At both events, attendees could observe that both the content of training and its method of delivery are changing to keep up with an a market that is evolving toward natural refrigerants. The RETA 2015 National Conference, held Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, grappled with the impact that higher demand for—and shorter supply of—trained technicians is having on industrial refrigeration.

“There is a greater demand for quality training opportunities,” said Jim Price, past president of RETA and South Central regional sales manager, Hansen Technologies. “But because of the expense of travelling to brick-and-mortar sites for training, there is an increase in online-training subscriptions.”

As this trend grows stronger, Price said, RETA itself “is in the preliminary stages of updating its online training,” in order to give it a more appealing look and to help incorporate interactive learning tools. In addition to content delivery, the content itself is changing as well. In particular, the industry is moving towards new solutions, particularly low-charge ammonia systems, which Price sees as the potential heir to the throne of industrial refrigeration.

“These [low charge ammonia] systems address both safety, by reducing the charge, and efficiency, by eliminating many of the losses that are inherent in a large central system,” he said. But the systems have maintenance challenges. “While they are very compact, their compactness may make them very tight and difficult to service.”

As interest grows in new technology, Price acknowledged that RETA is “a little behind the curve” with new training material, but “we are but rapidly closing the gap.”

There is also a gap with respect to codes and standards, he added. “I do not think the codes have caught up to the progress, especially with regards to CO2. All refrigerants are potentially dangerous if not understood and respected. We, the industry, must be careful not to become complacent no matter what refrigerant we work with.”

RETA held its first conference in 1909, when the organisation was known as the National Association of Practical Refrigerating Engineers. Prior to 2006, the conferences were mostly small gatherings that were sponsored and arranged by local chapters and averaged between 200-400 attendees.

For the 2006 conference, RETA’s national staff took a larger role in planning the conference, and attendance jumped to more than 700. Each year since, the conference has grown “in both attendance and attendee fulfillment,” Price said.

Addressing the need for natural refrigerant training

The 78th Annual RSES Conference and HVACR Technology Expo, held Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Rosemont, Illinois, also had plenty to say about training for natural refrigerants, notably CO2 and hydrocarbons.

While HFOs were discussed during panel sessions, there were “requests for CO2 training,” said Arthur Miller, Region 2 director for RSES and owner of KAM Associates, a training firm. As the demand for CO2 technician training increases, RSES will be looking at partnering with manufacturers to provide this training, he added.

There was a session on hydrocarbon training. Miller said that he expects the number of trained hydrocarbon technicians to continue to grow. In the EPA’s recent proposed changes to Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, the agency is looking at added some hydrocarbons questions to an updated exam slated for January 1, 2017. “So all of this adds up to a numbers increase” for hydrocarbon technicians, he said.

However, there remains a bias against natural refrigerants that will have to be overcome. “We as an industry have been very complacent with the use of CFCs, HCFCs and HFC refrigerants as well as the reasonable similarity in technologies between these refrigerants in the last number of decades,” Miller said. “We have become familiar and comfortable with this arrangement.”

The transition to natural refrigerants will remain a concern “until training on this equipment and systems becomes easily accessible by all technicians across the country.”

Along with hydrocarbons training, the RSES Conference covered over 30 technical topics, including ice machines, IQA [indoor air quality] basics and troubleshooting techniques. The conference attracted 272 attendees and 19 exhibitors, which Miller said was similar to that of last year’s conference held in Long Beach, Calif.

The conference also included a “Students Day,” with students coming from several local colleges. Exhibitors provided answered questions about products, equipment, training and industry opportunities.

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