The Memphis, Tennessee (TN) climate ranges according to the four seasons. Average summer temperatures are in the mid-70s and can spike to 100 or more, and average winter temperatures are in the mid-50s degrees, occasionally dropping below freezing. While Memphis typically only experiences a few inches of snow annually, the humidity can make residents uncomfortable. The weather is only one factor driving the growth of the local heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVAC/R) industry.
Another driver of HVAC industry growth is that Memphis is booming economically, according to the Memphis Daily News. The past year saw a surge of multifamily and mixed-use residential projects. City officials expect there to be even more multifamily projects by the end of the year. Medical centers, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, are undergoing significant expansions. Financial institutions are also remodeling their facilities, and several large construction projects are in the pipeline. Memphis also has a thriving startup industry. Every year, the city hosts a “Summer of Acceleration,” a 100-day program for local startups.
Overall, current and anticipated construction projects require HVAC/R services and skilled professionals. Some facilities, including medical centers, require specialized equipment and system controls.
The Mechanical Contractors Association of Memphis and the Mechanical Service Contractors Association of Memphis coordinate HVAC/R training and standards with Plumbers Local Union #17 and Steamfitters Local Union #614. The organizations provide industry support to contractors and technicians designed to promote professionalism and quality services. Other industry organizations that support technicians and the companies that employ them include:
This guide explores the local HVAC/R training schools in Memphis, including discussions of coursework and credentialing within the area.
Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians is growing nationwide. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs in this field is expected to increase 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations in the US (7 percent).
Openings for HVAC workers in Tennessee, as well, are experiencing rapid growth. Projections Central predicted a 14 percent statewide increase in demand for technicians in the demand preceding 2024.
Several factors contribute to the growth of the HVAC/R industry. The primary factor is the increasing complexity of climate control systems and the need to replace, retrofit, or upgrade older systems. The contemporary emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution also drives growth. The construction of new buildings and residences in Memphis has also created an additional demand for the installation of HVAC/R systems.
Computer- and electronics-literate technicians and those with excellent troubleshooting skills typically have the best job prospects. Technicians who specialize in new installation may experience seasonal unemployment if construction declines. Maintenance and repair work can be more stable, as business owners and homeowners depend on their climate-control or refrigeration systems year round and must keep them in good working order, regardless of economic conditions.
The BLS (May 2017) reports that HVAC/R mechanics and installers nationally receive a median salary of $47,080 annually, while Memphis technicians receive an annual median salary of $45,130. Data compiled by Missouri Economic Research and Information Center indicates a cost of living index for Tennessee of 89.8 in 2017, which means that residents of Tennessee pay $89.80 for what costs all Americans an average of $100.00.
Below are the hourly and annual salary comparisons as calculated by the BLS in May 2017:
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Historically, HVAC technicians could begin their careers as entry-level by learning the trade through hands-on training, but these days, most workers attend classes and/or participate in an apprenticeship program. Coursework and apprenticeships open up more employment opportunities and offer higher wages.
Steamfitters Local Union No. 614 sponsors a five-year apprenticeship program in Memphis. Each year apprentices complete 1,700 to 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with journey-level technicians and a minimum of 246 hours of classroom training. They earn-while-they-learn, as apprentices are paid for hours worked and are not charged tuition for the classroom training. Apprentices are registered with the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. At the end of the apprenticeship period, apprentices are eligible to receive up to 32 free college credits which can be applied toward the cost of an associate degree.
The West Tennessee Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, based in Memphis, offers apprentice training in 12 trades, including HVAC. Notably, the programs are accredited by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). Details are available by contacting them through their website. Aspiring HVAC and HVAC/R technicians can also find apprenticeship programs through local chapters of industry associations.
When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and by which organization. Accreditation is a process in which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the program, which includes both the curriculum and the instructors. HVAC Excellence, for example, has accredited several campuses of Tennessee College of Applied Technology. The Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA), the other predominant accrediting agencies for these schools has not currently approved a school in Tennessee.
Moore Tech is a private vocational school. The HVAC programs are available for day or night attendees. Daytime students can earn a diploma or an associate’s degree of applied technology (AAT) in HVAC. Students enrolled in night classes receive a certificate. All students attend classroom lectures coupled with hands-on practice in labs furnished with modern equipment. The curriculum includes electricity, domestic and commercial HVAC, and commercial refrigeration. Graduates have a working knowledge of equipment and systems and may be qualified to enter the job market.
The coursework and lab practice in this HVAC diploma program give students training in residential, commercial, and industrial HVAC systems. The curriculum includes automated controls, motors, domestic appliances, heat pumps, hydronics, and ducting. The college emphasizes the importance of obtaining EPA 608 certification and prepares students for taking the exam. The cost of the exam is included in the tuition fees. Graduates may be qualified to seek entry-level jobs as HVAC technicians.
The college offers HVAC certificates and diplomas. The HVAC mechanic helper and domestic unit repair are the two certificate programs. The diploma programs include refrigeration technician, HVAC, HVAC/R technician, and commercial HVAC/R. Students learn the fundamentals of residential and commercial HVAC systems, heat pumps, ice machines, and humidifiers. Depending on the program selected, they also can receive training in electric, gas, solar, and hydronic heating equipment and systems.
Vatterott College offers a diploma and an associate’s degree of occupational studies in HVAC. Students learn the fundamentals of electricity, HVAC, HVAC/R, energy management systems, and green awareness, in addition to general education courses such as mathematics and economics. They attend classroom lectures and receive hands-on training in the lab in soldering, brazing, piping, ducting, and reading blueprints, design specifications, and shop drawings.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires technicians who work with refrigerants to obtain EPA Section 608 Certification, which includes passing an exam on the safe handling of refrigerants. Practice exams are available online. There are four types of certifications according to the systems on which technicians work:
Technicians may obtain additional training and certifications from industry organizations, which also offer Section 608 testing and certification. These include, but are not limited to:
As a final note, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance requires licensing as a mechanical contractor for projects of $25,000 or more. All contractors must take a business and law exam. An additional trade-specific exam in HVAC is also required. The fee for each exam is $55. Other requirements include submitting financial statements, letters of reference and proof of insurance, applicable registration documents from the Secretary of State, a notarized application, and $250. Licenses must be renewed every two years.
Additionally, the Department of Construction Code Enforcement registers contractors licensed in Tennessee. State registered or licensed mechanical contractors must obtain a local license to work in Shelby County or Memphis. Doing so requires filing an application, presenting proof of insurance, passing an exam, and paying a $150 fee. The license must be renewed annually. Contractors in Shelby County seeking a refrigeration proficiency license must meet experience requirements, pass an exam, and pay a fee.