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New outlook for a changing landscape

As part of his MA, consultant James Bailey sought to investigate how the industry deals with changing technology - he explains the results

As part of his MA, consultant James Bailey sought to investigate how the industry deals with changing technology. The results, based on interviews with key figures in the retail refrigeration industry, show that there is much work to be done.

I recently undertook a research project as part of my MA studies, focusing on training in new technology within the retail refrigeration industry.

The research, Managing Change: A Case Study of the Retail Refrigeration Industry,  sought to investigate the impact of changing technology from the perspective of end-users of retail refrigeration (under condition of anonymity) along with the then-president of the BRA, John Austin-Davies.

The major finding from the interviews is that retail operators do not feel that the refrigeration industry is properly prepared at all for legislatively driven change.

As one retailer put it in forthright fashion: “We are under immense pressure to reduce carbon and, as a consequence, we are running at 100 miles an hour to deliver green stores, and the industry isn’t ready.”

The biggest contributing factor to the concerns surrounded training. One retailer said: “There is insufficient further education and knowledge available in respect to training in new technology.

The only hope can be is that as new technology arrives in the marketplace, the rate of available training and knowledge keeps pace with industry.” Another retailer added: “There are too many variants of green refrigeration technologies…what is necessary is good technology that is easy to use and reliable.”

One retailer suggested that those at the forefront of new technology product development would be well placed “to apply a package mentality… and bring the technology to the ground-floor level.”

My research revealed that end-users believed that there is resistance towards change within the industry. One retailer was forthright: “Resistance surrounds training, it is not adequate and support in respect of this throughout the industry is poor.”

Another added: “Until we know how the systems work, and what skills are required, we will remain nervous.” Another retailer suggested that capital expenditure was to blame: “In this cost-driven industry, new technology and refrigerants are viewed with the highest level of scepticism.”

BRA past president John Austin Davies took a more direct stance: “The need for alternative refrigerants / new technology is clear, so anyone who resists is holding back an inevitable tide.”

The UK is pushing for consistency in the level of training… but without doubt, that has not been achieved yet. The current situation is that there is fragmentation.”

CO2 refrigeration technology is, of course, a key concern for many retailers, with one end-user pinning his colours to the mast for it being the refrigerant for the industry to focus on. He said: “There appears to be a critical-mass that favours transcritical CO2 technology within the industry.”

Embracing change

Several retailers were of the opinion that concentrating on CO2 as a technology would give the industry a clear direction, which would help more withembracing of change than an array of technologies would.

However one retailer took the opposite view, saying the industry “must remain technically flexible and be allowed to make wholesale changes, as it is impossible to predict what technology may become available in the longer term.”

The findings of a survey conducted by the IOR’s REAL Alternatives programme – which was shown to the retail interviewees –  identified a demand for a mix of e-learning and external training provision (so-called blended learning).

The survey also found that the industry considered it essential that individuals are tested on completion of their training.

The retailers were then asked how they felt the delivery of training should be managed.

Three of the retailers felt REAL Alternatives was the appropriate platform, whereas one suggested that a combination of several options should be the way forward: “We need to deliver training to suit all circumstances – young engineers, those with family commitments etc.”

Another retail colleague was more provocative. He said: “Non-accredited training must have a place, as those that are accredited are not moving along with the pace of change. The relevant authorities that are responsible for training need to get their act together.”

One respondent expressed appreciation for how the industry is already tackling training issues: “The approach being taken by the IOR to show leadership in this area has to be commended. Training is the responsibility of the whole industry, from the individual to the employers.”

However, a couple of the retailers somewhat disagreed with the survey findings that there was a demand for both e-learning and blended learning. They favoured a more traditional approach.

One retailer was pretty bold in his opinions about this: “Vocational qualifications are of paramount importance. E-learning is a waste of time – how can the industry regulate who actually takes the supporting examination if it is left to the individual? Self-study is a possibility, but this is very much dependent on an individual’s own drive.”

He was also less keen on the non-accredited route than some of his compatriots: “Non-accredited courses are a waste of time, due to the fact they are not regulated and delivered based on a self-perception of what best practice is. All they serve to do is fill gaps in the industry caused by a lack of formal qualifications.”

There was agreement from a fellow retailer, too: “Unless teaching is accredited by a recognised supplier, such as City & Guilds, then there is an unacceptable risk that the method of training, and the content, is not suitable.”

Behind my research was a strong feeling that the industry needs to involve more stakeholders at the cutting edge of change – such as design, installation, commissioning and service engineers – in establishing the training needs in new technology.

One of the questions was to ask participants their opinion on involving these stakeholders in establishing training in new technology. I undertook some secondary research, as part of this study suggested that this could be based on a sharing of knowledge and experiences.

Sharing concerns

One idea is Action Learning, a concept originated in the 1940s that revolves around stakeholders from varying backgrounds sharing their concerns and plans with the aim of gaining greater insights, inspirations, and motivation to cope with difficult and challenging times. Critical to the concept’s success is the involvement of a group facilitator.

With this in mind, I asked the question: “Do you feel that the industry would benefit from engaging installation, commissioning and service professionals to support and establish the organisational development needs of the refrigeration industry as it undergoes legislatively driven change?”

The question prompted a variety of responses. One said: “Engineers are more likely to learn and gain experience from doing their day job. This is more valuable than any other method of training in this industry.”

Another responded: “Buy-in from the entire industry in respect of new technology is necessary; those included should be from the entire spectrum of the industry; designers, salesmen, project managers, installation engineers, service engineers. Senior professionals all have a part to play when it comes to organisational development.”

John Austin-Davies added: “There must be every advantage in this approach. A two-way flow of information makes teaching material more meaningful, and should ensure that a practical approach that does work in the real-world is taken; and that legislation takes into account what is practical and not practical.”

As a result of this research, I have offered a series of recommendations for the industry:

  • The concerns of retail end-users associated with training in new technology must be addressed;
  • It is necessary to provide training that is not fragmented, while being trusted by both stakeholders and end-users operating in the retail sector;
  • The retail refrigeration sector would be well-placed to ensure stakeholders at the cutting edge of change are involved and engaged in change.

Focusing on sharing experiences and knowledge in the context of training would assist in overcoming resistance while generating positive behaviours and attitudes towards new technology.

Industry technicians and engineers must be supported, engaged and motivated. The consensus of all participants of this research was that they should be given the opportunity to contribute, as this would only serve to enhance the success of legislatively driven change.

Those in leading positions within the industry would be well-placed in considering this finding as their organisations embark and embrace a journey of change in a changing landscape.

Action Learning may be worthy of consideration as a mechanism that ensures training in respect of new technology is successful. 

James Bailey is a consulting engineer with Abbey Design Associates and chair of the IOR’s REAL Zero committee. Readers who want to learn more about this research, or to read the full dissertation, can contact James Bailey by email at: james.bailey@abbeydesignassociates.com

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