What It Takes To Learn a New Diagnostic Skill

What It Takes To Learn a New Diagnostic Skill

YouTube and Google are valuable tools everyone uses to get the information we need right now. However, when it comes to developing new skills you can apply in your profession, there is no replacement for applying yourself to some good old-fashioned study and practice. Let’s take a look at what it takes to add a new diagnostic skill to your long list of talents.

Mad Diagnostics Skills
Most of us get a good buzz from figuring out what’s wrong with an HVAC system and then fixing it. We’re so good at it, that we rarely give ourselves credit about having mastered a series of very complex and multifaceted diagnostic skills. To us, we just inspect, test, and figure it out.

The only reason we have these abilities is because at one time each of us exerted the time and effort to do the hard learning that brought us to where we are today. You are familiar with this learning process.

The question is have you developed the purpose and discipline to continue fostering the pursuit of new knowledge? Or, have you arrived at the unfortunate place where you think you know enough to get by? If you know it all; welcome to the rut.

I hope you’ll answer this question honestly. Where you end up in your career completely depends on your internal desire to consistently admit there is more to learn.

The next step is to launch into new learning as you push through “the-land-of-not knowing-squat,” and voluntarily set off on a new journey as an amateur over and over again.

I find the masters in our industry become the masters by humbling themselves and frequently entering the voluntary position of becoming a novice.

This is a quality I look for in each NCI Instructor. My ongoing search takes my through about 40 candidates just to find one instructor. One in 40 is pretty tough odds for any job. But this trait of pursuing new skills is the driving force that keeps each of them at the pinnacle of our industry.

Test and Diagnostic Procedures
When you figure out a problem and propose the solution on a system, you are, in fact, following a diagnostic procedure. You may not be aware of it, but you are abiding by a precise and repeating set of procedures that walks you through a similar process that leads you to the right conclusion each time. Most procedures do have variations, but be assured you’re continuously tracking diagnostic procedures.

At NCI, we have over 150 of these Practical Field Test Procedures. Most of them are a single page. Our job is to take lofty and really difficult procedures and boil them down so they can be used in the field.

Yep, that’s what we do. We understand what it takes to develop a new diagnostic skill and are familiar with that process because we have the habit of acquiring new knowledge at regular intervals. We each consider ourselves dedicated students.

Do we get tired of this? Nope. We have learned that nothing motivates like new knowledge. So we’re usually pretty pumped up when we learn to master something new. See, we have to master it before we can teach it to you. If we haven’t, you’ll kick our butts and see right through us when we teach. That’s also why we tap into your experience in the classroom.

Discipline is Essential
I was in a meeting last week with some amazing people, crafting a new industry standard. This standard includes step-by-step test procedures and calculations designed for you to use in the field.

As we wrestled to make a very complex procedure easier to use, one of the writers said “Few people have developed the discipline to learn how to follow a procedure by studying it one task at a time.” I thought that was a profound statement, and a key to learning a new diagnostic skill.

Following his council, may I recommend breaking a new diagnostic procedure into individual tasks and mastering one skill at a time?

Based on the examples I observe in the best NCI students, here are four steps needed to learn a new diagnostic skill. Simply wishing you could acquire the skill is like wishing you had a bunch of money, taking action is what moves you forward.

  1. Identify the test or diagnostic skill to be learned. You might search magazines or online for topics that you have an interest in, or look through recent jobs where you were stumped.
  2. Acquire a test and diagnostic procedure. A procedure is your map to learning and it will tell you how to get where you want to go. Send me an email if you can’t locate the procedure you’re looking for.
  3. Breakdown the procedure into smaller tasks. Dissect it one task at a time. Some of the tasks you will may already be familiar with; others will help you recognize how much you need to learn. Study the principles driving each task. Call for tech support if you get stumped.
  4. Practice. This is the fun part. With the procedure in hand, step into the field and follow the procedure step by step.

You will instinctively find that small variations are sometimes needed, but stick to the procedure the first five times. After five times your habits will be set and you will then execute the procedure following the instincts you have developed.


Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute -- an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a diagnostic test procedure on anything to do with airflow, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. If NCI has it, he’ll send it to you. You can also go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles, and downloads.

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