These are unprecedented times for the cooling, heating and ventilation industries. Our ways of operating have been dramatically altered. For many organisations, the short-term focus has been on survival, but as we tentatively look towards the recovery phrase, we are being presented with the chance to embed new ways of working which offer the opportunity for our industries to lead the charge towards future growth.

The impact of COVID-19 has the potential to amplify the skills shortages which were threatening to cripple our industries even before we were faced with the challenges of ‘working in lockdown’. Data from the Department of Education has shown that we are failing to attract enough young engineers to fill the posts available.

For those that were starting an apprenticeship, a report by the Institute of Refrigeration found that core engineering skills deemed extremely important by employers were not being met by recently recruited apprentices. These issues combined with the disruption young people are now experiencing to their education and training, have the potential to dramatically increase the skills gap.

Apprenticeship Trailblazers

Having delivered training in the HVACR industry for over thirty years, I believe the launch of the new RACHP Engineering Technician Apprenticeship offers us the first real opportunity to work together to drive up standards and revive the interest of young people in considering a career in the cooling, heating and ventilation industries.

A report by the Institute of Refrigeration found that core engineering skills deemed extremely important by employers were not being met by recently recruited apprentices

Known as a Trailblazer, this new industry-led apprenticeship saw employers, for the first time, define the new frameworks and standards. This involvement means we should be confident that young people are being trained and assessed to the level required.

However, to ensure the continued success of Trailblazers we need all in industry to engage with this new apprenticeship framework and work closely with Colleges and Training providers to implement it, especially in these difficult times. The young people we support today with quality advice, knowledge and skills, will be our workforce of tomorrow.

Futureproofing Programmes

I am aware that the introduction of the new Trailblazers has not been without its challenges, particularly around the introduction of End-Point Assessment. Yet I believe it is this, that will future-proof our apprenticeship programmes.

I believe it is this [Trailblazers], that will future-proof our apprenticeship programmes

Instead of being assessed continually throughout their course, all apprentices now must undertake an end-point assessment to complete their qualification. The independent End-Point Assessor’s role is to test whether each apprentice has gained the skills, knowledge and behaviours outlined in the standard set by employers. Unlike previous training programmes, the apprentice is then graded, and like it or not, this is playing an important role in developing the employability attributes of young people entering our industries.

I have seen first-hand how the grading system is motivating apprentices to work harder and stretch themselves to achieve a pass, merit or distinction.

Enhancing Training With Skills Competitions

The new industry-led apprenticeship provides a strong platform for employers to raise standards in our industries, but there is more that we can do to develop our apprentices further.

Each year, thousands of young people enhance the training they receive through their apprenticeship by participating in WorldSkills UK Competitions. The ACR industry skill competition ‘SkillFridge’, is delivered in partnership with WorldSkills UK, and assesses apprentices’ knowledge, practical and employability skills in time pressured conditions. The competition is free to enter, and employers can access the Apprenticeship Levy to support their apprentices’ involvement.

At last year’s National Final, held in front of over 70,000 visitors at WorldSkills UK LIVE, the UK’s largest apprenticeship, skills and careers event, 95% of those competing said their personal and employability skills had improved after taking part in the competitions. Employers I have spoken with have also remarked on the positive impact competitions have had on their wider workforce, who, spurred on by the apprentices’ success have been encouraged to look at their own training needs.

Mark Forsyth with apprentice Chris Bailie who won Silver at WorldSkills Sao Paulo 2015
Mark Forsyth with apprentice Chris Bailie who won Silver at WorldSkills Sao Paulo 2015

The ongoing development of our workforce is an issue that has also been highlighted by the Institute of Refrigeration. It found that there is an urgent need for CPD for those who have entered our industries in the last five years, with many showing significant skills gaps. WorldSkills UK’s counterpart WorldSkills Russia has addressed this issue by working with employers and schools to extend its skills competition training programme to enable a wider age range and more diverse groups to enter, not just apprentices.

Implementing Global Standards

Age eligible winners of SkillFridge are invited to compete for a place in the team that will represent the UK at WorldSkills, the ‘Skills Olympics’.

The new industry-led apprenticeship provides a strong platform for employers to raise standards in our industries

I am currently remotely training apprentices Dominic Dray who works for Royale Refrigeration and attends Eastleigh College, and Jack Newton, who works for Crowther and Shaw Ltd and attend Leeds College for the next WorldSkills event which takes place in Shanghai, China, next year. There is only one place on the team to represent the UK in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and whether its Dominic or Jack who is successful, they will experience an incredible journey and unique method of personal development.

Representing your country on an international stage and competing alongside talented peers with the aim of being crowned the best in the world at your skill is an opportunity like no other. 

Powering The Technical Education Sector

Working with my fellow trainers to support WorldSkills UK in bringing back international best practise to the UK, by using global benchmarking, WorldSkills UK is working to power the development of a world-leading technical education sector and it is my hope that this insight can be used to inform the future development of Trailblazers to ensure we continually raise standards to deliver new solutions for our clients and attract the best young talent.

Crucial to the rebuilding of the UK economy, and to ensuring the sustainability of our industries, will be highly skilled, motivated young people. That is why, alongside concentrating on recovery strategies, I am urging business leaders to remain focused on supporting the next generation of engineers so they can play an active role in developing the future of our industries.

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Author profile

Mark Forsyth Training Manager, WorldSkills UK

Since starting as a refrigeration air conditioning apprentice at York Borg Warner (International), Mark has held senior engineering roles in the UK and globally. He set up Coriolis International Ltd and in 2015 he acquired Celsius Training. The business delivers full building asset collection and energy inspection reports, technical training and qualifications in RAC.

Holding an MBA (2005), and industry technical qualifications, Mark is also a registered inspector for air conditioning system energy inspections. Mark is the WorldSkills UK Training Manager for Refrigeration and Air Conditioning and is responsible for training apprentices to the world class standard to compete at the global WorldSkills Competition known as the ‘Skills Olympics’.  Mark is also the lead judge for the national SkillFridge competition. 

Mark delivers bespoke training on subjects including Service Delivery, Sales & Marketing, People Management and Performance Management around the world.

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