20 Questions with Rex Boynton, President N.A.T.E.

Originally published: 03.01.07 by Terry Tanker


North American Technician Excellence (NATE) is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. NATE’s president, Rex Boynton, met with publisher Terry Tanker in Washington, D.C. to discuss the past, present, and future of the organization.

1. What’s your worst habit?

Cigars. I love them.

2. What is the last movie you went to see and would recommend?
Invincible starring Mark Wahlberg.

3. What is your favorite hobby?
Golf.

4. What are the three best restaurants in D.C.?
The Warf, The Warehouse, Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

5. What is the one place you don’t want to miss when you visit D.C.?
The Kennedy Center.

6. Name one thing you’re glad you will never have to do again?
Worry about who to call when my heating/cooling system isn’t operating properly.

7. What’s the funniest thing that’s happened at a NATE board meeting?
Following the relocation of our office, we were forced to hold a meeting in a local hotel. I was really trying to hold the line on our operating expenses, and the meeting room was too small to accommodate our group. Nonetheless, we managed to crowd 40 bodies into a windowless room designed for about 25. The last member arrived late and literally had to force the door open to stick his head into the room. He said, “Well it’s clear. We’re not wasting money on meeting space”.

8. What was your big break in business?
Losing a congressional campaign. I was hired as a campaign manager in 1976. After the loss I was introduced to the trade association business and had some wonderful mentors and great learning opportunities that helped prepare me for life at NATE.

9. How were you tapped to run NATE?
A colleague put me in touch with a search committee that was looking to hire someone to launch a start-up operation focused on setting knowledge standards for hvac technicians. In preparing for the interview, I conducted a telephone survey of contractors. Most said there was a technician shortage, and not a single respondent thought the idea of certification could ever succeed. When I shared these results with the search committee along with my take on their implications, I think they were surprised that I showed up for the interview. In any event, I really hit it off with the search team.

10. Initially, what was the biggest hurdle NATE had to overcome?
Why do it? Technicians and contractors were not convinced it was necessary, and many were afraid to take a test. We attacked their resistance by urging manufacturers to offer incentives to contractors to get their techs certified, we persuaded the training community to develop NATE preparation courses and review materials, and we shared research results that showed consumers really prefer certified technicians.

11. What is the biggest misconception about NATE?
That we are a training organization. NATE is a testing and certification enterprise. We test for the education and training community. We do not offer training. Our tests are developed by industry experts and reflect a consensus of opinion on what a technician needs to know to effectively install and service hvacr systems.

12. Can you tell me about the “Impact Study”?
We identified 40 contractors who were able to track the job performance of 40 pairs of technicians – one who was NATE certified and another who was not. We learned that the NATE-certified techs had 6.8% higher billing efficiency; had 12.9% fewer callbacks; and 28.4% lower warranty expense. These are “homeruns” for contractors.

13. Are pay levels for NATE-certified technicians higher?
NATE-certified technicians make 12.2% more than their non-certified counterparts. This translates into $4,180 annually based on 2,000 hours per year. We think this will be a powerful motivator for technicians to earn certification.

14. It sounds like the labor expense of NATE technicians is higher for the contractor. Is it worth it?
The research shows that when a contractor overlays the higher pay scale of a NATE-certified tech with fewer callbacks, higher billable efficiency, and reduced warranty expense, the potential value is $10,040 annually, per technician!

15. What do consumers know about NATE certification?
We asked consumers if they had heard of technician certification, and roughly 20% said they had, although only a few could name NATE. We probed a little further and introduced them to our brand. Once they learned who we were, 76% said they were interested in using a NATE technician.

16. How can the industry build more demand for NATE certification? Continue to generate awareness among consumers on the importance of technician excellence, its potential value to the environment, energy savings, and indoor comfort.

Manufacturers need to insist that their products are installed and serviced by certified technicians; distributors and utilities need to offer special incentives to encourage certification; and contractors need to make NATE certification a stepping stone to professional growth and reward.

17. Is NATE working on any new tests?
We are finalizing our first senior certification, Efficiency Analyst, which focuses on high efficiency system performance. This exam requires a technician to hold at least one heating and one cooling certification. We are also working on Commercial Refrigeration tests.

18. NATE is celebrating its 10th anniversary; what can we expect to see in the next 10 years?
A continuing commitment to elevate professional standards for technicians across a range of industries; stimulate and promote excellence in the performance of technical work; recognize, recruit, and retain top-quality technicians; and help consumers find the contractors who employ the best technicians.

19. Has the focus of NATE changed any over the last 10 years?
We have always been focused on and committed to stimulating an environment of continuous learning and applied knowledge that leads to excellence in job performance and job satisfaction.

20. What about specific goals?
Our strategic plan sets a goal of 150,000 NATE-certified technicians by the end of the year 2010.

 


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