The Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Technician programme is a new qualification for acr apprentices, and the eventual result of a 2012 government report, the Richard Review of Apprenticeships, which concluded that the framework of UK apprenticeships required improvement.
The new standard has been developed by industry employers – including Mitsubishi Electric, Daikin, Star Refrigeration and Sainsbury’s – who came together in the wake of the government consultation to devise the qualification.
Owned and directly managed by industry to ensure that apprentices are familiar with the latest technology and legislation relevant to the sector, this standard has, notably, done away with any formal assessments throughout the duration of the scheme.
Dan Wareham, Eastleigh College’s team coordinator for apprentices, stated: “There will be no formal, on-programme assessment.” Rather, an apprentice’s employer and training provider will mutually agree that they are ready to progress, after which they will undertake an end-point assessment.
Course content has undergone an overhaul with employers setting out to increase emphasis on RACHP fundamentals, championing the value of work-based experience and putting in place acr-specific content with an enhanced focus on better pipe fitting and brazing skills.
Funding also came under scrutiny. Following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy last year, a 2018 update has meant that companies with less than 50 employees, and training an apprentice aged 16-18, can now receive full funding. Funding can now also be passed down the supply chain. Non-levy paying employers will be able to share the costs of training and assessing their apprentices with the Government.
While the RACHP Technician Trailblazer apprenticeship will surely benefit from the considerable industry involvement at its core, development of the new standard has not been without complications.
Indeed, the precise nature of the programme’s end-point assessment has only recently been agreed upon, and is expected to take the form of a multiple choice, independently set and marked knowledge and skills test; two independently assessed practical tests, taken over two to three days; and a professional interview with an independent assessor.
While the course is expected to take three years, some have argued that a particularly talented or dedicated apprentice might complete the programme in two years, or even one.
In addition, there has been extensive debate over the fact that the new standard calls for a competent trained person to be able to work in any application. John Austin-Davies, marketing project director at EPTA Group, explained: “It’s not easy to give people experience of working in any application. But, if somebody is a service engineer and that’s where they get their experience, how can you really ensure that they are going to be qualified for brazing and installation?
“This debate has gone round a few times but if we try to segregate it down too much, you cannot end up with a qualification which rightly deems someone a qualified and competent refrigeration engineer.”
Shaun Creech, assessor and lecturer at Eastleigh College, added that while the new Level 3 standard will help to ensure greater competency in engineers, there is some concern that not all young people will be able to achieve this level. However, he acknowledged: “Industry does need to improve; there is so much involved in it now – not just refrigeration and air conditioning, but now also heat pumps – and it’s getting bigger and bigger.”
Delays to the finalisation of the new apprenticeship standard mean that Eastleigh College is set to bring in the RACHP Technician qualification in September 2019, with Fujitsu having demonstrated its commitment through sponsoring the college’s new training room.