A hidden industry

It is no exaggeration to say that modern life would not be possible without air conditioning and refrigeration. The technology is often hidden, tucked away behind the scenes or on roof-tops. In fact, it is often at its best when it is invisible, just getting on with the job. But it is nonetheless essential.

Many of the manufacturing processes today require a refrigeration or cooling process; air conditioning and refrigeration systems also provide comfortable living and working environments. How would we cope without the domestic refrigerator; or air conditioning at work on a sweltering summer’s day?

Despite it being a huge and growing industry, we are currently facing a real skills shortage in refrigeration and air conditioning, which insiders predict will only get worse unless schools, government and businesses work harder to combat the issue with information, support and investment. This is an industry that will continue to grow, but its skill and knowledge base must be replenished; with young people made more aware of the opportunities to use these skills worldwide.

SkillFRIDGE, the national refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump competition, sponsored by Toshiba, forms part of the WorldSkills UK portfolio, a government led initiative designed to champion world-class apprenticeships and technical skills development programmes. Following a round of regional heats in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the national final is now poised to take place at next week’s Skills Show (17-19 November, NEC Birmingham).

Explaining the thinking behind it, competition organising partner manager Karena Cooper says:This competition aims to show young people just how relevant this industry is to everyday life. It also aims to show just how exciting a career in any of these sectors can be, through industry events and media awareness.

“Our goals are to promote the demand for apprenticeships and training; to provide a platform for the refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump industries to engage with young people and to raise standards at national level”.

“Engineers and designers in this industry require a very broad range of skills”, says David Dunn director and general manager of Toshiba Air Conditioning and CIAT Ozonair. “The technology touches on many disciplines – refrigeration, electrics, electronics, mechanical engineering, plumbing, fluid dynamics, IT, to name a few.

“All of these require a grasp of the underlying theory plus practical hands-on application skills. This can be quite challenging, but also very interesting and motivating for those people with the right mind and skill-set.”

It’s a huge industry, the potential for which is simply not understood says project manager Mark Forsyth: “Students are not aware of the RAC career path opportunities at an early stage and many employers are reluctant to invest the time and effort in training. Apprenticeships should be part of a business growth strategy. We need more female RAC engineers too. “

David continues: “The area of connectivity and intelligent control is transforming the acr industry, and opening up a new chapter that has much more appeal to tech-savvy young people. It is one of the areas of greatest innovation for my own company in recent years.

“Once young people get a sense of this new frontier opening up, and the impact and influence it has on people’s lives, they get very excited about the possibilities – and training and career opportunities it offers.

“Other key issues are energy and the environment, big concerns of young people, and headline issues for both our industry and society at large.

“We are holding open days at The Skills Show for students to come and see what we do. Toshiba sponsors the training and skills zone, as we believe this is vital area for the future.

“We need to project an upbeat and forward-looking vision so that we attract the new generation of engineers and designers we need for the future. The rewards can be very significant and there are huge opportunities for bright, talented people.”

For more information visit www.skillfridge.co.uk

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