HVAC Schools in Oakland, CA – Technical Training

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Situated on the San Francisco Bay, the Port of Oakland, California (CA) is one of the busiest in the world. Oakland’s economy is diverse and thriving, and the volume of imports and exports has made the region a crucial commercial center.

Oakland is recognized as a pioneer in computerized shipping and the area is a transportation and logistics hub. Healthcare, manufacturing, and food processing have long been mainstays of the economy, and the city is becoming known for its art and culture venues as well as its emphasis on alternative energy. A plethora of incentives is drawing high-tech and “green” companies to the bright side of the bay.

Oakland is close enough to the coast that the Pacific Ocean moderates the temperature extremes, and far enough inland to be warm and dry. Temperatures in the summer months are in the low- to mid-70s during the day and average about 20 degrees cooler at night. July has no measurable rainfall, and June, August, and September only have trace amounts of precipitation. The winter months are cooler and wetter. The high temperature in December and January is 58 degrees, and lows hover around 44 to 45 degrees. The remaining winter months are warmer, ranging from the upper 40s at night and mid-60s during the day. Rainfall exceeds four inches each month from December through February. Though the proximity to the Pacific Ocean moderates the temperature, record highs have soared above 100 degrees, and record lows have dropped below freezing.

The temperate climate allows Oakland residents to frequently enjoy outdoor activities. But when business, home life, or the weather keeps them inside, they rely on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort. Many of the industries rely on technology and require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R) to keep the electronic equipment in good operating order. The historic sites, museums, and other tourist venues depend on climate control to protect artifacts as well as provide comfort. Healthcare and food processing facilities require HVAC systems that will maintain specific levels of temperature, humidity, and air quality.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) calculated 3,150 HVAC mechanics and installers employed in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA area as of May 2018. Technicians and their employers received support and services from industry organizations that include the following:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of Northern California
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association Of San Francisco
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
  • Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association Bay Area Chapter
  • UA Plumbers, Pipefitters, Refrigeration Fitters and Service Technicians Local 447

Industry organizations and associations such as these coordinate with other groups and governmental agencies to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards to ensure the safety of technicians and the public.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Oakland, CA

The BLS (2019) anticipates a 13 percent increase in new job openings for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians nationwide between 2018 and 2028. That’s faster growth than the 5 percent the BLS expects for all US occupations during the same decade. The job market for California HVAC technicians is even more favorable. Projections Central (2019) predicts a 19.6 percent statewide increase in new positions between 2016 and 2026.

Prosperous cities like Oakland that are expanding and attracting businesses must build new commercial facilities and residences to accommodate the growth. New structures require HVAC and HVAC/R, and the increasing reliance on technology demands sophisticated climate-control systems, especially in contemporary “smart” buildings. Business requirements, as well as Oakland’s emphasis on clean energy, mean that aging equipment in older buildings must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet energy efficiency and pollution standards. Many facilities need dedicated climate-controlled rooms or areas with specialized equipment and systems.

HVAC and HVAC/R technicians must be trained before they can install, maintain, or service the complex equipment and systems currently in use. Technicians who are proficient troubleshooters and skilled with computers and electronics will have the best job opportunities. Workers who specialize in installation of new equipment may sometimes experience periods of unemployment if construction declines. As Oakland is focusing on growth and economic development, a decline isn’t likely in the near future. Technicians performing maintenance and service can expect full employment as businesses and homeowners keep their existing systems operating efficiently year around regardless of the economy.

HVAC Salaries in Oakland, CA

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationwide received a median salary of $47,610 as of May 2018. Technicians in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA area received an annual median salary of $60,750 during the same year. The difference in earnings isn’t as impressive as it might seem because the cost of living in California is higher than in other US states.

A comparison of national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals are shown in the following table:

United States California San Francisco -Oakland -Hayward, CA
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 324,310 27,720 3,150
Average Annual Salary $50,160 $58,130 $68,210
10th Percentile $29,460 $32,900 $35,980
25th Percentile $36,520 $39,610 $49,190
50th Percentile (Median) $47,610 $55,140 $60,750
75th Percentile $60,900 $70,020 $88,360
90th Percentile $76,230 $94,380 $114,960

HVAC Apprenticeships in Oakland, CA

The complexity of contemporary climate control systems demands skilled technicians, and untrained workers have few job opportunities today. In the past, workers who wanted to become HVAC technicians claimed positions as helpers to learn the trade via on-the-job training. Aspiring technicians are now advised to participate in an apprenticeship or attend formal classes. Doing so gives them the skills needed to find employment as well as potentially start at higher wages and earn more throughout their career. Apprentices can expect an average of 2,000 hours of on-the-job experience combined with an average of 144 hours of classwork each year for three to five years.

Workers will find a database of HVAC apprenticeship programs maintained by the State of California Department of Industrial Relations. As of December 2019, six programs were available. Five are close to Oakland.

The Bay Area Sheet Metal JAC offers a 60-month air conditioning mechanic program, a 24-month air conditioning specialist program, a 24-month service technician program, and a 60-month test, adjust, and balancing technician program. The United Association Local Union 342 JATC sponsors a refrigeration fitter/air conditioning mechanic program as well.

Oakland workers who are unable to attend local programs can participate in HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs sponsored by industry associations that include, but are not limited to:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association

Details as to schedules and fees are available on their websites.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Oakland, CA

It is essential to confirm that an educational institution is accredited before arranging to attend. Accreditation is a process through which an independent agency evaluates the quality of a program’s curriculum and instructors.

Two industry organizations are responsible for accrediting HVAC programs. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has awarded accreditation to Mount San Antonio Community College in Walnut, CA. HVAC Excellence has accredited the following programs:

  • Brownson Technical School, Anaheim CA
  • Cypress College, Cypress, CA
  • El Camino College, Torrance, CA
  • Mount San Antonio Community College, Walnut, CA
  • North American Training Center, Redlands, CA

El Camino College is included in the profiles below due to their accreditation status, although the commute is too long to be practical for Oakland students unless they relocate.

Center for Employment Training

CET offers career training in HVAC and green technology in several California locations. The closest campus to Oakland is in San Jose. Coursework is presented through classroom lectures combined with hands-on training in a fully equipped lab. The curriculum includes job and tool safety, applied mathematics, electricity, refrigerants, heating equipment, pipe fitting, brazing, soldering, duct work, green technology, computer basics, and customer service.

Students also learn interview and resume skills as preparation for seeking employment. The school provides job placement assistance for graduates, and evening classes are available.

  • Location: San Jose, CA
  • Accreditation: Council on Occupational Education
  • Tuition: $14,500
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Eight to nine months

Laney College

The college offers four certificate programs as part of environmental control technology, as follows:

  • Building automation systems – 48 units
  • Commercial HVAC systems – 52.5 units
  • Refrigeration technology – 16.5 units
  • Residential and light commercial HVAC/R – 27 units

With the exception of refrigeration technology, credits earned in the certificate programs may be applied toward the degree programs of the same names.

Certificates in building performance and energy proficiency (29.5 units) and energy efficiency sales and auditing (13.5 units) are currently inactive.

The curriculum for the active programs includes electricity; PC hardware; building software; technical math; motors and drives; mechanical and electrical devices; direct digital controls; troubleshooting; reading and interpreting blueprints; testing, adjusting, and balancing HVAC; welding; HVAC installation; psychrometrics and load calculations; system design; mechanical and electrical codes; and refrigeration. Additional instruction includes advanced coursework relevant to the certificate students are seeking.

Enrollees in degree programs complete all coursework required for certificate programs, advanced technology coursework, and general education classes that include electives from natural science, social and behavioral science, humanities, language, and ethnic studies. They earn their degree at the completion of 60 units.

  • Location: Oakland, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per unit
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Certificates vary; degree two years

San Jose City College

Students may enroll in an HVAC/R technology degree program or in an HVAC/R technology certificate program. Coursework in all programs is taught through classroom lectures followed by hands-on training in the lab.

Students in the HVAC/R technology Level 2 certificate program complete 20.5 units comprising the following: HVAC/R principles, intermediate air conditioning, refrigeration service, and facilities management.

Those in the HVAC/R technology Level 3 certificate program complete 30 units as follows: all of the Level 2 coursework, refrigeration service, hydronics and air systems, control systems, and technical electives.

Degree-seeking students complete all of the above coursework and selections from technical electives that include computer information systems, residential/commercial wiring, residential/commercial plumbing, electricity, boilers, programmable logic controllers, sheet metal principles, and industrial electronics and controls. They must also complete general education electives that include written and oral communication, critical thinking, physical sciences, life sciences, fine arts, humanities, social and behavioral science, physical health, and cultural diversity. Degrees are earned at the completion of 60 units.

  • Location: San Jose, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per unit
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Certificates vary; degree two years

El Camino College

El Camino offers an HVAC degree program and several certificate programs from which to choose. Certificate programs that are currently available include:

  • Air conditioning – 17 units
  • Air conditioning and refrigeration electric controls – 13 units
  • HVAC/R – 39 units
  • Refrigeration – 13 units

Students in the certificate programs start with basic HVAC classes, then add the coursework that pertains to the certificate they are seeking. Choices include: electricity, heating technology, A/C fundamentals, energy control and system optimization, and electronics and controls.

Students in the degree program complete all the technical coursework as well as customer service, commercial refrigeration, and automation systems, in addition to the basic technical coursework. They also choose from technical electives that include cooperative work experience, computer information systems, construction technology, and business. They earn the remainder of the 60 units needed to obtain their degree with general education electives.

  • Location: Torrance, CA
  • Accreditation: HVAC Excellence; Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
  • Tuition: $46 per unit
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Certificates vary; degree two years

Students in Oakland who are unable to attend a local school may find that online HVAC training at an accredited school will enable them to access the training needed to enter the field.

HVAC Certification and Licensing in Oakland, CA

Federal law demands that technicians obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. There are four levels of certification that are based on the size and type of equipment on which the technician works. Each requires passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. A technician who anticipates working on all types of HVAC and HVAC/R equipment should obtain a Universal certification. Practice exams and additional information is available on the EPA website.

Technicians may acquire their Section 608 certification and other industry certifications from organizations such as these:

  • HVAC Excellence
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)

Details as to schedules and fees may be found on each website. Further information is available on the HVAC certifications page.

The California Contractors State Licensing Board does not require employed HVAC and HVAC/R technicians to be licensed. Employed technicians may not advertise their services. If they do so, they are regarded as self-employed contractors, and state law requires them to be licensed. HVAC contractors need a C-20 specialty license, and HVAC/R contractors need the C-38 specialty license.

Unless able submit proof of five years of journey-level experience with a licensed contractor, applicants must pass exams in business, trade, and law. All applicants must then submit proof of the following to obtain a license:

  • Four years of journey-level experience
  • At least $2,500 in working capital
  • Workers compensation insurance
  • General liability insurance
  • A bond

Licenses are renewed every two years. The initial license and renewals require payment of a fee.

Finally, the City of Oakland requires all businesses to obtain an annual business license. The fee is $95.

Licensing agencies may change their guidelines at any time and at their own discretion. Technicians are encouraged to ensure they are in compliance with state, county, and city licensing requirements before working on any HVAC or HVAC/R project.

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith was introduced to the HVAC industry when she worked as a bookkeeper and secretary for a small air-conditioning contractor. She eventually became a CPA and started her own practice specializing in small business taxes and accounting. After retiring from business, she began writing articles for newspapers, magazines, and websites. She also authored four books. Sandra makes her home in the mountains with a rescue dog that naps on her lap as she writes.