Are you thinking of becoming an HVAC mechanic? No matter which part of the industry you’re aiming for, your path begins with a solid pre-apprenticeship program.
Students with a good grounding in HVAC fundamentals have a much better chance of landing an apprenticeship—which you’ll need to get certified.
So, what exactly can you expect from pre-apprenticeship HVAC training? What specific skills will you learn, and where do most grads get hired?
These are just some of the questions we asked Darren Fearnley. Darren is a true veteran of the HVAC industry, with numerous decades of work experience.
He’s also a dedicated instructor who teaches the Heating, Ventilation, and Gas Technician program at Herzing College (formerly called the PAT Institute).
We interviewed Darren this week to get a better idea of how he runs the training, what to expect in class, and what it takes to start a successful HVAC career.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Darren Fearnley?
Darren has been working in the HVAC industry for more years than most students have been alive. We’re talking nearly a half century of experience, covering everything from sheet metal, service, sales, and management.
If you’re looking to kick-start a career in HVAC, it’s hard to imagine a better mentor. Darren knows the business inside and out, and understands exactly what it takes to get hired.
“I have been in the HVAC industry for 40 years. I started doing new home residential sheet metal, and after about 10 years I switched to commercial sheet metal. Then I got into service work, servicing residential and commercial equipment for about 10 years. I was also a service and installation manager for about 10 years, and a sales manager for 5 years.”
What are the most important skills taught in HVAC training?
Our HVAC training covers a lot of ground. Courses run through a wide range of HVAC-related skills and theory.
Students work through basic concepts, like how to use hand and power tools—and more complex topics, like calculating electrical resistance, and safe fuel handling.
There are 34 course modules in total, including:
- Electrical Fundamentals
- Air Conditioning Systems
- Heating and Humidification Systems
- Service and Troubleshooting
- Hand and Power Tools
- Safety Protocols
- Piping and Tubing
- Gas Appliances
- Electrical and Mechanical Controls
- Gas Meters, Pressure Regulators, and Relief Valves
- Water Heaters and Combo Systems
Darren says each and every one of these skills is valuable for getting hired.
That’s because the entire HVAC program was designed to produce graduates who are actually useful to employers, from day one. There’s no “fluff” or extra material you don’t really need.
But Darren told us that in particular, the comprehensive safety training helps give his students a good edge.
“I think one of the most valuable things students leave with is their safety training and certificates. Other than that, it would be the whole general knowledge of the trade and the many different career paths they can pursue.”
Most fun vs most challenging part of the HVAC program?
Darren’s answer to this one wasn’t all that surprising. It all boils down to math and theory versus hands-on building.
Most students want to work with their hands to solve a problem, put parts together, and actually build a finished product.
They’re not usually so excited to solve algebraic equations, study blueprints, and memorize codes.
Like most trades training, the HVAC + Gas Tech program involves all of the above. Herzing’s program leans more toward the hands-on practice, but you can’t totally avoid studying technical specs and theory.
Here’s how Darren breaks it down:
“On the whole, I’d say students tend to struggle with the electrical courses. But they have a lot of fun with the hands-on training. By the end of the program, they’re able to construct a fully operational heating and cooling system.”
Most important HVAC Job skills
The world of HVAC has evolved a lot over the years. There are new advancements in technologies, tools, and systems—changes you’ll need to stay on top of, if you want a successful HVAC career.
We asked Darren which skills are most important for today’s HVAC professionals. He said good old-fashioned mechanic skills, combined with a talent for learning new technology, is key for growth in this field.
“Today's HVAC technicians not only have to be good with their hands, but with the technological advances in equipment, we also need good diagnostic, problem-solving, and computer skills.”
HVAC career paths
Where can you realistically expect to get hired, straight out of HVAC training? Darren says grads usually choose between two main options, depending on their strengths and interests.
The good news? He says the market is so strong that many of his students get hired before they even finish the program.
“The 2 main paths are sheet metal or refrigeration. Students who excel in the electrical courses tend to lean more toward the refrigeration side. Most of my students have job offers before leaving the program, or have already started part-time while in the last few weeks of the program.”
What makes this HVAC program a good investment?
If you’re weighing your HVAC training options, you probably have 2 big questions on your mind:
1) Should you try to get an apprenticeship on your own, without doing an HVAC program first?
2) If you do enroll, what should you look for in a quality program?
We asked Darren what makes his HVAC training really stand out. We asked how this program is different from others, and why it gives students a competitive edge on the job market.
He said he started teaching the course because he found most other HVAC programs focus too much on theory. He saw a need for training where students build real, useful hands-on skills.
He says this is what sets Herzing’s HVAC program apart.
“As an HVAC employer, I have hired a lot of people from other schools, and found that most programs focus a lot on theory. But the truth is, most apprentices start out doing very basic jobs, and they need to know what parts look like, and how they go together.
They need that practical training to get signed up, and break into the industry. I wouldn’t be doing my job if the program didn’t teach those hands-on skills.
The most rewarding part of my job is having students come back to visit to share how well they’re doing. Some are already journeymen.”
Learn more about HVAC training at Herzing
Herzing’s pre-apprenticeship HVAC training runs for 52 weeks. Students learn the fundamentals of heating, cooling, and ventilation—plus, they get Gas Technician 3 and 2 training.
Graduates are eligible to challenge the TSSA gas technician exams.
Want to learn more? Your next step is to speak with Admissions.
An Admissions Advisor can walk you through financial aid options, course schedules, how to apply, and any other questions you have.