The HVAC/R (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning / refrigeration) industry is rapidly changing due to advancements in technology being spurred on by the need for increased energy efficiencies.
Accordingly, the career opportunities open to an individual seeking employment in HVAC fields can be divided roughly into four categories, each dependent upon a different type or degree of education and/or training.
Type of Work
Design and development
4 years or more of college
Technical training school and/or college
Installation, maintenance, and repair
Apprentice program or on-the-job training (OJT)
Apprentice or OJT worker
Training for skilled-worker position
High school degree or equivalency
Among workers in these fields, engineers receive the highest pay, but they also undergo the longest periods of education and training. Engineers are usually employed by laboratories, universities, and colleges or, frequently, by the manufacturers of materials and equipment used in heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and related industries. Their primary responsibility is designing, developing, and testing the equipment and materials used in these fields. In some cases, particularly when large buildings or district heating to several buildings is employed, they also supervise the installation of the entire system. Moreover, industry codes and standards are usually the results of research conducted by engineers.
Technicians obtain their skills through technical training schools, some college, or both. Many assist engineers in the practical application of what the latter have designed. Technicians are particularly necessary during the developmental stages. Other technicians are found in the field working for contractors in the larger companies. Their pay often approximates that of engineers, depending on the size of the company for which they work.
HVAC Skilled worker
Skilled workers are involved in the installation, maintenance, and repair of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment. Apprentices and OJT (on-the-job training) workers are in training for the skilled positions and are generally expected to complete at least a 2- to 5-year training program. Local firms that install or repair equipment in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings employ most skilled workers and trainees. Some also work on the assembly lines of factories that manufacture such equipment.
Their pay varies, depending on the area, their seniority, and the nature of the work. Most employers require that both skilled workers and trainees have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent (e.g., the GED). The requirement for a high school diploma may be waived if the individual has already acquired the necessary skills on a previous job.
The pay for skilled workers and trainees is lower than that earned by engineers and technicians but compares favorably to salaries received by skilled workers or equivalent trainees in other occupations.
Pipe fitters, plumbers, steam fitters, and sheet-metal workers may occasionally do some work with heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment. Both pipe fitters and plumbers (especially the former) are frequently called upon to assemble and install pipes and pipe systems that carry the heating or cooling conveying medium from the source. Both are also involved in repair work, and some pipe fitters can install heating and air conditioning units.
Steam fitters can assemble and install hot-water or steam heating systems. Many steam fitters can also do the installation of boilers, stokers, oil and gas burners, radiators, radiant heating systems, and air conditioning systems.
Sheet-metal workers can also assemble and install heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. Their skills are particularly necessary in assembling sheet-metal ducts and duct systems.
Some special occupations, such as those performed by air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics or stationary engineers, are limited to certain functions in the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning fields. Mechanics are primarily involved with assembling, installing, and maintaining both air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. Stationary engineers maintain and operate heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment in large buildings and factories. Workers in both occupations require greater skills and longer training periods than most skilled workers.
It should be readily apparent by now that the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning fields offer a variety of career opportunities. The pay is generally good, and the nature of the work provides considerable job security. Both the type of work an individual does and the level at which it is done depend solely on the amount and type of education and training acquired by the individual.
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