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SkillFRIDGE: Preventing a skills crisis

The UK’s engineering sector employs 5.5 million people, generating revenues of £455.6 Billion GDP to the UK economy, which means a future skills shortage could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Engineering employers will need to recruit 182,000 people with engineering skills each year until 2022, so there is a lot of work to be done to avert a skills crisis across multiple sectors, including hvacr.

The UK’s engineering sector employs 5.5 million people, generating revenues of £455.6 Billion GDP to the UK economy, which means a future skills shortage could have devastating consequences for the wider economy. Engineering employers will need to recruit 182,000 people with engineering skills each year until 2022, so there is a lot of work to be done to avert a skills crisis across multiple sectors, including hvacr.

In its latest report on the state of the engineering industry, Engineering UK said there was a requirement for a rise in skill level to a Level 4 and above qualification, with employers looking for a minimum Level 3 qualification.

“It is anticipated that 56,000 jobs per year require a level 3 qualification, and 107,000 require at least a level 4 qualification (HNC, HND, NVQ4, Degree etc.). Yet only 27,000 people are entering engineering occupations with level 3 Apprenticeships and only 66,000 at level 4 or above. This is an annual shortfall of 29,000 people with level 3 skills and 40,000 with level 4+ skills,” it said.

The US is experiencing similar problems, particularly in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industries. StateCE, a member of the Vista College family of educational institutions warns: “One of the most under-filled fields in today's job market is the hvac industry, which has seen a huge drop of incoming qualified workers. As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field could have 21% of its positions vacant by 2022. While this might seem like good news for the casual observer in light of recent unemployment figures, there's a catch: There simply aren't enough skilled hvac technicians — either fresh out of college or with lengthy resumes — to fill these roles.”

What’s more, even though women comprise approximately half of the US population, men account for at least 99% of the hvac workforce. “In all fairness, the unglamorous stereotype of mechanical work is typically deemed unappealing by young people in general, but especially among young women, who tend to gravitate toward professions viewed as 'white collar'. Those who enter the more hands-on trades tend to do so only after having abandoned the pursuit of something seemingly more lucrative.

“Common conceptions of what hvac work actually involves are also largely unfounded. While the demands for an hvac technician can sometimes involve strenuous, hands-on work, a lot of hours are actually spent communicating and problem-solving in professional settings. The latter types of working scenarios are liable to increase as field technology continues to develop in the coming years. In fact, the field itself has become more scientifically oriented due to the growing complexity of hvac technology, which relies heavily on engineering skills like equipment maintenance.”

There are many exciting and rewarding career opportunities in the hvacr industries for people with the right motivation and skills. Air conditioning and refrigeration for example have a huge impact on daily life and incorporate so many different disciplines, including electronics, engineering, plumbing and IT, to name but a few. The issue of young people not being made aware of the career paths available at an earlier age, together with the widely-held view that apprenticeships are for the ‘less academic’ has done little to help the recruitment drive.

What is clear is that government and industry needs to work more closely with schools and colleges to change the perception of careers in this sector and vocational qualifications as a whole. That’s why SkillFRIDGE, the national refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump competition sponsored by Toshiba is so important – it shows young people just how exciting a career in the rachp sectors can be, while driving up standards in teaching and learning. The competition, which forms part of the WorldSkills UK portfolio, a government led initiative designed to champion apprenticeships and technical skills development programmes, is aimed at apprentices and students studying up to Level 3 RACHP.

There are two routes into the competition: students can put themselves forward; while employers, trainers and teachers are also invited to enter any students they feel are up to the challenge. The first qualifying heats took place in Portadown, Northern Ireland on 24 March and Glasgow College on 28 March. These were followed by Cardiff & Vale College on 6 April and Eastleigh College on 27 April - while Grimsby College will be on 21 June and more dates and locations are to be announced soon. The final will take place in November as part of The Skills Show and success at the national final could lead to an invitation into the WorldSkills UK international competition cycle.

How you can help

Companies that sign up to be a SkillFRIDGE sponsor are invited to engage in the competition in a number of ways. Industry commitment and a show of support plays a huge part in encouraging young people to achieve their best, while enabling those companies to achieve brand awareness to apprentices of all ages and abilities. Most importantly, companies that back the competition help to challenge apprentices to work efficiently under pressure; support common inspection framework standards by using competition activity to deliver a high quality skills set; and assess apprentices’ functional skills against real life work scenarios. In addition to Toshiba as lead sponsor, equipment suppliers and sponsors include A-Gas, Advanced Engineering, Dean & Wood, Refrigeration Wholesale, Vulkan Industries and Fieldpiece. ACR Refrigeration Training and Business Edge are Training Providers.

The event is supported by a number of Associations including FETA; The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining and the Institute of Refrigeration (IOR). It also has support from three other industry leading events, the ACR News Awards, the HVR Awards and the HVAC & Refrigeration Show. The HVAC & Refrigeration Show is the lead media partner and is joined by ACR News, Heating & Ventilating Review and Education Today as media partners.

For more information on how you can support this year’s competition, head over to www.skillfridge.co.uk

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