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We need to protect our greatest asset

There remains concern over the relevance of parts of the new RAC National Vocational Qualification, the time it takes to teach and assess the whole course and the associated costs for employers. However, this concern is being addressed, says Paul Mills

I suspect that most people working in refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps only have a vague idea what ACRIB stands for. It is the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board, which is a voluntary body formed from the key organisations across the RAC and heat pump sector. You can find more information at www.acrib.org.uk about the Board, its members and its activities.

One of its critical tasks is to monitor, promote and protect skills training. To do this, we have a group that I chair, consisting of contractors, training providers, associations and representatives of both SummitSkills and CGLI. It is the only industry-wide body that carries out this role for you.

Diverse range of topics
As such, we cover topics as diverse as F Gas certification and brazing assessments, to skills competitions and CO2 training. Recently we have focused on the new RAC NVQ. Some issues have arisen with this qualification and we have been able to work with CGLI to make necessary changes.

Nevertheless, there remain concerns over the relevance of parts of the qualification, the time it takes to teach and assess the whole course and the associated costs for employers. So our immediate priority is to meet with SummitSkills and CGLI in order to review the NVQ in detail and ensure that the industry has a more appropriate qualification as soon as possible.

This will not be an easy task and will depend, as always, on a handful of dedicated volunteers to offer their time and expertise for the good of all. But this is not a closed shop - we welcome the participation from anybody who feels strongly about the importance of training in our vital industry.

Closely associated with training is the ACRIB Skillcard. This is a personal registration scheme that allows the holder to demonstrate both essential health and safety awareness and the professionalism of the person named. For RAC and heat pump engineers compliance with F-Gas regulations and achieving the award of C&G 2079 qualification is a must to work legally in our industry. This and other qualifications including CPD awards are listed on the card, distinguishing them from less skilled people, and providing a passport to the work place (see www.skillcard.org.uk).

Indeed, one major retailer insists that those working on their refrigeration plant must be registered with the scheme, and other supermarkets within the BRA Refrigeration End-User Section are being encouraged to follow this sensible method of protecting their expensive equipment.

It is also easy to see why employers would want to help their craftsmen obtain ACRIB Skillcards. In some cases it is an essential pre-requisite to obtain entry to a construction or refurbishment site. Elsewhere, it is simple evidence of their legally compliant and qualified workforce demonstrating that they have the right skills for their trade

However, there is an equally important reason for contractors to encourage wide adoption of the ACRIB Skillcard. It demonstrates clear recognition of a company's greatest asset: its qualified and skilled employees.

And that brings us back to the starting point. For a very long time, there was a sense that the RAC profession and the growing heat pump industry was open to abuse by those claiming a degree of expertise and knowledge which they patently did not have.

Mandatory requirement
Until the advent of the F Gas Regulation, and the mandatory requirement to qualify on handling HFC refrigerants, there was no formal hurdle to working on RAC and heat pump equipment.

Yet the industry has become ever more complex, with technologically advanced products and an expanding array of possible refrigerants to deal with. These highly technical systems cannot be designed, installed and serviced by anything less than a highly skilled workforce.

Hence the significance of the ACRIB Education and Training Committee: to encourage and maintain an appropriate level of skills across the sector, among those craftsmen and technicians who deliver a quality of service that ensures they continue to be seen as the industry's greatest asset.

// The author works for Carter Synergy and is chairman of the ACRIB Education & Training Committee //
6 August 2012

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