Steps to Becoming an AC Technician
As with any career, not every person who pursues the AC technician career will take exactly the same steps. Following is the most common path toward the job, including a few optional steps that will depend on personal preference and the availability of opportunities such as apprenticeships:
Step 1: Complete high school diploma or GED (four years). There are no strict educational prerequisites to becoming an AC technician in most cases, but the vast majority have earned at least a high school diploma or GED. High school students who are already interested in a career as an AC technician may even take vocational training courses during high school to have a head start upon graduation.
Step 2a: Enroll in a technical training program (two years). The majority of AC technicians also have some type of post-secondary education. For example, Los Angeles Trade-Tech College (LATTC) offers an associate of science (AS) degree in refrigeration and air conditioning that can be completed in just four semesters. Courses cover such critical topics as electrical mathematics, refrigeration system components, and service for air conditioning equipment. A program like the LATTC option will prepare AC techs well for an entry-level position.
Step 2b: Apply to an apprenticeship program (two to five years). Many AC technicians choose to go the apprenticeship route, gaining immediate hands-on, paid experience under the supervision of more experienced technicians.
Depending on the sponsoring organization, an apprenticeship can take up to five years to complete, during which apprentices earn a percentage of an experienced technician’s salary. In California, for example, the California Apprenticeship Coordinators Association sponsors a five-year, 8,000-hour apprenticeship program for air conditioning technicians. While not every state will have the exact same program, most metropolitan areas have similar offices or unions who have apprenticeships for new technicians. The US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Finder has resources.
Step 3: Complete EPA Section 608 Certification. Anyone in the US who works with refrigerants must have the EPA Section 608 certification, which deals with the handling and disposal of these potentially harmful chemicals.
Many technical training programs and apprenticeships will have this certification built-in to the program, but it is important that prospective AC techs verify this. If certification is not offered as part of their chosen program, they must pursue the certification on their own before entering the AC workforce. A full list of approved section 608 technician certification programs is available from the EPA.
Step 4: Obtain locally required licensure (timeline varies). Aside from the Section 608 certification, there are no nationally required licenses for AC technicians. That said, individual states and municipalities do have their own requirements. Typically, obtaining this type of licensure will require proof of training and/or experience, an application fee, and often a competency exam.
Step 5: Pursue advanced certification (timeline varies). The AC technicians that wish to continue to develop their skills and professional advancement may choose to pursue certification through an organization such as HVAC Excellence or North American Technician Excellence (NATE).
Several industry organizations, such as Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), also provide training and certifications. These types of certifications are not required by law but can demonstrate advanced skills for those looking to progress in their careers.