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Can we close the skills gap?

RAC asks the question: “What can we do to close the skills gap with the advent of new technology?”

John Ellis – Training director, Ellis Training

Before we can close the ‘skills gap’ we need to know what it is.  Skills are normally related to practical activities and therefore I suspect that what we really need to address is knowledge gap.

In refrigeration and air conditioning most people quickly learn the practical skills but it is the areas of basic knowledge and principles that seem to be lacking.  There is no doubt that the F-Gas knowledge requirements should help a lot in this area but it is also obvious that people cannot grasp the implications of refrigerant replacement without understanding the basic refrigerant properties.

Equally if industry moves to alternative refrigerant technologies, like CO2, then without a basic grasp of the properties and principles of existing systems and their refrigerants, it will be much more difficult to deal with the so-called new technologies.

Carbon Dioxide systems are not new and are really only making a ‘come back’ because of their low GWP.  However if a system with another refrigerant is ‘tight’ but uses less electricity then a ‘skilled person’ would select it as a better choice.

But the ‘skilled person’ would probably then use their skills to prevent leakage and ensure that the system is efficient in its use of electricity whatever the refrigerant or technology.

Keith Marshall – Chief executive, Summit Skills

The idea of a greener future is increasingly becoming a key issue at both a business and personal level.  It is unsurprising that the recession and subsequent credit crunch has led to organisations looking inwards rather than outwards.

It is now time to look ahead, and reforms and investments on low-carbon technologies will help position the UK at the forefront, but it will be the industries in the BSE sector holding the responsibility for the installation and maintenance of vital technologies.

With a target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, it is vital that all industries, particularly the RAC industry, are prepared and fully trained for an influx of renewable energy technology installation and maintenance.

Environmental technologies are an extension and development of the skills of existing workers in the sector.  In order to install these technologies correctly, employees need to be appropriately qualified and skilled in the relevant discipline. 

The RAC industry is key to the vision of a low-carbon future in de-carbonising buildings, but as large users of potentially damaging gasses this will require a different skill set.

SummitSkills has provided the infrastructure for the sector to succeed through the provision of qualifications, identifying standards and lobbying the Government to ensure any funding goes to recognised training providers.

However this alone is not enough. Without the support and take up of employers the environmental advantages could be lost.

Mark Woods - Service and compliance director, Space Engineering Services

The first steps into new technology has reiterated the need to understand the skill gap in our industry sector; value engineering, lack of structured training and equipment diversity have all played a part in creating a void between the present day and tomorrows technology.

New technology is bringing new training requirements in addition to the F-Gas assessment currently undertaken by industry members across the country. This has provided an insight for the first time into of the enormity of the skill gap between engineering operatives and has set a much needed industry standard.

The same approach is necessary with the introduction of new technology, only with an industry standard will a uniform approach to training be achieved and engineering experienced be gained.

To aid a uniformed training approach, the industry standard should include standard operating procedures for every element of the system - for fault finding, on-going maintenance, energy efficacy and end of life disposal.

Training should not be a singular process at the advent of new technology, but a continued exercise of assessment and improvement, and only with continued investment in people will the skills gap close completely.

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