HVAC Refrigeration Tech Career Information

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When we are focused on our smartphones, televisions, and even space travel as the major technological advances that they are, we can sometimes overlook the technology that really impacts our life. For instance, what would your house look like without a refrigerator? The invention of the refrigerator – for use in both the average home and on a larger scale in grocery stores and warehouses – has done more to change how the average American lives than even the Internet. So, imagine just how much damage is done to your quality of life when your refrigerator stops working. When we are focused on our smartphones, televisions, and even space travel as the major technological advances that they are, we can sometimes overlook the technology that really impacts our life. For instance, what would your house look like without a refrigerator? The invention of the refrigerator – for use in both the average home and on a larger scale in grocery stores and warehouses – has done more to change how the average American lives than even the Internet. So, imagine just how much damage is done to your quality of life when your refrigerator stops working.

A refrigeration technician is there for families, stores, office buildings, and hospitals when their refrigeration units stop working. These trained technicians have the skills and experience to troubleshoot refrigeration issues in many different scenarios. A refrigeration technician may work specifically for a company, as in the case of grocery stores or refrigerated warehouses. More often, refrigeration technicians work as contractors that visit different job sites throughout the week to solve problems, provide repairs, and install new refrigeration units. Because broken refrigeration units can cause spoilage and waste, many technicians may find themselves on call during all hours of the night. Of course, odd hours can also come with overtime pay, which is a nice perk for those nights spent rushing to keep expensive inventory from going bad.

While an HVAC technician may work in refrigeration as well as heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning, a refrigeration technician is a specialist. Refrigeration technicians keep their cool while keeping things cool.

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Career Outlook

Anyone looking to enter the refrigeration tech career is doing so at the right time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for these technicians is expected to increase by 21% through the year 2022 (BLS, 2012). This demand is 10% higher than the average expected growth for all occupations in the U.S. The demand for refrigeration technicians does not suffer significant impact at the hands of economic fluctuations because no matter how much a company, such a grocery store, may suffer in profits, there is no substitute for keeping inventory cool. The same is true at hospitals and even for residential customers. In most cases, refrigeration is a necessity, not a luxury, which is highly beneficial for those who can make a career of it.

Although the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) focus primarily on air conditioner repair, climate control including refrigeration is within their purview. As of March 2013, the organization reports a Contractor Comfort Index of 73 (ACCA, 2014). This means that members of the organization are extremely happy with the growth potential for their businesses and the industry overall, since any index over 50 indicates expected growth.

As the demand for refrigeration techs grows, it is easy to see a trend in the types of companies that are doing a significant portion of the hiring. Grocery stores, including large chains and local specialty stores, tend to have at least one tech on hand to deal with crucial refrigeration issues. Similarly, food companies that must store and transport perishable goods are always hiring skilled refrigeration technicians to work in warehouses and to repair mobile refrigeration units.

HVAC TECHNICIAN SALARY DATA

Many people are drawn to a refrigeration technician career track because of steady work, potential for growth as a business owner, and of course the potential salary that is available skilled professionals. While salaries can certainly vary by state and experience, it is helpful to note that the median salary across the country was $43,640 per year in 2012 (BLS, 2012). This works out to a median hourly rate of around $20 per hour. The median wage represents the level at which half of refrigeration technicians earn more than this and half earn less.

Geographic location can have a major impact on salaries for most occupations, including refrigeration technicians. This is often due to the fact that the cost of living varies so widely from place to place. The highest median salary for refrigeration techs can be found in Washington, D.C. where the annual pay is nearly $60,000. By contrast, the lowest median salary in the U.S. is found in West Virginia, where technicians make around $32,700 per year.

It is important to keep in mind that these salaries are representative of all refrigeration technicians working in the U.S., both entry level and experienced. As a refrigeration tech gains experience, it is likely that he or she will also see an increase in salary. Many refrigeration technicians may start out in an apprenticeship. Apprentices are paid a percentage of what their supervisor makes and receive raises at regular intervals, assuming they are performing a satisfactory job. Apprentices who work within a union structure are paid according to union terms and have a minimum starting salary upon completion of the apprenticeship, which generally lasts five years.

Job Requirements – Education & Experience

As with many careers, different jobs within the refrigeration technician sector have different requirements when it comes to education and experience. One recent study from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) found that 77% of those working in the field have some college education but no terminal degree (DOL, 2012). In comparison, 12% have an associate’s degree and the other 8% have only a high school diploma or GED.

The more education a new refrigeration technician has, the more attractive he or she will be to employers. However, hands-on experience is also extremely valuable. This is why many aspiring refrigeration techs decide to complete an apprenticeship program as an initial step into the career. Many community college programs that offer refrigeration technician programs have affiliated apprenticeships. Additionally,

many local unions that represent pipefitters and HVAC technicians offer apprenticeships that do not require any type of college education to apply. However, these are often difficult to obtain for those with no prior connection to the union.

Those refrigeration technicians with bachelor’s degree or even higher are more likely to be considered for supervisory or management positions earlier in their career. Of course, there are no guarantees that this will be the case for any individual.

Regardless of his or her formal educational background, refrigeration technicians should be well versed in math as well as electrical circuitry and basic physics in order to be successful in the field.

Licensure & Certification

The licensing requirements for refrigeration technicians vary wildly from state to state. There is no federal licensing system in place for refrigeration technicians. Some states, such as Texas, have departments of licensing that proctor exams and issue licenses to all technicians. These licenses may be required for all jobs or only for those that involve a certain size refrigeration system. Some states have no licensing requirements whatsoever for refrigeration technicians. Before beginning work as a refrigeration technician in any state, it is essential that the tech investigates the licensing requirement in that particular state to ensure he or she is on the right side of the law.

It is important to note, however, that all refrigeration technicians must have a valid refrigerant handling certificate from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This certificate states that the bearer has been trained in the proper handling and disposal of the toxic chemicals that are used in many refrigeration systems. Many refrigeration tech schools offer this certification, which is also known as the 608 certificate, as part of their training.

Barry Franklin

Barry is the Editor in Chief of HVACClasses.org, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures, which he joined as partner in 2013 after almost 20 years in the financial software industry.