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The future's in our hands

Following the demise of the SkillFRIDGE competition, lead judge and Worldskills UK training manager Mark Forsyth calls on the industry to back the event to ensure a positive future

The aim of the SkillFRIDGE competition is to raise standards in the industry, as well as to recognise and celebrate young talent. To give an insight into just how important it is, it has been observed that as far back as 2006 the colleges that consistently enter into this competition produce students that have been better prepared and score higher than others in the areas being tested – in particular, electrical wiring and testing.

As there has been no legacy installed for this competition, since the demise of support for the competition in November, I have attempted to pull together industry partners and end users to formulate a working team who would act as a new operating partner and deliver a framework agreement for delivery of competitions to WorldSkills UK.

We had some very interested parties who considered an involvement in January this year; unfortunately the WSUK deadline for a new operational partner ran out at the end of January.

What some in the industry may not understand is the wider impact of not having a competition. Readers should be fully aware that we have a serious skill shortage that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, or the consequences will be felt right across the board.

We have some fantastic colleges and training providers delivering qualifications, yet we still hear industry say they cannot always employ the right attitude.  Those that enter into competitions soon realise they are responsible  for their future development  and employability.

During the 2013 final at the NEC, we had a visit from the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who asked if there was a qualification in rac. Surely our mission is to ensure everyone in the country knows there is a highly skilled industry and career path in rac.

Looking back to the 2013 competition, it was great to see the competitors’ employers in discussion regarding the benefits that SkillFRIDGE gave their organisation and the need for raising standards in the industry.

Furthermore, SkillFRIDGE is the platform for identification of competitors for the WorldSkills International competitions. Therefore, if WSUK cannot find a new operating partner to manage its SkillFRIDGE competition, it may well be the case that the UK are absent when countries such as Vietnam, China, Oman, Brazil, Tunisia, Australia, Canada and Russia showcase their rac talent on the Worldskills stage in 2017 in Abu Dhabi.

So why does the industry need to get behind the event? Well, if organisations worry about future growth and profitability, perhaps a strategic review of apprentice management would help. There is enough evidence to support the fact that long-term commitment of employees is directly attributable to a business culture that develops excellent management practice and a highly skilled service workforce.

My hope is that WSUK is contacted by an organisation that is keen to discuss the role of operational partner for SkillFRIDGE well into the future. If you need any further information contact me at markf@coriolisinternational.co.uk. 

The competition

The SkillFRIDGE competition is designed to test the rac knowledge and skills of learners attending a recognised rac training course delivered by colleges and training centres. The minimum entry requirement is level 2 rac with F-gas 2079 or equivalent at the final competition.

The initial heats are designed to assess the knowledge and skills around two key areas;  (i) pipework fabrication and assembly, flame brazing using oxygen and acetylene, pressure testing and evacuation, and (ii) electrical diagram control wiring and testing. The heat stage assessment test should take no longer than six hours. The highest scores from regional events are then invited to the SkillFRIDGE final in November at the national skillshow.

The final aims to assess all the basic skills that we require in the industry; the test requires the competitor to install vapour and liquid pipework with additional line components, between a small condensing unit (with receiver) and an evaporator. In addition, the electrical system has to be wired according to a control/wiring diagram that includes a temperature controller. The system has to be tested according to industry (F-gas) standards, charged with refrigerant and set up to ensure efficient operation. The system operation has to be logged and after demonstration of operation and control settings the refrigerant system has to be recovered and decommissioned.

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