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Education, education, education…

At a time when industry more than ever is having to adapt to uncertainty about the future and technical challenges of innovation, there is growing concern about education and training that repeats those sentiments, says IOR’s Miriam Rodway

Do we have enough competent engineers to meet our needs? Do we have the right qualifications structures in place to deliver skilled technicians for the future? Is the industry investing in education in the right levels?

Engineers need a good understanding of the basics to be able to work on the range of systems and refrigerants used today. But how do employers know whether the education and training new or even experienced technicians receive is enough to make them competent to achieve reliable, efficient, effective and leak-free systems?

Duplication concerns

To deliver the theory required to ensure their underpinning knowledge is in place and they can apply this safely in practice, most employers will rely on colleges and training centres. But our industry’s training providers are concerned about whether they can deliver training based on the current qualifications structures.

Structures such as Modern Apprenticeships and diplomas or certificates that make up what used to be known as NVQs are laid down by national frameworks to standards that apply across all vocational professions from plumbing to IT.

The current refrigeration and air conditioning qualifications were launched in 2011. Only a limited number of training centres are offering the new Level 2 NVQ Diploma (City & Guilds 6187 scheme) because of concerns about the increased number of assessments involved, due to duplication across a range of non-refrigeration topics. A surprisingly high level of content is not relevant to the normal area of work for RAC engineers.

So what options are available to trainees and apprentices? Some centres are providing the Level 2 NVQ Diploma options and supporting students in their attempts to pass these assessments; some have decided to continue to offer the older NVQs that were scheduled to have been superseded but which City & Guilds have wisely extended until this year. Others are looking at new RAC qualifications from City & Guilds (C&G 7189) that are not part of the national framework, but were developed with input from employers to focus more content on relevant RAC skills.

We shouldn’t forget that for many employers, getting all of their engineers through the F-Gas certification over the past few years has been the main focus of training activity. With more than 27,000 engineers F-Gas qualified, the majority of the industry should be up to speed with the fundamentals of system operation relating to refrigerant containment, covered by these qualifications.

So now as an industry it is vital to make sure that the right pathways are available to those who need to gain a qualification which will build on those F-Gas fundamentals.

There are already some short courses available, for example the City & Guilds CPD pathways units in hydrocarbon, brazing, ammonia or CO2. The BRA brazing test was recently updated and the BRA has also published a common specification for service and maintenance training for retail CO2 systems. ACRIB is helping the push for competence by promoting its Skillcard as a skills passport, so employers and customers can check that the engineer who turns up has the qualifications to do the job.

What can the IOR do to help guide and encourage its members to improve their skills for the future? The institute currently offers a range of CPD certificates to those taking REAL Skills assessments in leak management, to those who subscribe to the Service Engineers bulletins and to those who attend evening paper presentations.

The IOR also provides a membership grading structure that goes from Technician to Fellow and a route for members to get recognition for their experience via the Engineering Council.

To begin addressing some of the concerns about skills gaps on behalf of members, the institute is reinstating its education committee (see panel below).

A meeting is planned for mid March to explore these issues and discuss how the institute can address them. Those with a view or who would like to be involved, should contact Miriam Rodway at ior@ior.org.uk.

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