NATE Brings Certification to Commercial Refrigeration

Pat Murphy, NATE’s vice president of certifications, reports that beta testing of the service-related segment of the NATE refrigeration certification exam has been completed, and final statistics are being reviewed to determine a passing score. Murphy says he expects the refrigeration tests to be ready by 2008. The exams cover information related to light commercial refrigeration (fractional HP to 7.5 hp) and commercial refrigeration (7.5 HP to 80 hp).

Once the certification program is established, refrigeration technicians and their employers will be able to enjoy the many advantages of NATE certification, including enhanced public perception, and measurable, third-party recognition of a technician’s skills and knowledge.

NATE — for those new to the industry — is a non-profit organization based in Arlington, VA, that works to raise the standard of technician excellence in the HVACR industry through certification testing. Developed, owned, governed and supported by industry since 1997, NATE has tested more than 59,000 technicians, to validate a technician’s knowledge, and a training program’s instruction. NATE tests are offered throughout the U.S. and Canada by NATE-approved testing organizations. Candidates can earn installation and/or service certification in seven specialty areas: air-conditioning, air distribution, heat pumps, gas furnaces, oil furnaces, gas hydronics, and oil hydronics. The organization recently celebrated its 10th anniversary (see CB, Oct. 2007, p. 50).

Three Years in the Making
The process of developing a refrigeration certification test began in 2004, when the refrigeration industry was experiencing consumer-related issues similar to those that occurred in the HVAC industry prior to NATE certification.

“Having recognized the need for a certification benchmark,” Murphy says, “the refrigeration industry, through the Air Conditioning Refrigeration Institute’s (ARI’s) Commercial Refrigeration Manufacturers’ Division (CRMD), asked us to assist in developing a certification test that would identify areas of weak technician training, to increase the capabilities of the technicians. Together, we would identify the best educational materials a refrigeration technician could use to prepare for such a test, and acknowledge a technician’s competence through testing and certification.”

Warren Lupson, currently ARI’s Manager of Education, was a member of the committee that worked on the tests; he co-chaired the NATE technical committee, and has been involved, as he says, “since day one.”

“ARI’s CRMD realized that NATE technicians appear to have fewer callbacks, and reduced warranty claims,” Lupson says. “And, based on information we had from our industry competency exams, which showed that refrigeration technicians needed greater knowledge, ARI saw the wisdom of raising the bar on the exams.”

A series of meetings followed, to identify the necessary Knowledge Areas of Technician Expertise (KATEs).

“We identified the KATEs according to subject matter, with the help of experts from various refrigeration companies,” Murphy says. “Then, we came up with a specification, which asks which of these elements is more important to understand. That way, we could target how many questions we should ask from those areas. Once we identified all that, we started writing the questions. Finally, we showed the questions to our subject matter experts, so that they were comfortable with the questions and how they’re presented.”

Murphy says the certification team has been sifting through a statistical analysis of the questions and answers in order to formulate a realistic passing score for the exams.

“We’re in the middle of assessing the analysis of the passing score study, but there are some questions that, even though they’ve been reviewed, need a little bit more work” Murphy says.

“Refrigeration has become a very technical field, which is why we’re pushing the importance of ‘technical’ education, as opposed to ‘vocational’ post-secondary education,” says Lupson.

ARI’s Education and Training Committee has worked with Murphy to examine the beta testing information, and conduct the passing score studies. “This is a long, tedious job,” Lupson says. “We have to look at a variety of factors, including whether or not the questions are confusing, or if there is more than one answer to any of the questions.”

NATE uses a test development process that follows the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, the testing industry’s bible for test development, and is guided by impartiality and exactness.

NATE anticipates that its refrigeration certification will reap a harvest of better qualified refrigeration technicians, who will ultimately provide a higher level of service and installation proficiency, as is now enjoyed by the HVAC industry.

“We know of an HVAC company in southern New Jersey, for example, that had 47 of its 48 technicians become NATE certified, and they saw callbacks drop by 75%,” Murphy says. “We have a feeling we’ll see similar results on the refrigeration side.”

The NATE certification program will also complement ARI’s new certification program for commercial refrigerated display merchandisers and storage cabinets. That program joins 25 other ARI-administered certification programs in using the “ARI Performance Certified” mark, that signfifies quality HVACR product performance.

“The better trained our installers and technicians are, the better our members’ products will perform,” says Francis Dietz, ARI’s senior director of public affairs.

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