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Are refrigeration and air conditioning trainers being frozen out?

Paul Singh, refrigeration training consultant, fears for the future as specialist training staff slowly become a dying breed

Everyone recognises that the refrigeration and air conditioning industry is suffering from a skills shortage.

For decades we have had to run our businesses in spite of a severe shortfall of skilled rac engineers.

A qualified engineer is now worth his or her weight in gold and as a result can demand high salaries, which in turn affects a company’s bottom line.

Although we are all aware of the need to recruit, current circumstances dictate that our pot of school leavers are being attracted to the likes of so-called ‘sexy’ IT and computing industries, as well as the other professional disciplines.

Fortunately, we do seem to be having success through the various managing agents that support the industry in attracting certain school-leavers and these continue to enter the industry. They are being put onto ‘Modern Apprenticeship Schemes’ to ensure they are properly trained.

Recruiting from other disciplines is also providing us with an intake of potential engineers as they are being re-trained in refrigeration and air conditioning technologies.

However, I must admit that the industry has been forced down some very awkward routes due to the immense amount of legislation and regulation. We are all too familiar with the need to be properly trained and certified to stand any chance of getting the next contract.

Refrigerant handling certification, skillcards, and health and safety certification are an absolute must.

But is that all about to change?

Imagine you’ve just taken on an engineer - probably from overseas because the pot of UK engineers has been taken up by other companies or they have emigrated.

This engineer has a requirement for some refrigeration and air conditioning training, but where would you send him?

It’s easy. You’d send them onto a refrigeration and air conditioning course at a college.

But, think again…what if there wasn’t a college? A frightening scenario, but a realistic one: there is a very real possibility that we could be facing a future where no colleges will deliver refrigeration and air conditioning courses.

Why? Colleges could be faced with closing down refrigeration and air conditioning course, despite having the students to enrol, the accommodation within colleges, government funding and the prevailing state-of-the-art equipment.

And the reason? They have no specialist teaching staff to teach. They have all retired. 

Not only is the commercial sector suffering from a lack of engineers, the training sector too is becoming inhibited by a shortage of specialist staff.

I’ve witnessed the closure of many colleges due to lack of staffing and the failure to be able to recruit new teaching staff.

Only recently I heard that one college has stopped delivering courses due to the untimely death of its lecturer.

And I know of many other colleges, through my role as a City & Guilds external verifier, which are struggling to deliver such courses as a direct result of the lack of qualified people.

There is a definite shortage of refrigeration and air conditioning expertise, there is not enough to go around and the colleges, unfortunately, are seemingly facing bleak futures.

At the moment the trend leans to sharing staff from other centres. But how long can this be sustained, particularly as the average age of a college lecturer is approximately 55 years old?

At the moment no-one seems to know, but one thing is clear: the industry has to act now before time runs out and rac college lecturers and indeed, the lecturers, themselves, are frozen out for good.

Paul Singh is refrigeration training consultant at MotorClimate Training Academy.Contact him on 07734 926747

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