So you are looking into a future for yourself and might be asking if a career in the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry is worth it. The industry as a whole is projected to have larger than average job growth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the next ten years. This is due to an aging average workforce as well as the emergence of jobs in the green energy sector. But where do you start your HVAC career path?
This article is here to help give you a basic understanding of what options you have to enter into the industry. As long as you have a high school diploma or a GED, these are all options you can look to in order to start your HVAC career.
As someone looking to get into the HVAC industry, maybe the fastest track is to enter the workforce as an HVAC Helper. Like most HVAC career paths require, HVAC Helpers are expected to have a high school diploma or GED. From there, work experience and familiarity with power tools is a resume booster, but not required.
An HVAC Helper is employed to assist an HVAC Technician while on the job, mainly working on things like cleaning air ducts, maintaining air conditioning units, installing humidifiers, etc. You will not be permitted to make repairs or work on technical equipment, but rather used as an extra set of hands for the technician or team of technicians you are paired with.
This career path allows you to enter the workforce and immediately start gaining on the job experience, a key aspect to progressing within the HVAC industry. Almost every job advancement opportunity will require a few years of experience under your belt before you can move up. Another highlight to this option is that there are no additional costs associated with entering the workforce. You do not need to pay to go to school or gain certifications, like many other options include. You will also earn a salary from day one.
If you do choose to work first as an HVAC Helper, you may see your wage start lower than other positions. If you have no related work experience and have not obtained any certifications or degrees, your pay is likely to start around ~$14/hour, just under $30,000 a year on average.
Post Secondary Schooling
On the other side of the spectrum, you may decide to continue your education prior to entering the HVAC industry. Within this category of “schooling” you have a few options. You can choose to go to a trade school or vocational school and work directly on relevant technical skills, you can go to a community college and work towards an associate’s degree, or go to a university and work towards a relevant bachelor’s degree. I will briefly break down the time, cost, and expected pay upon employment after your program for each option.
One point to note, there is often a good deal of overlap and similarities between each of these schooling options. The specifics will depend on the individual program you look into, especially in terms of length of program and type of degree.
When I say trade school or vocational school, I am referring to a type of educational institution designed to provide technical skills required to complete the tasks of a specific job. As a prospective HVAC technician, attending a trade school will offer you the opportunity to learn relevant skills, like basic electrical wiring, blueprint reading, basic electricity, thermodynamics, appliance repair, gas safety, refrigeration and more. These are all things an experienced technician is expected to know and the trade school offers a place to build your understanding in a controlled setting.
Choosing this option, you will likely spend anywhere from 6 to 24 months in your program. In terms of cost, the average range of tuition is between $1,200 and $15,000 per year, depending on the specific program you enroll in. When researching a program, check to see if you gain certifications or licenses through the program. Some states require certain certifications for operation so this is a good piece of information keep in mind.
At the conclusion of this type of program, you will be looking to enter the workforce directly as an HVAC Technician. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a technician with some schooling and no degree earns on average just over $40,000 a year.
Community College (Associate’s Degree)
I generally use the term community college for the option of going to school and earning a HVAC relevant associate’s degree, however universities or other third party schools may also offer this type of program as well. This option will likely take about two years of schooling to complete. In terms of cost, the national average yearly tuition for a community college is just shy of $5,000 for in-state students. These programs offer basic skills similar to the trade school as well as a place for students to apply their knowledge with actual equipment. Another perk of going to community college is often these programs will potentially have connections with local businesses and offer work studies or networking to leverage upon graduation.
With this type of education, you will be looking to enter the workforce directly as an HVAC Technician. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a technician with an associate’s degree earns on average around $43,000 a year.
University (Bachelor’s Degree)
Another option you may choose to look into is attending a university and study for a bachelor’s degree in a field related to HVAC. This is generally a four year program that contains much of the same lessons as certificate and associate degree programs, but will also dive into things like control theory, load analysis, energy audit and analysis, and system designs.
When graduating with a bachelor’s degree, you will likely look to enter the industry above entry level. Schooling has prepared you with the tools to enter directly as a technician or possibly in a different role such as HVAC Controls Engineer or Service Manager. Again, this will all depend on the degree you hold as well as the company you wish to work for, but on average HVAC professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree earn just under $60,000 a year in salary according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To give a bit of perspective, a common degree held by an HVAC engineer is a mechanical engineering degree. The average cost per year to enroll in a mechanical engineering program is between $13,000 for in-state tuition and $46,000 for out-of-state tuition at the university level.
Above we’ve listed two types of options, going straight into the workforce as a helper versus continuing your education. There remains another route you can take after finishing secondary school, and that is to enroll in an apprenticeship. Through an apprenticeship, you will shadow and be mentored by an experienced technician in their HVAC field. Some programs also require an apprentice to participate in classroom learning. This merges the ideas of entering the workforce as well as continuing education.
There are several ways to enter into an apprenticeship program, so specifics will be determined by the type of program you choose. When searching for the right apprenticeship, look to see if the individual company offers apprenticeships, some community colleges and trade schools offer apprenticeships within their programs, or you can go the national route and look for programs offered through the Department of Labor or national unions.
These programs typically take between two and five years before you make the jump to HVAC Technician. In terms of pay, entry level apprentices start earning around $27,000 per year and tenured apprentices can earn 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. If you’d like to read into more specifics, check out our article on HVAC apprenticeships.
Continuing Education / On-the-Job Training
Above are the main options you have in order to enter the HVAC industry. But just to be clear, those programs aren’t where your education on the subject matter ends. Many employers will look for candidates who continue to expand their wealth of knowledge. In addition to making yourself a more appealing employee, some states also require additional certifications and licenses in order to operate as a technician. These may include recertification and continuing education to keep active, but this is all very specific for each individual as well as specific state to state.
All in all, once you’ve entered into the HVAC industry, continuing your education through programs is likely a necessity in order to continue to progress in your career.