Approximately 367,900 heating and cooling technicians are employed in the United States. While most technicians work directly with the building, installation, and maintenance of equipment via heating and cooling firms, some work in equipment sales. Other technicians work for manufacturers in engineering or research laboratories, utility companies, and consulting firms. Some large institutions such as hospitals, universities, factories, office complexes, and sports arenas employ heating and cooling technicians directly, maintaining their own climate-control staffs. Some technicians also open up their own businesses, either as heating and cooling contractors or consultants specializing in sales, parts supply, service, and installation.
Many students in two-year programs work at a job related to their area of training during the summer between the first and second years. Their employers may hire them on a part-time basis during the second year and make offers of full-time employment after graduation. Even if such a job offer cannot be made, the employer may be aware of other companies that are hiring and help the student with suggestions and recommendations, provided the student's work record is good.
Some schools make work experience part of the curriculum, particularly during the latter part of their program. This is a valuable way for students to gain practical experience in conjunction with classroom work.
It is not unusual for graduates of two-year programs to receive several offers of employment, either from contacts they have made themselves or from companies that routinely recruit new graduates. Representatives of larger companies often schedule interview periods at schools with two-year air-conditioning, refrigeration, and heating technician programs. Other, usually smaller, prospective employers may contact specific faculty advisers who in turn make students aware of opportunities that arise.
In addition to using their schools' job placement services, resourceful students can independently explore other leads by applying directly to local heating and cooling contractors; sales, installation, and service shops; or manufacturers of air-conditioning, refrigeration, and heating equipment. State employment offices may also post openings or provide job leads. Finally, student membership in the local chapter of a trade association, such as one of those listed at the end of this article, will often result in good employment contacts.
There is such a wide range of positions within this field that workers who gain the necessary skills and experience have the flexibility to choose between many different options and types of positions. As technicians gain on-the-job work experience, they may decide to specialize in a particular aspect or type of work. They may be able to be promoted into positions requiring more responsibilities and skills through experience and demonstrated proficiency, but in some cases additional training is required.
Many workers continue to take courses throughout their careers to upgrade their skills and to learn new techniques and methods used within the industry. Training can take the form of a class offered by a manufacturer regarding specific equipment or it may be a more extensive program resulting in certification for a specific area or procedure. Skill improvement programs that offer advanced training in specialized areas are available through vocational-technical institutes and trade associations. Technicians with an interest in the engineering aspect of the industry may go back to school to get a bachelor of science degree in heating and cooling engineering or mechanical engineering.
Technicians increase their value to employers and themselves with continued training. For example, a technician employed by a manufacturer may progress to the position of sales manager, who acts as liaison with distributors and dealers, promoting and selling the manufacturer's products, or to a field service representative, who solves unusual service problems of dealers and distributors in the area. Technicians working for dealers and distributors or contractors may advance to a service manager or supervisory position, overseeing other technicians who install and service equipment. Another possible specialization is mechanical design, which involves designing piping, ductwork, controls, and the distribution systems for consulting engineers, mechanical contractors, manufacturers, and distributors. Technicians who do installation and maintenance may decide to move into sales or work for the research and development department of a manufacturing company.
Some technicians also open up their own businesses, becoming heating and cooling contractors, consultants, self-employed service technicians, or specializing in sales and parts distribution.
Set up a visit with a company that specializes in heating and cooling systems. See if you can meet with and/or shadow one of the technicians. Bring a list of questions and take notes.
Find a technical school near you that offers programs in heating and cooling, and meet with one of the program directors to learn more about what's required.
Spend time on the Web sites of industry associations. Read about the field and see if there are upcoming workshops or events that you can participate in.