training is not better than an associate degree and an associate degree isn't necessarily better than a certificate." For example, some people have experience on the job (e.g. their family was in the business) and they don't necessarily need a formal education, Cooper continues.
However, formal education in HVAC remains a growingly popular option both in California and throughout the country. Students can select from a range program types and certificates and associate degrees as the two most common options.
Certificate: Certificate programs in HVAC are design to provide students with an introduction to the technical principles of HVAC systems, providing them with a core set of knowledge and skills to pursue entry-level employment positions. Program length varies, but typically can be completed in as little as six months (between 11 and 26 credit hours of study).
Associate Degree: Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees in HVAC prepare graduates for technical careers in service positions working with either residential or commercial systems. Curriculum varies by program, but students develop a foundational understanding of mechanical and electrical HVAC systems that enable them to pursue entry-level employment opportunities.
In the 2012-2013 school year, 76 HVAC schools in California graduated more than 5,200 students, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Award of at least 1 but less than 2 academic years
Award of less than 1 academic year
HVAC Certifications and Licensure in California
HVAC technicians in the state of California do not have to hold a license, but most possess a section 608 certification from the Environmental Protection Agency that allows technicians to handle refrigerant. There are four types of Section 608 certifications, based on the type of appliances and equipment serviced by the technician:
Types of Section 608 Certifications
- Core: The basic test that must be passed prior to taking other examinations
- Type I: Small appliances
- Type II: High-pressure appliances
- Type III: Low-pressure appliances
- Universal: For technicians that pass all four parts of Section 608 examinations
In addition to Section 608 certification, many HVAC technicians also choose to pursue additional voluntary training. In fact, Cooper says that he and other contractors regularly encourage their employees to complete certification programs. The largest provider of HVAC certification examinations is North American Technician Excellence (NATE). Prospective candidates can select from a range of certifications at installer, service, and senior levels.
Installation and Service Certifications include the following:
- Air conditioning (AC)
- Oil heating (OL)
- Gas heating (GS)
- HVAC efficiency analyst, senior level (EA)
Service-only Certifications include the following:
- Hydronics gas (HG)
- Hydronics Oil (HO)
- Light commercial refrigeration (LC)
HVAC Career Outlook in California
As Ruzwa Cooper remarked, the HVAC industry in California is surging with potential. The latest employment figures reveal there are more than 20,000 HVAC technicians working in California, a figure that is projected to grow by 23 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to Projections Central. The top employing local areas included the following metropolitan regions:
Total Employed (2014)
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
The median wage for HVAC technicians in California was $52,702 based on salary reports from the State of California Employment Development Department. Salaries and employment opportunities vary by location, with several metropolitan areas paying HVAC technicians well above the state median wage in 2014.
Average Salary (2014)
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division
Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA
San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA
Advice from an HVAC Expert
For providing students the complete information with better insights about the career prospects in HVAC industry, we got an opportunity to have articulate and compelling conversation with the expert, Timothy Muckey, the Director of the Environmental Technology Program at El Camino College.
Timothy Muckey is the Director of the Environmental Technology Program at El Camino College. He completed his doctoral degree in Leadership and Management in 2012. His doctoral dissertation was on HVACR technician development, leadership and engagement.
Why is HVAC a good career to pursue?
Muckey: In California, the HVAC market is growing rapidly and qualified technicians have high growth career potential. There is professional security because jobs cannot be outsourced and careers in the industry offer good income potential. HVAC is an important profession because we are at the forefront of global climate change solutions and we can make a difference that we can see.What should prospective HVAC students in California consider when selecting a training program?
Muckey: There are several factors students should review, including:
- A clean and orderly facility
- Good lab resources
- A program that offers student leadership growth and engagement
- A forward-thinking program director
- Engaged instructors
- Course, program, and student learning outcomes
Muckey: Students should find and feed their professional passion by finding an institution where the program leadership has a vision that inspires. Secondly, never stop learning. Don't stop with only a certificate -- earn a degree.