Cooling in 2021: RETA to Expand NatRef Training Programs

Cooling in 2021: RETA to Expand NatRef Training Programs


The Refrigerating Engineers & Technicians Association (RETA), an Albany, Oregon (U.S.)-based trade group that trains and certifies technicians working with ammonia (R717) and CO2 (R744) in industrial refrigeration, will be expanding its training programs in 2021.

That effort began last year, when RETA created the RETA Training Institute (RETA-TI), a 501-3(c) organization with a mission to support and expand the industrial refrigeration workforce.

We expect the training opportunities and number of trained technicians to increase in 2021 because of the work RETA and RETA-TI are doing to support and provide the training, said Lois Stirewalt, Workforce Development Program Director at RETA.

“As the industry ages and experienced individuals retire, RETA and RETA-TI are working diligently to ensure the transfer of knowledge to the next generation,” she added.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced training to become virtual or operate under new restrictions, it has not stopped, Stirewalt noted. RETA testing centers where technicians can receive credentials were closed but most have since reopened. 

RETA offers credentialing programs that cover a wide range of technician levels, from entry level (Certified Assistant Refrigeration Operator, CARO) to RETA Authorized Instructor (RAI). “A single RAI can train hundreds of individuals a year and there are currently 20 RAI’s creating a large impact on the training needs of the industry,” said Stirewalt.

RETA expects the number of RAI’s to increase in 2021 through a memorandum of understanding with the United Association (UA), a labor union representing workers in plumbing and pipefitting. The UA is utilizing RETA’s educational materials, including a CO2 Handbook, as part of its apprenticeship training program for service technicians, she noted.

RETA’s national conference in Schaumberg, Illinois (U.S.) in November 2021 will include a comprehensive program of educational and training opportunities for refrigeration technicians. This will include hands-on classes, manufacturer-specific training, white paper presentations, and an exhibition hall. 

The 2021 conference’s call for papers will include specific requests for presentations on low-GWP refrigerants, new and emerging refrigeration-related technology, and “light” industrial refrigeration. In addition, in 2021, the RETA Conference and Education Committees will begin the process of developing CO2 hands-on training.

Training veterans

RETA-TI oversees programs for military veterans (REDWHITEandCOOL), Women in Natural Refrigerants (WiNR), and Youth and Young Adults (YaYA). 

Launched this year, REDWHITEandCOOL is designed to recruit, train and hire military veterans to work as technicians in industrial refrigeration, focusing on ammonia and CO2 refrigerants. In January 2021, the program will host its first four-week cohort of transitioning military veterans on base at Ft. Eustis in Virginia (U.S.) through support from Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, and the contractor Wagner-Meinert. “This first cohort is only the beginning, with an initial goal of quarterly cohorts at Ft. Eustis as well as expanding to other bases,” said Stirewalt.

REDWHITEandCOOL aims to attract people already equipped with skills prized by the HVAC&R industry, thereby helping companies struggling with the shortage of qualified refrigeration technicians.

“If you’ve worked on aircraft, or if you’ve worked on a ship, then you’ve got that technical skillset already, so it would be a perfect transition,” said Stirewalt. She was one of 29 women profiled in Accelerate Magazine’s “Women in Natural Refrigerants” cover story in the January 2020 issue. 

“As the industry ages and experienced individuals retire, RETA and RETA-TI are working diligently to ensure the transfer of knowledge to the next generation.”

Lois Stirewalt, RETA

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