Situated in the fertile Red River Valley, Fargo, North Dakota, ND, traditionally thrived with an agriculture-based economy. Related industries, including agricultural research, still contribute to the prosperity of the area. The city, however, boasts a “pro-business environment” and has diversified its economy. Education, manufacturing, medical services, retail trade, and professional services have become primary sources of industry growth. Technology-based businesses are other significant contributors to the economy. Companies that include Bobcat, John Deere, Microsoft, and Wells Fargo all have facilities in the area.
Fargo is well-known for its frigid winters, which are ranked among the coldest in the contiguous US. Lows frequently sink to the single digits from December through February, with January being the coldest month. The high temperatures those months are well below freezing, and snowfall approaches a foot each month. Freezing temperatures and snowfall continue through March, yielding to springtime warmth in April. July and August are the hottest months, with average highs in the low 80s F. Nighttime temperatures drop into the upper 50s. June averages nearly four inches of rain, and the other summer months each average slightly less than three inches each month.
Although Fargo summers aren’t as hot as other cities, the humidity and the icy winters frequently keep residents indoors. They depend on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) for comfort in their homes and workplaces. Many of the industrial and business facilities require the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R). Research facilities and businesses that rely on high-tech often require specialized climate-control systems and equipment that will keep their electronic components operating correctly.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) indicates that 420 HVAC and HVAC/R technicians were employed in the Fargo, ND-MN area. National, state, and local industry associations such as the following provide support and resources to the technicians and their employers:
Associations such as these cooperate with other industry organizations and with regulatory agencies to establish educational, licensing, and performance standards for the safety of technicians, the public, and the environment.
The BLS (2020) anticipated a 4 percent increase between 2019 and 2029 nationwide in the demand for trained HVAC and HVAC/R technicians. The outlook for North Dakota technicians is much more optimistic, as Projections Central (2020) forecasted a 13.8 percent increase in new positions statewide between 2018 and 2028.
The construction of new commercial structures and residences drives the growth of the HVAC industry. In older cities like Fargo, existing buildings are often renovated or remodeled to accommodate the expanding business needs. Updating typically necessitates repairing or replacing obsolete climate-control equipment and systems.
On occasion, climate control systems in newer structures are replaced or upgraded due to changing regulations, technological advances, and new industries. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and pollution reduction is yet another factor driving industry growth.
Sophisticated climate-control systems are often installed in both new and modernized structures to meet the demand of businesses and homeowners who want “smart” buildings. Trained technicians are needed to install, maintain, and service a variety of systems and equipment.
Technicians are expected to be skilled troubleshooters, understand electronics and high-tech, and be proficient in the use of computers if they want to obtain the best jobs. Those who specialize in new construction may occasionally experience unemployment if construction declines. As Fargo continues to nurture existing businesses and attract new companies and employees, a downturn in construction activity is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Technicians who maintain, service, and repair equipment and systems can expect continuous employment regardless of the economy, as businesses and homeowners depend on climate control year-round.
BLS data (May 2019) shows that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $48,730. Technicians in Fargo earned an annual median salary of $49,030, as per the BLS. Notably, the cost of living in North Dakota is significantly lower than in other American states, so that salary goes further locally.
The BLS data shows the following national, state, and regional salaries for HVAC professionals:
|United States||North Dakota||Fargo|
|Number of HVAC professionals employed||342,040||1,020||420|
|Average annual salary||$51,420||$53,270||$52,350|
Becoming an HVAC technician requires training. In the past, workers could begin their careers as entry-level helpers and acquire their skills through on-the-job training. Few opportunities exist now for untrained workers, so most aspiring technicians now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship. Their training opens up more employment opportunities. Additionally, they often start at higher wages and potentially earn more throughout their career.
Most apprenticeships require a three to five-year commitment. Each year the apprentices complete an average of 2,000 hours of on-the-job combined with an average of 144 hours of classroom work. Job Service North Dakota and the North Dakota Apprenticeship Program provide resources and information for registered apprenticeships for workers and employers. The Job Service site has a list of companies sponsoring apprenticeships that include several in the Fargo area.
The Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local Union 10 offers pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in Bismarck. Applicants must take the pre-apprenticeship program if they don’t have 1,000 hours of work in the HVAC industry or school or a background in the construction industry. The apprenticeship program includes 8,000 hours of on-the-job training spread over four years and 180 hours of classroom instruction each year.
Additionally, HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs are sponsored by industry associations such as the following:
Those wishing to attend can obtain information as to courses available, scheduling, and fees from each organization’s website.
Students choosing to attend school should ensure that they select an institution that has been accredited. Accreditation is a process by which a school’s curriculum and instructors have been evaluated by an independent agency. HVAC Excellence and the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) are responsible for accrediting HVAC programs. To date, neither has awarded accreditation to a North Dakota school. The schools profiled below have been accredited by other agencies.
Note: The information in this article was compiled in February 2021 during the “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing” restrictions. The profiled schools may have temporarily suspended classes or are transitioning to online options to comply with the restrictions. Questions as to timing and format should be directed to the school administration.
The college offers students the following HVAC program options:
Coursework for all the programs includes classroom lectures and hands-on training in the lab. The college is a registered training center with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), which allows students that successfully complete the coursework to be placed on a national registry.
The curriculum for the certificate program includes sheet metal, introduction to HVAC, HVAC theory and components, HVAC troubleshooting, commercial refrigeration, and domestic refrigeration. Students in the diploma program complete the same technical curriculum and add general education electives that include arts and humanities/social and behavioral science, math, business, science and technology, and written or oral communication.
Degree-seeking students complete the same coursework with additional general education electives. All students can take the EPA 608 Certification exam.
North Dakota State College of Science
The college offers both a certificate and degree HVAC/R Technology program. The technical curriculum for the certificate program includes refrigeration technology, refrigerants, electricity, heating equipment, commercial components, advanced systems, building system controls, air conditioning design, heat pumps, and hydronic heat systems.
Students also complete electives from general education coursework that includes technical communication, behavioral/social science, humanities, history, computers, and science of success. Students complete a total of 36 credit hours to earn their certificate.
Students in the degree program complete all the coursework in the certificate program and add additional general education courses that include composition, English communication, introduction to professional writing, fundamentals of public speaking, mathematics, wellness, and computer literacy. Students complete a total of 73 credits to earn their degree.
Coursework for both programs is presented via classroom lectures combined with hands-on training in the lab. Graduates are qualified for various industry certifications through the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) and to sit for the EPA Section 608 certification exam.
Fargo students who cannot attend either of these schools may find that online institutions can better meet their needs. More information on accredited programs is available at online HVAC training.
Federal law mandates that all HVAC and HVAC/R technicians who handle refrigerants must obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 certification. Four certification levels are available based on the type and size of equipment on which a technician works. Technicians must pass an exam on refrigerant safety for each level, which include:
Details of the criteria for each certification are available on the EPA website.
Technicians may obtain their Section 608 certification, as well as other certifications that can increase their employability, from industry organizations such as the following:
Check each organization’s website for information on availability, scheduling, and fees. There is also more information on the HVAC certifications page.
HVAC contractors must be licensed by the state of North Dakota for any project that is valued at $4,000 or more. Applicants must submit proof of experience and qualifications, a certificate of liability insurance, and proof of workers comp insurance along with verification from North Dakota Workplace Safety and Insurance. Four classes of licenses are available based on the value of the work to be performed. Licensing fees vary according to the license. Licenses must be renewed annually.
The City of Fargo requires journeymen and master heating technicians to obtain a business license. The fee is $125 annually for each.
Because licensing regulations may change, HVAC professionals are encouraged to confirm that they comply with current guidelines before starting a project.