HVAC Programs in Milwaukee, WI – Vocational Schools & Training

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin (WI) stretches along one side of Lake Michigan. The breezes blowing toward land from the lake affect the weather, particularly in winter. Despite the warmer lake air, Milwaukee winters remain bitterly cold. November through March nighttime temperatures average well below freezing. The daytime highs stay below freezing December through February. Snow starts falling in November and doesn’t usually stop until April, with up to 15 inches hitting the ground in January. Summers are much warmer, but humid. June through September experience temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s. More than three inches of rain falls each month from May through September.

The weather conditions have not kept Milwaukee from growing. The City of Festivals is home to Miller Brewing, Johnson Controls, Rockwell Automation, and a host of other national and international companies. Water sports, museums, historic sites, and the many festivals that celebrate the cultural diversity of the city attract tourists and support a growing leisure and hospitality industry. Other industries experiencing growth include health services, finance, construction, mining, transportation, and manufacturing.

The muggy summers and icy winters make heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) essential for comfort in homes, offices, and other facilities. The hospitality venues and industries that rely on technology often need the addition of refrigeration (HVAC/R). Many also require specialized climate control systems.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) reports that 910 HVAC mechanics and installers were employed in the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI area. National, state, and local industry organizations provide training and support to the technicians. Their services may be online or from local groups such as:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin
  • Master Plumbers/Heating Cooling Association of Wisconsin (MP/HC)
  • Metropolitan Builders Association of Greater Milwaukee (MBA)
  • Metropolitan Milwaukee Heating/Air-Conditioning Contractors
  • Plumbers Local Union 75
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Wisconsin Association (PHCC)
  • Plumbing Mechanical Sheet Metal Contractors’ Alliance
  • UA Steamfitters Local 601

The goal of these and similar industry associations is to ensure the health and safety of members and the public by establishing educational, licensing, safety, and performance standards.

Occupational Demand for HVAC and HVAC/R Technicians in Milwaukee, WI

The BLS (2019) predicts an average of 7 percent employment increase across all occupations in the U.S. between 2016 and 2026. Nationwide opportunities for HVAC and HVAC/R technicians are expected to increase at the much faster rate of 15 percent during the same decade. The demand for new technicians in Wisconsin is growing at a lower rate than national expectations. Projections Central predicted a 10.9 percent statewide increase by the end of 2026.

The construction of new residences and commercial structures drives the growth of the HVAC industry. Additionally, the current emphasis on energy efficiency and reducing pollution also contributes to industry growth as new equipment and systems are often required. If new systems are not installed, the old equipment and systems in existing buildings must be replaced, retrofitted, or upgraded to meet contemporary standards. Modern climate control systems are complex and require trained technicians to install, maintain, service, or repair.

Technicians who have honed their troubleshooting skills and those who are proficient with computers and electronics typically have the best job prospects. Workers who specialize in new installations may experience seasonal unemployment. As the economy as a whole is growing in Milwaukee and construction is designated as one of the growth industries, technicians should not anticipate a decline in installations in the foreseeable future. Technicians experienced with maintenance and repair work can expect to work year round, as businesses and homeowners must keep their climate control systems in good operating condition regardless of the economy.

HVAC Salaries in Milwaukee, WI

The BLS (May 2018) reported that HVAC mechanics and installers nationally received a median salary of $47,610. Technicians in the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI area received an annual median salary of $58,100. Their earnings are even more favorable when considering that Wisconsin has a lower cost of living than some other U.S. states.

The table below summarizes national, state, and regional salaries of HVAC professionals:

United States Wisconsin Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
Number of HVAC Professionals Employed 324,310 4,900 910
Average Annual Salary $50,160 $52,020 $59,730
10th Percentile $29,460 $32,240 $40,550
25th Percentile $36,520 $40,180 $48,940
50th Percentile (Median) $47,610 $51,020 $58,100
75th Percentile $60,900 $62,360 $65,890
90th Percentile $76,230 $76,090 $86,690

HVAC Apprenticeships in Milwaukee, WI

In past years, HVAC and HVAC/R technicians began their career as helpers and learned the trade through hands-on training. Most workers now attend classes or participate in an apprenticeship program. Formal training and apprenticeships can open up more employment opportunities. Workers also start at higher wages and earn more throughout their careers as well.

Apprenticeships include specified hours of on-the-job training (2,000 hours) and classroom work (144 hours) annually for three to five years. The State of Wisconsin Department Workplace Development manages the apprenticeship programs. Apprentices must register before seeking employment. Those who complete an apprenticeship program receive a nationally recognized certificate of completion and are qualified to sit for the state licensing exam.

HVAC and HVAC/R apprentices may choose between the Environmental Systems Technician and the HVAC Installer-Technician apprenticeships. Applicants are accepted by local apprenticeship committees rather than by individual employers. Their apprenticeships include 9,000 hours of on-the-job training, 560 hours of classroom instruction, OSHA safety training, and first aid and CPR certification. The programs take five years to complete.

The Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin sponsor a five-year HVAC apprenticeship, and Wisconsin State Sheet Metal Workers Local 18 (SMART) sponsor a five-year sheet metal and environmental service technician apprenticeship. Contact information for details is available on their websites. Plumbers Local Union 75 and UA Steamfitters Local 601 also sponsor apprenticeships, although the programs focus on plumbing and steamfitting, respectively, and HVAC training is incidental.

Additional HVAC and HVAC/R apprenticeship programs are available through national industry associations such as:

  • Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)
  • Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA)
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC)
  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES)
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA)

Apprentices are advised to confirm with each organization that the program meets Wisconsin apprenticeship requirements.

Accredited HVAC Schools in Milwaukee, WI

When choosing a school, it is essential to determine if it is accredited and by which organization. Accreditation is the process by which an independent agency evaluates the quality of the program curriculum and instructors.

HVAC programs are accredited by two industry organizations. HVAC Excellence has not accredited a Wisconsin program; however, the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Accreditation (PAHRA) has awarded accreditation to the following schools:

  • Blackhawk Technical College – Janesville, WI
  • Chippewa Valley Technical College – Eau Claire, WI
  • Moraine Park Technical College – Fond du Lac, WI
  • Western Technical College – La Crosse, WI

Although attending Blackhawk Technical College would require Milwaukee students to commute, it is included in the profiles below due to industry accreditation and the options it offers.

Blackhawk Technical College

The college offers a residential HVAC certificate program and an HVAC/R technology diploma program. Coursework for both programs is divided between classroom lectures and hands-on training on state-of-the-art equipment in the new lab. Some coursework may be available online, and some lab time may qualify for the “flexlab” format.

The certificate program includes the following coursework: HVAC/R fundamentals, electricity fundamentals, blueprint reading, codes, computerized HVAC/R design, shop math, piping, refrigerants, heating systems, motors and controls, and human relations.

Students complete 26 credit-hours to earn their certificate and are qualified to seek entry-level employment as residential technicians.

The HVAC/R technology program includes the above coursework as well as advanced classes in each subject. Additional coursework continues with the following: electronic energy management, HVAC installation, hydronics, control circuits, service and troubleshooting, industry exam preparation, and communication.

Students complete 55 credit-hours to earn their diploma. They are qualified to seek employment as technicians and other industry occupations or they may transfer their credits to a four-year college.

  • Location: Janesville, WI
  • Accreditation: PAHRA; Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $134.20 per credit-hour
  • Format: Online and on-campus
  • Program Length: Certificate one year; diploma two years

Gateway Technical College

Gateway offers an HVAC/R degree program. Students learn theory in a classroom setting and receive extensive hands-on training in fully equipped labs. The labs include equipment from various manufacturers to give students comprehensive experience. The curriculum includes: workplace fundamentals, air conditioning and electricity fundamentals, refrigeration fundamentals, mechanical fundamentals, electrical controls and systems, heating systems and applications, HVAC systems, control circuit applications, blueprint reading, electronic energy management, troubleshooting and repair, computers for professionals, math, and technical reporting.

Non-technical coursework includes English composition, oral/interpersonal communication, sociology, psychology, and economics. Students complete 69 credit-hours to earn their degree. Graduates are qualified to sit for industry certification exams and seek employment as technicians.

  • Location: Kenosha, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $136.50 per credit-hour
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Two years

Milwaukee Area Technical College

The MATC offers an HVAC service technical diploma and an HVAC/R technology degree program at their Oak Creek Campus. The diploma program prepares students for employment as HVAC service and installation technicians. The curriculum includes the following: electrical circuits and controls, air conditioning principles, basic refrigeration and system operations, oil furnace service and maintenance, gas furnace service and operation, technical math, electrical systems and wiring, heat pumps, and communication.

Students complete a total of 30 credit-hours to earn their degree.

The degree program builds on the diploma program by adding the following coursework: architectural and mechanical fundamentals, heating systems, digital energy management systems, controls and circuits, and refrigeration.

Non-technical coursework includes economics, communication skills, energy, psychology, and sociology for a total of 70 credit-hours to earn their degree.

  • Location: Oak Creek, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $152.80 per credit-hour
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: Diploma 32 weeks; degree two years

Waukesha County Technical College

Waukesha offers a refrigeration service certificate program and an HVAC/R technical diploma program. The certificate program includes four courses in commercial refrigeration and one course in basic HVAC electricity, for a total of nine credit-hours.

Coursework for the HVAC/R technical diploma program may be completed during a full-time daytime schedule or during an evening schedule. Both schedules include the following curriculum: HVAC/R fundamentals, HVAC/R controls, installation, air flow, heat pumps, piping, troubleshooting, psychometrics, hydronics, troubleshooting, design, commercial HVAC, and workplace communication.

The curriculum requires 28 credit hours to complete. Graduates are qualified to install, service, and troubleshoot HVAC/R systems.

  • Location: Pewaukee, WI
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $136.50 per credit-hour
  • Format: On-campus
  • Program Length: One year

HVAC and HVAC/R Certification and Licensing in Milwaukee, WI

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. There are four types of certifications according to the systems on which technicians work:

  • Type I – small appliances
  • Type II – high-pressure appliances, except small appliances and motor vehicle AC
  • Type III – low-pressure appliances
  • Universal – all types of equipment

Each exam covers different topics, and practice exams are available.

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:

  • Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES): Their mission is to provide opportunities for enhanced technical competence by offering comprehensive, cutting-edge education and certification to the HVAC/R industry.
  • North American Technician Excellence (NATE): Their certification tests represent real world working knowledge of HVAC/R systems.
  • HVAC Excellence: Their exams and certifications are intended to validate that an individual has retained knowledge in a specific area of the HVAC/R industry.

Details are available on each website.

As a final note, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services requires HVAC contractors to register with the state. Applicants must submit a completed application form and a fee of $175. The registration is good for four years. Renewal requires payment of a fee of $175.

Technicians may obtain licensing as an HVAC Qualifier. Applicants must pass an exam that includes the Commercial Building Code and submit proof of a combination of education and work experience, a completed application, and $200 in fees. The license must be renewed every four years. The renewal fee is $75. Licensing as a qualifier permits the technician to work anywhere within Wisconsin without obtaining local certification, licensing, or other approval.

Neither the County of Milwaukee nor the City of Milwaukee require additional HVAC licensing, but as government regulations are always subject to change, HVAC and HVAC/R technicians are advised to ensure that they meet all state and local licensing requirements before starting work on any project.