When the Commercial Refrigeration Manufacturer's division of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) recognized the need to identify the proficiency of technicians who install and service commercial refrigeration systems, North American Technician Excellence (NATE) went to work.
With the help of AHRI, testing experts from across the HVACR industry and technicians who volunteered to take beta tests, NATE developed four exams that focus on commercial refrigeration topics. Two of the exams certify technicians in the installation and service of light commercial refrigeration systems. Two others focus on servicing commercial refrigeration systems.
The 2-½-hour, 100-question exams test the technician's knowledge of the installation, service, maintenance and repair of commercial refrigeration systems.
"Each exam is difficult, and provides a good measure of a technician's knowledge," Murphy says. "We're not testing mediocrity. We're testing excellence."
Big Plans for 2011
Murphy says NATE—based in Arlington, VA — is looking forward to expanding its message in 2011, to end-users who need help verifying a contractors' capabilities.
"As we go through the process of selecting a new president, and plan marketing for 2011, I believe we'll start to increase our emphasis on the refrigeration exams, and the value they bring to the refrigeration community," Murphy says. "We'll eventually try to get some of the supermarket chains to use it. But, it will also bring value to the convenience stores' and fast food stores' local managers, who have no way of quantifying whether or not the HVACR contractor he uses has the expertise to do the job properly. The NATE refrigeration certification is the proof they need."
NATE recommends that technicians who take the installation exams possess at least one year of field experience working on refrigeration systems. Technicians planning to take the service exam should have two years of experience in the field.
Jon Perry, director of energy and maintenance at Farm Fresh Food & Pharmacy — a chain of 43 supermarkets operating in Virginia and North Carolina — helped to develop the exams by taking NATE's beta test and encouraging other technicians from Farm Fresh and local contractors to join him.
"We're one of the few supermarket chains that construct our own stores. We have an in-house refrigeration group that installs and services the refrigeration systems in these stores, and we're always looking for ways to improve our skills and test our knowledge," says Perry. "The NATE beta test provided a perfect opportunity to do that.
"It really is a difficult, challenging exam," he notes. "But that's okay, because I think it reinforces the value that our industry places on training and on NATE certification. By putting such a high regard on education, we continue to raise the bar for technicians, and as a result, attract a high quality group of employees to our organization."
The NATE website at natex.org directs technicians to additional study materials and training resources, including a list of providers that offer training and testing. In addition, the site provides test results to technicians who have taken the exam.
"The exams we offer are a direct result of organizations like Farm Fresh who voluntarily participated in our beta testing for the NATE commercial refrigeration certification program," says Murphy. "By beta testing the exams, we were able to find out which questions were working and which ones weren't. The questions that didn't work were modified, revised or eliminated. New questions were substituted when necessary."
Curtis Fay, service manager for All Quality Heating, Air & Refrigeration, Dunwoody, GA — a commercial/residential HVACR contractor — says NATE is a kind of ultimate exam that measures the scope of knowledge a technician has accumulated through classroom and field training. Fay's personal best for a NATE exam was 88%, without studying for it.
"NATE clearly tells me I know it from the book and field ends," Fay says. "You can put a good technician together that way. NATE is an integral part of a technician's professional development. NATE demonstrates that you understand what you’re talking about, and that you can apply it in the field.
"Customers comment when they see the patches on my arm, and I tell them those patches represent years of teaching and training, and that they'll get a solution to their problem."