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Burning Issue: Youth training: fact or fiction?

The training of apprentices seems easy but can pose problems for employers. There is a general lack of knowledge, and confusion abounds. Vance Rowe, managing director of Cyclone Commerce discusses a more effective approach
Burning Issue: Youth training: fact or fiction?
Apprentice training is a subject that in the air conditioning and refrigeration industries has always been controversial. The effectiveness of training, how it is monitored and the expected standards of achievement have a diverse and often ambiguous benefit.

Strictly speaking, all we are attempting to achieve by engaging a training regime is:

-To ensure a basic level of competence;

-To provide a measurable benchmark of competency.

These two statements affect decisions we make as employers to the type of work undertaken, associated cost and the ultimate expectation of our industry and potential clients.

If apprentice training is easy, why does it appear to be such a problem generally?
In academic terms, our apprentices should develop at the same rate as their associated manual experience. This is not the case currently as core skills are taught at different levels and within different time frames.

A fair number of tutors have no recent industry experience. And, although core knowledge remains unchanged, there have been significant developments in both air conditioning and refrigeration technology over the last ten years.

Not all companies that train apprentices have the full variety of experience opportunities available to provide an effective, wide-ranging training solution.

The construction industry is not structured to allow SMEs to offer full-time employment to everyone they use, and therefore there is a heavy reliance on sub-contracting. Small sub-contractors are in an even worse position to offer full-time employment.

Some time ago in my native land of New Zealand, the HVAC contractors association and the refrigeration contractors association met the government of the day to discuss apprentice training issues and potential solutions. The following happened:

-Fundamental academic requirements were to remain the same but with an increased emphasis on new technology;

-Commonality of core manual skills was identified;

-A measurable regime of core manual skills was required to provide an accurate picture of students competence.

When the core manual skills were identified, such as measuring, hole drilling, welding and cutting, to name a few, it was apparent that there was a first-fix synergy between the various construction trades. Some of the trades, such as plumbing, electrical and refrigeration or air conditioning, were highlighted.

With this in mind, the trade steering group then looked further and separated each of the core manual skills required into modules. Each module then required a certificate of competency authenticated by a registered trades person. To become a trades person formal academic qualifications were required (NVQ, SVQ) plus an associated number of modules of manual competency to ensure that the person is truly qualified.

At the beginning of each apprenticeship, the training regime is set out to include both the NVQ-style academic training and the manual competence requiring around 45 modules for air conditioning for example. This would then be combined into an overall certificate showing both knowledge and manual experience levels attained. This makes the decision to employ trades people in the future immediately beneficial and means a limited loss for the small to medium enterprise.

Also, the various licensed training providers were approached, and specialists within the industry provided and delivered some of the theory lectures directly. Mine was air distribution, and, as you may have guessed, at the time I was working for an air distribution manufacturer. I provided one lecture a fortnight and was able to identify potentially useful future employees within the future engineering generation. In addition, all the students were trained using the company's selection charts and associated engineering information.

Not all subjects were delivered by industry volunteers - calculus, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics to name a few. These would always be delivered by professional lecturers.

The main benefits of this type of apprentice training system are:

-Companies from different trade backgrounds could share apprentices and reduce training costs and associated lost revenue;

-Employers interviewing a potential trainee will find it useful to know that competence in manual skills can be put into action immediately without the resulting loss in profitability;

-Apprentices can work for the first year or two across the industry, which allows them to identify with the specialty area which piques their interest.

New trades people can be assessed quickly as their qualifications explain which type of system they are qualified to work on as there is a large difference an ice machine and a three-pipe VRF system.

An approach to training like this would solve many problems in our industry and deliver a far better
and more uniform quality of tradesperson.

T:07786 911 924
1 August 2007


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