This year's guest judge for the 2018 HVACR Leadership Awards is Stephen Smith, a long standing industry veteran who is certainly well known to the RAC trade.
As the Head RAC teacher at western Sydney TAFE, Smith is a great fit for this year's CCN Live event theme - 'Breaking Boundaries' - as he is actively involved in the current review to overhaul RAC training and has spent decades teaching young apprentices.
This gives Smith a first hand understanding of many of the issues facing the trade today. And there isn't just a few issues to address there are many.
“There are so many challenges facing the RAC trade right now its impossible to list just a few and the issues are pretty complex,” he said.
But Smith believes the single biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the problem of invisibility.
“Mums and dads across the nation do not know that the RAC trade exists. In my opinion this is the single biggest issue we need to address,” he said.
“If we can raise public awareness about the trade I believe a lot of other problems will disappear.”
Smith is not alone in his assessment which is why TAFE, Refrigerant Reclaim Australia (RRA), the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA) and other sections of industry have been studiously working behind the scenes to address this problem.
The results of their hard work will be unveiled at CCN Live which is being held in Melbourne for the first time on October 11, 2018.
“Society doesn't value our trade, actually they don't even value apprenticeships anymore,” Smith said.
“This is one reason why employers are unable to attract apprentices and wages are rising as a result.
“The world needs to know that we build and maintain the machines that keep them comfortable, keep their food fresh and ice-creams frozen.
“Many apprentices move between a number of employers each year, the apprenticeship mechanism appears to be broken.”
While loyalty seems to be low on the priority list with resignation by SMS increasingly common, Smith said changing technology is also having an impact.
“Most of the new entrants to this trade have no experience in the use of simple hand tools,” he said.
“There is a massive gulf forming between the latest technologies being introduced into new installations and the ability of the RAC technician to maintain it.
“Older generations of RAC technicians are typically proud of their ability to fix things, to diagnose faults and repair them.
“This art is disappearing as smarter machines enter the market; these machines only need a parts-changer to keep them operational.”
This issue is exacerbated by the fact that employers tend to specialise in smaller niche markets. For example, the rapid rise in self-contained refrigeration and air conditioning products has altered the training landscape.
Smith said the residential air conditioning sector is the largest employer of apprentices across the country, accounting for anywhere between 50 to 80 per cent of enrolments.
“This is one reason why Cert III is no longer in step with the needs of today's employers,” he said.
“Although the RAC course has undergone many revisions since the 1960s to provide for the latest technologies, nothing was removed.
“So today's apprentice is being forced to understand the installation, commissioning, fault finding and maintenance aspects of every machine in every sector of our industry – they are being crammed with too much information."
Asked to compare today's RAC students to those of a decade ago and Smith is quick to respond.
“The biggest change is that today's students have a much shorter attention span and poor levels of comprehension,” he said.
But Smith is optimistic that all of the issues facing the trade today can be resolved and he is excited about being part of an awards program.
“I am a big believer in rewarding effort,” he said.
“It is the most satisfying part of my job as a teacher so I am sure I will enjoy being part of the HVACR Leadership Awards.”