HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. An HVAC technician installs, maintains, and services systems that control the air quality and temperature in homes and businesses. A career as an HVAC technician can open the door to many different roles, from a residential technician working in people’s homes to a commercial technician working on centrifugal compressors, but almost all HVAC careers start in the same place.
That starting place is through an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship is a program designed to teach you a given trade while you’re working on the job, often referred to as earn while you learn programs. While most employers require no more than a high school diploma or GED to join an apprenticeship, there is still a tremendous amount of knowledge a technician needs to know to advance in their career. The solution to this need for knowledge is through on-the-job training via an apprenticeship. Through the apprenticeship, the new HVAC technician will shadow and be mentored by an experienced technician in their area of the HVAC field. Some programs also require an apprentice to participate in classroom learning through a community college or technical school.
How to Become an HVAC Apprentice
So where to begin? The first step to entering this industry is locating an apprenticeship program. One common way you can do this is by simply reaching out to local HVAC businesses in your area to see if they are hiring. Many businesses will utilize apprentices or helpers in unison with current technicians in their own internal hiring process.
Another common avenue to gaining an apprenticeship is through additional schooling at a local community college or technical school. Again, no further education is generally required to become an HVAC technician past high school, but these HVAC apprenticeship programs will have partnerships with businesses and include apprenticeship placement within the curriculum. This process will also add credibility to your resume when applying to other jobs in the future.
You can also find apprenticeships through the Department of Labor or union sponsored programs. Through the U.S. Department of Labor for example, you can search for a registered apprenticeship program using their Apprenticeship Job Finder. You can also find apprenticeships via the United Association, a national union for plumbers, welders, fitters, and service techs. These programs are generally nationally recognized and will offer both classroom instruction and hands on training in the industry.
HVAC Apprentice Work Environment
Regardless of where your apprenticeship comes from, they will generally look similar. While requirements or regulations vary from state to state, apprenticeship programs typically last from three to five years. Many programs base the duration of the program on the time spent working, usually resulting in somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 hours on the job.
As far as your duties as an apprentice, here is what you can generally expect. During the first year, you will ultimately be an extra set of hands for the experienced technician you’re working with. This will gain you exposure to different tasks and familiarize yourself with the equipment and systems commonly used. As your knowledge base continues to grow, you will be assigned increasingly more important and tougher tasks. This will lead to being assigned advanced tasks while on a job, like discharging a system or brazing repair. As you continue to show your qualifications on the job, the work may progress into a more consistent and long term task assigned directly to you. This for example could be in a specific area of repair, keeping you on a repair team for a longer duration of time. Ultimately your time spent as an apprentice will show your ability to retain learned tasks and you’ll be able to show your employer you can replicate those tasks on a more independent nature as time progresses.
HVAC Apprentice Salary
As far as pay, the average HVAC apprentice salary is $35,000 ($17.00 per hour). This may vary state by state as well as experience, with entry level apprentices starting around $27,000 per year and tenured apprentices earning up to $45,000. During your apprenticeship, you will likely be paid hourly. As you progress through your apprenticeship, your wage is increased as long as benchmarks are met. Again, this will vary depending on the employer and/or program you are working with.
National Apprentice Salary Data
- Median Salary: $35,000 ($17.50 per hour)
- Experienced Salary: $45,000 ($22.50 per hour)
- Entry-Level Salary: $27,000 ($12.98 per hour)
A career as an HVAC technician opens the doors to many different specific roles within the industry, but almost all start with a successful apprenticeship. Knowing the basics will give you the head start on others in your field.