HVAC Apprenticeships versus Trade Schools: Which is Better?

Because of the complexity of today's climate control systems, people working towards a heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration career must go through an intense training process.

Education is especially important now that environmental issues are causing new technologies to sprout up every day. There are two main ways to receive HVAC training: vocational school and apprenticeships.

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HVAC Vocational School

The first thing to consider when researching vocational schools, is accreditation. It is imperative that the program of your choice is accredited by either HVAC Excellence; the National Center for Construction Education and Research; or the Partnership for Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Accreditation.

The armed forces also offers HVAC training. Vocational schools usually take six months to two years to complete. The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the HVAC vocational courses as focusing on theory of temperature control, equipment design and construction, and electronics. Students will learn installation, maintenance, and repair. After graduating school, six months to two years of field experience are required before the person is considered a qualified technician.

HVAC Apprenticeship

Apprenticeships are offered by the Air-Conditioning Contractors of America, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association, the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the National Association of Home Builders.

Apprenticeships are a mix between classroom education and paid on-the-job training. Taking three to five years to complete, apprenticeships are more time consuming than vocational schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes apprenticeship curriculum as focusing on "safety practices, the use and care of tools, blueprint reading, and the theory and design of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration systems."

While assisting on the job, apprentices learn everything from insulating refrigerant lines to cutting and soldering pipes and sheet metal. When an apprenticeship is complete, the apprentice is considered a qualified technician.