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Decoding Maintenance Certifications

RELEASED ON 5/26/24

In today’s episode, Paul Rhodes demystifying the letters and certifications crucial for maintenance professionals in the multifamily industry. Certifications like CAMT and EPA 608 may seem perplexing, but understanding them is vital for career advancement.

[Paul Rhodes] (0:00 - 41:08) Hey there, welcome to today's episode of the Maintenance Mindset. I'm Paul Rhodes, your host. And today we're gonna be talking about letters, you know, alphabet.

Okay, I guess I should get a little bit more specific than that, but let's do that right after this message from our sponsor. So, letters. Several years ago, I got the opportunity to share the stage with a gentleman who is a very good friend.

The guy's name is Scott Ployer. And I recommend if you get a chance to look him up on LinkedIn. See, he's a brilliant, brilliant man and very good, polished presenter.

I'm jealous of his stage presence and the way he conducts himself on stage. But not only is it just stage presence, it's the guy knows a lot about a bunch of different stuff. He and his wife right now are doing a lot of educational opportunities that are just brilliant.

But more on how that applies to today's topics. You see, we got to share the stage on at a conference and quite frequently at a conference, what occurs is before you begin to talk about your subject, you're introduced by somebody. Frequently, when you begin the process of proposing a speech or a presentation that you're gonna make, you put in a bio.

And for a bio, what you do is you list out all your accomplishments as a speaker, what you want the audience to know about you and kind of use that as an incentive to coming to your session. Meaning, I'm gonna talk about this thing and I actually have a background or experience that would lend the information or lend credence to whatever it is that I say. Well, I was standing next to Scott and we're listening to the presenter give all of Scott's credentials and he's got a lot of credentials.

As I said, really, really smart guy. And then I listened to him read my credentials. And what struck me is I'm looking out to the audience as we're about to begin presenting that there was a bunch of letters involved with those credentials.

I mean, you can take a look at Scott's LinkedIn profile or my LinkedIn profile and what you begin to notice is that there's a lot of identifiers that are put in place. Just from a very personal standpoint, my letters that are after my name, if you were to look down in my profile, I don't actually put them behind my name on LinkedIn just because it's a bunch of alphabet soup. But really, if you were to look at my particular credentials it is C-A-M-T, C-A-M-T plus E, C-A-M-T plus L, C-A-P-S, C-P-O, EPA 608, universal, OSHA 10, OSHA 510, OSHA 511.

And those are just the ones that are relevant to the multifamily industry. There's other letters that are there and available. But here's my question to you.

When I was going through those letters, did you know what they actually meant? Chances are you may have caught one or two of them, but it really kind of speaks to the broader picture of our industry in that the maintenance profession for apartment workers is a very low national credentialed vocation. We do have some credentials.

We have some methods of validating knowledge, but really at the federal level, there's actually only one. At the local level, all of those others letters that are in there are administered at different levels or with different levels of requirements. So what I thought it might be interesting to do today is for us to go through the credentials that are available and focused for the multifamily industry.

Now, the first one, or actually the first few that I'm gonna go through are ones that are put in place by the National Apartment Association, a group that I used to work for from 2011 up until 2020, the pandemic. I was their national maintenance and safety instructor. So I got the opportunity to be really quite responsible for one of the most widespread credentials that is used for the multifamily industry.

So I thought it would be interesting that that's where we start. And that particular credential is often referred to as CAMT, in other words, the Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technicians, CAMT. There are additional credentials that the National Apartment Association has offered on top of that.

And then there's some additional things that can go along with that. Now, the base credential is CAMT, and it is a credential that is designed very specifically to validate the most common tasks required of an apartment maintenance technician. That's why the initials are so important.

Remember, this is called the Certificate for Apartment Maintenance Technician. That means that just what it says. And the reason why I'm stressing that is because a lot of management companies, a lot of property managers and corporate C-suite takes a look at that and says, yes, we need to send all our supervisors to that.

And while, yeah, I think that's great, it's fantastic. It is a very, very good credential, but it's not exactly designed to teach leadership skills and the needs that we have of a maintenance supervisor. This certificate is actually designed to provide fundamental maintenance technician skills, things like the importance of curb appeal, understanding why we need to turn or get apartments ready as quickly as possible, and the skills needed in order to do that, how to respond to work orders and what to do after you respond to the work orders.

An introduction to safety. Oh, safety in CAMT cannot be stressed enough. And as a matter of fact, I think that's one of the best portions for students of CAMT is the amount of exposure that is given to situational-based safety efforts.

Case in point or example in point is the emphasis that's placed on lockout, tagout. Quite frequently, let's be honest, as maintenance technicians, we do not utilize lockout, tagout, and we need to. Not only is it required, it's just a great idea.

We should be performing lockout, tagout needs regularly on electrical, on plumbing, on any time that energy is used. And that is reinforced quite frequently within the CAMT curriculum. Now, CAMT is provided very intentionally through local apartment associations.

As a matter of fact, even if management companies do CAMT in-house, which in order to do that, you get in touch with the authoring organization, which in this case is NAAEI. Yeah, I know, it's great. More letters to remember, awesome.

Well, that acronym is for the National Apartment Association Education Institute. It's the part of NAA that focuses solely on education. That's the group or the organization that I work for.

Now, when CAMT is taught, frequently it is done through your local apartment association, which actually that's a great segue or a quick call for us as maintenance professionals, become active. Take part in trade shows and networking opportunities. If you get a chance to go to a dinner or get to know people in there, do it.

By the way, side note, if your local apartment association is a member holder of your property, meaning if your property is a part of your local apartment association and that local apartment association is a part of the National Apartment Association, both steps of that are voluntary, then you, because you work for a company that's part of your local association, that is also a part of the National Association, you, Mr. or Mrs. Maintenance Worker, are a part of the National Apartment Association, meaning you have access to all of those resources, including some of the resources that are available within CAMT. The way you get access to those resources and the way you find out about any of these credentials that I'm talking about that the authoring organization is the National Apartment Association is to go to their website. And that website is naahq.org.

Once you go there, follow whatever permissions and login needs that you have. And I confess I am not up on the latest portion of that part. But you see, CAMT is kind of the basis or the credential that starts the NAAEI credentialing for apartment maintenance.

It's kind of comparable on the leasing side to the Certificate for Apartment Leasing Professional, or as an entry level credential for the apartment industry. And on the maintenance side of the house, that entry level credentialing is CAMT. CAMT is also used in some school organizations that as a part of their entry level educational programs.

As a matter of fact, it's used and because it is an ANSI accredited credential, which we'll talk more about that in just a second. As an ANSI accredited credential, schools can actually apply for and receive grant money in order to use the curriculum. Now that ANSI accredited, ANSI, more a group of letters, stands for American National Standards Institute.

And essentially, CAMT being an ANSI accredited certificate means that on a regular basis, the material that is taught goes through a independent third party evaluation process. That means that NAAEI can't just sit down in one day and say, this is what all you need to know in order to be a maintenance technician and spit it out. And then ta-da, it means some, a lot of organizations do that.

There are a lot of education programs that say they are certified or credentialed or they are set. But what they're missing is an outside accreditation, meaning that that process is where it begins. You pull together the information, you put the curriculum together, we're going to teach this stuff.

And then that package or that bundle of material is sent off or is given to ANSI where what ANSI does is validates it. In other words, they say, they take a look at the material and they say, okay, NAAEI, you say that a department maintenance technician needs to know about lockout tagout. Is that true?

ANSI takes a look at it and validates that. Basically, they go through the skill standards that NAA puts together and they validate those against what the industry needs through other methods so that when NAAEI gets that ANSI accreditation, it is an outside source saying, you said you were going to teach this. This actually applies to the vocation or the industry with which it's designed to meet.

That means that CAMT has to go through a regular review, validation and updating process. That has to continue doing because you see CAMT as a certificate is not new. It wasn't even new when I started working for NAA back in 2011.

It started in the late 1960s, 1970s down in Dallas, Texas. A friend of mine, a guy by the name of David Jolly was a part of the core group that actually began developing it. And over the years, it has gone through multiple changes and multiple pairbacks to where originally, it was taught out on properties in the field and done completely and totally hands-on.

Well, that's nice. The only problem is the quantity of time that that took. I mean, if I remember right talking with David, it actually took six weeks of two and three full days.

He described the fact that they would go in on Saturday for a full day and then two days during the week or three days during the week, half days in order to do it. It was a huge investment of time on the instructor and on whatever property that you were going to go do the class at because you had to have all the physical components in order to work on it. Now, yes, that is brilliant and wonderful.

The only problem is, all right, here's the challenge. Property managers, are you happy for your maintenance tax to leave your property for one day, let alone for multiple times over the course of multiple weeks? Not only that, do we have the budgets, the expenses in our budget in order to make that work?

That's why over the years, it has developed into primarily a classroom course with hands-on applications. What that means is that there is a requirement during CAMT to have hands-on activities. And those hands-on activities require tools and tactile work.

When I was teaching CAMT regularly, the very first day of class, we used to have a drywall competition. I'd go take a piece of drywall, knock a hole in it, and then go over the ways of how to repair that hole using joint compound and various patching techniques. And then we'd actually do it, actually had a contest and hand out winners and I'd do prizes.

And it was a great way to learn that hands-on piece. Understand though, CAMT at the end, it is validated by a test. It's a proctored test administered online, not open book.

So that means in class, there is a knowledge requirement. In other words, it's not only hands-on, there is a knowledge-based requirement. Now, CAMT is only one of the credentials that is available that NAA offers or that NAAEI offers.

The other credentials that NAAEI offers that directly apply is CAMT plus E and CAMT plus L. Now, CAMT plus E and plus L, the plus credentials are additional credentials. These came out, if I remember right, in 2016, 2017 timeframe, and they are online-based, meaning you attend them at your own pace.

They are tested, they're validated by testing at the end, but it is a solely online program. Anybody can take them, but the only way you actually get the credential is if you have CAMT to begin with, hence the plus name. Now, plus E is energy efficiency, plus L is leadership.

And if property managers, regionals, corporate, if you would like your maintenance technicians to move into a supervisory role, the plus L content is designed to kind of be that introductory measure to supervisor roles or to get to newer roles or knowledge. So those are the main ones that are offered by NAAEI, the Educational Institute, but realize they, as a credential, are a little bit different than any other offerings that the National Apartment Association Education Institute has. You see, the other credential that I happen to possess or have from NAAEI is CAPS.

That's a Certified Apartment Portfolio Supervisor. That's the credential that's actually designed for regional operators, regional-level operations associates. It's not specifically maintenance-based, but it does apply, especially to regional-level maintenance workers.

It's a credential that is validated by a test. It's not ANSI-accredited. Matter of fact, the only ANSI-accredited credential for the entire apartment industry is CAM-T, which that lets it be a little bit higher level than any other credential for a multifamily.

But CAPS is a renewed annually certification, meaning that every year, in order for me to keep CAPS current or correct, operating and allowable, I have to both pay a renewal fee and prove that I'm continuing my education in the apartment industry by turning in Continuing Education Credits, or another acronym, CECs. That goes through a process through NAA, and I continue to do that. As a matter of fact, it would be an interesting thing to go through all of the applicants that we have coming in to our properties, that if they say they have a credential, validate it.

Verify that they are continuing on their educational pathway by getting those Continuing Education Credits allowed. Now, those CEC requirements are for every other certification that the National Apartment Association offers, not CAM-T. You see, that ANSI accreditation and the fact that it is a certificate means it is a once-and-done credential, meaning you pay the fee, you attend the class, you take the test.

Upon achieving a passing score, you have CAM-T forever. There is no renewal, there's no Continuing Education Credits. It's yours.

In order to prove that you're continuing to learn, the National Apartment Association has put together AIME, which is the Apartment Institute for Maintenance Excellence. Now, AIME is that piece that allows us to prove our knowledge growth. In that, every year for AIME, to maintain membership in AIME, you pay a renewal and you prove, by turning in Continuing Education Credits, that you are continuing your educational pathway.

So, that's really what the National Apartment Association offers for the apartment maintenance industry per se. Keep in mind, though, that CAM-T is for the technician. That's what it was designed for.

It's great for supervisors to attend, but it's not exactly designed to teach supervisory-level skills. Now, the other credentials, the other letters that we have for our industry is less enforced. Well, maybe less enforced is the wrong way of saying it.

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A lot of people call it the EPA certification. This is a refrigerant and recovery credential that does not teach skills. It's often referred to as EPA-608.

And it came about back in the late 1980s when scientists proved the fact that the ozone layer was being depleted. And in the process of reducing that, it was identified that we need to decrease the amount of ozone depleting agents in the atmosphere. The Federal Clean Air Act came up with this and section six of title six of the Federal Clean Air Act set up a credential, EPA-608, that what it does is require validation that people who are purchasing and using refrigerant know what they are allowed to do.

Notice the wording right there. We are proving that a technician knows what they're allowed to do, not that we're proving they know how to do it. EPA-608, I tend to look at it like a learner's permit.

When we got old enough to where we were allowed to get our driver's license to drive a car, you didn't go instantly from having nothing to a driver's license. No, before you're able to go for a driver's license, you have to take a test that proves not that you know how to drive a car. The test you actually take proves you know the laws, that a red light means you stop, a green light means you're safe to go, a yellow light means you hit the gas pedal and go even faster.

No, yeah, that's not exactly correct, but you see the difference here. A learner's permit does not validate that you know how far to turn a steering wheel in order to make a left-hand turn. It doesn't validate that you can identify which stalk or stem coming out of the driver's steering wheel is the turn signal or prove that you know how to use it.

Yeah, there's a skill that may need some validation. But here's the point, and the reason why I bring this up is that the EPA certification does not teach skills. It's administrative in nature.

It was designed that way. It's not made to teach skills. As a matter of fact, EPA 608 is a memorization exercise.

For the technician, you memorize facts. Those facts relate to what you're allowed to do with refrigerant and what you're not allowed to do with refrigerant. That certification is a once-and-done certification that as of today, we're recording this in May of 2024, as of today, this is the only certification for an apartment maintenance technician who's going to perform refrigerant repairs is required to hold and possess.

It's once-and-done, meaning there's no expiration date, there's no continuing education requirement, there's no renewal needed. EPA 608 is frequently used in hiring circles, in other words, in job candidate to say, we need a air conditioning certified technician. Well, that's a little bit of a misleading nomer because when you just say air conditioning certification, are you looking for a contractor certification?

Are you looking for a union license? Are you looking for a degree in air conditioning? All of those things carry skill requirements to them.

EPA 608 has zero skill requirement. Just because somebody carries that card, is EPA 608 certified? All it means is they are legal to buy and use refrigerant.

That's it. It doesn't mean they know everything there is to know. It doesn't even mean they know how to repair an air conditioning system.

All it means is they can legally buy it. This is why a lot of our suppliers provide that certification as a service for us, their customers. They can sell legally more refrigerant to us when we have certified technicians that are involved in using the refrigerant.

Now, it is a required certification. This is a federal requirement. And as of today, it's the only federally required certification for or related to the apartment industry.

KMT is not required anywhere. Down in Florida, it's my understanding that if you have KMT, you can do or perform some repairs that you're not allowed to perform onsite without a license that's required or without a contractor's license to pull a permit. If you have KMT, you can perform those repairs in air conditioning and on water heaters.

I'm gonna direct you to your local, if you're down in Florida, direct you to your local apartment association where they definitely have more information related to that. But the EPA certification, it's a test just based on knowledge. Now, there are four parts of the test.

There's what's called the core, type one, type two, and type three. Now, those type certifications are based on the equipment that you have and you're going to work on. Type one is for small systems.

That's refrigerators and window units, P-TECH units, anything that has less than five pounds of refrigerant in it. Type two certification is for split systems, high pressure and very high pressure systems. Type two certification is the minimum that is required to work on a property where you have straight cool or heat pumps.

In other words, if you have a condensing unit outside and an air handler inside that uses refrigerant, then your technicians need at a minimum to carry type two certification. Type three certification is the big stuff. That's chillers.

Those are monstrous pieces of equipment that operate at low and very low pressures, often in a vacuum. Now, if a technician holds all three types, you are classified as universal, meaning that you can work on any piece of stationary refrigerant-containing equipment. But again, and I can't stress this enough, just because you carry this certification does not mean you know how to perform repairs on that equipment.

That's not tested. A student, to achieve this, it's a memorization exercise. You can go to suppliers, for that matter, go to the YouTubes.

On the YouTubes, there are multiple videos that are available for free that a student can memorize or interact with. Matter of fact, there are practice tests for 608 that are similar to the actual exam. The exam is a memorization exam.

It's closed book. That means that for proper testing, a student should, one, be ready before they go take the exam. By that, I mean that the student needs to have reviewed the book or the material before the day of the test.

If somebody offers a class, all that class is, if it's focused on the 608 exam, all that class is is just reading the book. You see, from a testing process, the EPA has made this an administrative credential. The administrative credential, that's all it is.

You memorize facts about the laws, the rules, and in general, the system of knowing how a refrigerant cycle works. And the only reason for that is not so you know how to make repairs, but it's so that you can have an understanding of how the laws apply to the system and what you're allowed to and not allowed to do with refrigerant. A student who goes and takes the test and has never looked at the book before the day of the test will fail.

Whenever I give, and I'm a proctor of the EPA exam, when I give a class, I make sure the students have the test before class. A couple of weeks, three, four weeks before class, you have the book. The book comes from the test because the test is 100 very specific questions that are broken up into sections.

And in order to be certified in any individual type, you have to pass section one, which is commonly referred to as core. There's 100 test questions broken down into four parts, core, type one, type two, and type three. In other words, if I have a maintenance technician who's going to be certified as a type two technician, you have to pass both core and type two.

If I'm going to be universal, you pass everything, all of the types that are in place. If I am a maintenance technician and I need to get certified in EPA in order to work on air conditioning refrigerant, yes, I'm stressing that for a reason. If I'm going to work on air conditioning refrigerant, I need to have the book.

I need to study the book. You know what? There's not a thing that my management company can do except ensure that I am studying the book because it's all in my brain.

It's a closed book, multiple choice, 100 question exam. Everyone has the ability to pass it if you are going to perform refrigerant repairs. The reason why I'm stressing that refrigerant repairs is that's all it does.

If you're going to work on an air conditioning system and do an electrical repair, replace a fan motor, replace a filter, replace a thermostat, replace pieces and parts and components, you are allowed to do that based on your local rules. You're allowed to do that as long as you don't touch the refrigerant. Matter of fact, it's my understanding that you can even tighten a Schrader core, the number one most common cause of refrigerant leaks from a system where you take the refrigerant core removal tool and you can tighten it because you're not touching it.

As a matter of fact, you're stopping a leak. You don't have to be certified in order to do that. If you begin to interact with the refrigerant, then you must be certified.

That certification needs to be kept in your office and that goes to the logs that we end up having operating at our properties. Now, this particular credential is again, the federally required credential for the multifamily industry. These two credentials that we've covered or gone over today, both CAMT and EPA are the most widely known or accessible for our properties.

If you're a maintenance technician and you want to become CAMT certified, first get in touch with your local apartment association. That's gonna be the best source for CAMT and all of those related things. You can find out where classes are being offered at the National Apartment Association website, naahq.org, I believe, regarding the EPA certification. For that, you have to go through an authorized proctoring organization. Those quite frequently, the one I'm a member of is ESCO. There is also Mainstream Engineering.

There is online organizations that are proctoring agencies as well. The one I'm most familiar with is Skillcat. Has that as an offering, as an opportunity.

You can also go to your suppliers. I know Chadwell Supply offers it, a sponsor of some of the shows on the Multifamily Media Network. They offer it, and other suppliers do offer that as a certification through and are a part of a proctoring organization.

This is going to be part one of these letters of credential, because I'll be honest, I didn't realize I had this much to say about the individual credentials. So join me for part two, which is even more letters that we can put as maintenance technicians, we can put behind our name. Thank you very much for spending your time with me today.

Check out our sponsors, and I hope you have a fantastic rest of whatever week you're working on now. Thanks again, and I'll see you somewhere. Thank you again to AppWorks for sponsoring today's episode.

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