Sponsored by globalFACT
Paul Anderson, Vice President of Design for H-E-B, which has more than 420 retail stores in Texas and Mexico, joined globalFACT’s Executive Director, Jordan Smith, to discuss technician training and availability and how those realities affect the businesses’ HVACR decisions. H-E-B is the largest private employer in Texas and is one of the 15 largest privately held companies in the United States.
Smith: Let’s begin with a big question: what is your assessment of the overall state of HVACR technician training in the U.S. today?
Anderson: My overall assessment is that technician training is lacking due to the speed of innovation. New technology is important, but new systems also require service. Because the systems are so new, only a limited number of technicians are trained to service them properly. Additionally, technicians in the field are in high demand for maintenance calls and, as a result, they’re less available for training on new technologies. This exacerbates the gap between technology and training, and that gap matters. Store operators are in the business of selling refrigerated products. If they can’t find technicians with the right training for the systems in the store, it can be a real problem.
Smith: Where do most technicians receive their training?
Anderson: For many technicians, training is done on-the-job, shadowing more experienced technicians. New technicians are given little exposure to how or why a system functions the way it does; instead, they’re trained in the field on how to diagnose and fix specific problems. Without more comprehensive, classroom-style education, technicians can only troubleshoot issues they have previously encountered in the field. When they are called upon to solve an unfamiliar problem, they are forced to reach out to other technicians for help. This causes delays in servicing that impact store operators. I believe technicians want to do a good job, but the industry is not equipping them to be successful.
Smith: Is in-classroom education enough to solve the problem?
Anderson: No, it’s not. While classroom training is important for giving technicians a deeper understanding of refrigeration, there is more we as an industry can do to support our young technicians. For example, a mentor-mentee program is a great idea for helping new technicians find a trusted advisor they can call on, learn from, and model after. A program like this would not only enhance the preparedness of young technicians, but it would also make the career field more attractive to young prospective technicians who make early career decisions based on the quality of the training and mentorship they will receive.
Smith: Switching gears to your role at H-E-B, what are the criteria you look at when selecting refrigeration equipment for stores, and how does technician training and availability factor into those decisions?
Anderson: I always evaluate it from a total cost of ownership approach: system availability, capital investment, maintenance and repair costs, and energy efficiency. Technician training and availability factor in when evaluating maintenance and repair costs. Installing the newest technology and equipment means that technician servicing is going to be more challenging than installing a traditional system that more technicians are familiar with. Bottom line: technician training and availability is extremely important because an unserviceable system is an unaffordable system.
Smith: What has been your experience installing and servicing transcritical CO2 systems?
Anderson: In response to some technician shortages, operators are looking to install newer technologies like transcritical CO2 systems under the false assumption that new technology means fewer maintenance challenges. In this case, the opposite is true. By increasing the complexity of the refrigeration equipment, the system becomes more vulnerable to breakdowns. When one of the many controls or components inevitably fails, they are difficult and expensive to repair. I recommend that before you install a transcritical CO2 system, make sure you have the contractors, technicians, and internal teams in place to support it.
Smith: What are the specific risks of transcritical CO2 systems that operators should be aware of?
Anderson: If you don’t install a transcritical CO2 system correctly, or you don’t start it up correctly, there’s a high probability that at some point in time, you’re going to blow an entire charge of CO2. And if you’re in that position, you need to have a technician in your area who can address it quickly. If that isn’t possible, which is very likely, you are looking at significant downtime. Compare that to an HFO system, which is much more forgiving and easier to service.
Jordan Smith is Executive Director of the Global Forum for Advanced Climate Technologies (globalFACT). He has over 20 years of experience providing public policy advice and representation on federal legislative and regulatory issues, with special emphasis on energy, environmental, natural resource, and healthcare matters.
Paul Anderson is Vice President of Design and Engineering for H-E-B, LP. As Vice President of Design and Engineering, Paul is responsible for providing the best retail experience for H-E-B’s Customers and Operators by designing, delivering and maintaining efficient and innovative retail facilities that drive brand awareness.