RSES: ‘It takes a village to raise a good HVAC&R technician’

Lori Schiavo of RSES joined other panellists at ATMO America’s ‘Contractors and Training Panel’ in arguing that the whole HVAC&R industry needs to help solve the natural refrigerants training gap issue.

Lori Schiavo, executive vice-president of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES) at ATMOsphere America 2018. 

Credit: Ben Beech 

At ATMOsphere America last week, Lori Schiavo, executive vice-president of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), called on the whole HVAC&R industry to help solve the natural refrigerants training gap issue during the ‘Contractors and Training Panel’.

To resolve training shortages, Schiavo – who has worked for the U.S. HVAC&R training authority since 2007 – urged manufacturers, industry organisations, contractor companies, training centres, wholesalers, distributors, unions and community colleges to get involved in running and promoting programs. 

She also hailed the potential of online methods such as e-learning and webinars, but warned that these could only go so far. 

It takes a village to raise a good HVACR technician.
– Lori Schiavo, RSES

New training guides

“It takes a village to raise a good HVACR technician,” Schiavo told the natural refrigerants conference in Long Beach, Calif. (12-14 June).

RSES has tried to help the situation by providing its own guide to hydrocarbons training with an online test component. “The course is broken down into four parts: Standards and Regulations; Refrigerant Properties and Safety System Component Compatibility; Servicing Procedures and The Refrigeration Cycle Cylinder Storage and Transport,” according to the organization’s website.

Employers play an important role in engaging technicians in training, she believes. “The three most fundamental things to offer to your technician are to give them time back to allow them to train, to give them some rewards, and to give them access to the most recent information, memberships, seminars and conference like this one here,” she notes.

Steve Gnas, president of Discovery Designs Refrigeration, urged industry to see training not as a “lineal cure where they progress” to the next step but as part of an on-going job.

This is a challenge for the industry. “As a contractor it’s an expense. Every hour that I [train someone] I need to sell to my client, so it needs to be worth it,” Gnas said.

Don't fail to train

He points out that failing to train can lead to serious ramifications for a business, causing them to fall behind with current technology and heralding the risk of installations not being done properly. “As society has changed over the years, so has our need for training,” he said.  

Bryan Beitler, vice-president and chief engineer of Coolsys (a division of Source Refrigeration, which installed the first ammonia/CO2 system at an Albertsons store in Carpinteria, Calif.), agreed. “If we’re not elevating their skills, we can’t send them out to the client,” he said. 

Less training can mean technicians are less efficient, Beitler believes, meaning they will spend more time on service calls – therefore answering fewer other calls a day, resulting in a less profitable business in the long run.  

“If I can’t hire a technician that at least doesn’t have a bit of knowledge on CO2, ammonia and hydrocarbons as their baggage that they bring along, then we did not do our job," said Beitler, whose company also won ‘Best Contractor’ for its Source Refrigeration division at the Accelerate America awards at ATMO America last week.

At its Anaheim, Calif. headquarters, Source is beginning to offer natural refrigerant training. It recently installed a subcritical CO2/synthetic refrigeration system at its training centre, using equipment from an abandoned store, in a grocery style training area in Anaheim. It is set to begin operating soon. 

Technicians will be trained on how to install, start up and operate the system, which includes a liquid pump that not too many technicians are familiar with; the system may also be used as a guide to transcritical CO2 operations. Propane self-contained equipment training, Beitler added, will come soon. “Natural refrigerants aren’t going away, the opposite is going to happen, so they’re something we’ve got to learn how to work with," he believes.

Encourage young people to enter HVAC&R

Although training programs from companies including Source, Hillphoenix and Danfoss are available, more work needs to be done to encourage young people to enter the HVAC&R sector in the first place, said Discovery Designs Refrigeration’s Gnas.

“So where do we find new people? One of the things that we know has worked very well is relatives whose family members are already in the industry. People who grew up in the industry, they know the situation and they are used to the circumstances,” he said. 

Military veterans who can receive money from the U.S. government to help them finish apprenticeships, or professinals in other sectors like mechanics could be other sources of new blood for HVAC&R.

Gnas argued that the younger generation, once they had started working for a company, could take advantage of online training like YouTube as they were more used to learning this way.

Yet this may not be without problems either, he warned. “Certainly the constraint that they cannot be on their cell phones all day (while on the job) is a big issue (for the young generation),” he noted.

By Charlotte McLaughlin

Jun 21, 2018, 11:55

Related stories

Sign up to our Newsletter

Fill in the details below