Do you remember the old-time technicians who would grab the suction to charge while watching for “sweatback”? How about the techs who would laugh at flowing nitrogen while brazing as a crazy idea that they teach in school but that nobody does in real life?
Times are changing, and as refrigerants and technology all continue to evolve, they require us technicians to be on our toes, constantly learning new skills and embracing new ideas.
The idea that you can go through a year or two of trade school and then coast the rest of career without continuing to learn has never been true in the HVAC trade, but it has never been less true than it is today.
I had an ongoing conversation with a top educator and influencer a few months ago on impacts of relative humidity on evaporator coil temperature and some of the nuances in newer high-efficiency equipment. We had a friendly disagreement and went back and forth on the phone and via text until we agreed upon a test we could do to help prove the result.
We built the test rig and performed the test and we learned that both of us were right on some points and wrong on others. It resulted in a lot more clarity on both of our parts moving forward as we work and educate.
Not only had both of us have been through school, but we both also spend countless hours thinking about, testing and training on air conditioning. In this instance, we still needed to pause and learn on something that is probably quite obvious to someone else.
So, if we all accept that continuing education is a huge part of successful outcomes in HVAC what can we do to continue to learn and grow?
Options for Continuing Education
Some of the best opportunities for education involves attending classes from manufacturers where they teach the specifics of their equipment as well as the underlying concepts. I recently attended a Copeland compressors course where the instructor went over common causes of compressor failure and we tore down some semi-hermetic compressors to see the result.
These sorts of classes are often available through your local wholesaler, but you can also attend classes directly from equipment and components manufacturers that will be worth the time even if it requires travel.
Both ACCA and RSES offer training classes in person and online. RSES also has regular training webinars or excellent topics and even online classes that qualify for NATE continuing education credits.
There are also many excellent conferences put on by these organizations that have classes and presentations that will really open your eyes to aspects of the trade you may have never considered.
More and more fully accredited HVAC/R courses are showing up around the country, and many of them have online learning options where you can receive occupational certificates and even Associates degrees. I was speaking to a good friend of mine, Dick Wirz who is an instructor and author and he outlined how achievable and affordable an Associates of Applied Science in A/C & Refrigeration is at his local school, Northern Virginia Community College. While this is a significant time investment it may be worthwhile for some technicians to consider.
Free Online Resources
Over the last five years, we have seen an increase in quality online training content from manufacturers and independent content creators. I created HVACRschool.com and the HVAC School podcast for the very purpose of making quality HVAC/R learning materials more easy to find and consume for technicians. There are many more excellent sources, from “AC Service Tech” on YouTube to the HVAC On Air podcast, and many more. You can find many great resources now that can help keep you up to speed, without needing to look too far. I will caution you to be careful to cross-check things you learn from independent creators, it isn’t all high quality and some of it can even be dangerous.
Books and Bulletins
I will admit I am a sucker for books old and new. Some of the best information I’ve learned came from books that are 20, 50 even 80 years old on the basic concepts and science of our trade. I keep my eyes peeled on eBay for these old books and snatch them up whenever I can.
There are some excellent modern books like the RACT (Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technology) manual, Fundamentals of HVACR, Refrigeration for Air Conditioning Technicians and many books published by ESCO. These books tend to be in-depth, deep dives into the trade and if you have never worked through one, I would highly suggest it.
Some of my favorite light reading comes from manufacturer technical bulletins and one of the very best apps on the market for technical bulletins is the AE Bulletins app (available on Google Play and Apple) from Emerson. Just to try it out, go ahead and download the AE Bulletins app and read AE17-1260 on compressor heating. I guarantee you will learn something new and relevant.
Habits of Continued Learning
I will confess there was a time a few years back where I got a bit bored and burned out. Too many long hours and too much of the same issues over and over…or so I thought.
As I started doing more training, I began paying more attention to little details, reading manufacturer data and bulletins and attending more classes I realized that there was a lot I missing and taking for granted. I’ve learned that the best way to stay engaged is to share what I’m learning with other techs and apprentices. My first A/C instructor used to say that teaching was the best way to learn and I’m finding that to be true over and over again.
If you want to be able to explain how everything you work on works to an apprentice, you will inevitably find that there are gaps in your understanding that need to be filled. This is the perfect opportunity to pause and take the time to learn something new.
More than anything you will need to stay in touch with your enjoyment and curiosity around the work. If you enjoy learning, then learning will never be a burden and often all it takes is a little focused attention to rekindle that flame of curiosity.