CCN spoke to different segments of the HVACR industry to find out what the top five issues are for 2015. In this article CCN presents an overview of the biggest challenges facing industry in the year ahead.

Regardless of industry segment, the number one priority for 2015 is the economy.  The economic environment rated as the most important issue of the year followed by workplace issues such as job creation and skills and training.

In fact training emerged as a critical issue for industry transitioning to low GWP refrigerants. The number three issue is the need for a more flexible industrial relations system and to address flaws in the Fair Work Act.

Not surprisingly, climate change made the top five and concern about policy inaction by government. Industry is keen to develop a more effective working relationship with government in a range of areas.

Following is a roundup of CCN's special report which appears in the February 2015 edition of CCN Magazine.

Top Five

While the economy rated as the number one general issue, a more specific priority for 2015 is the development and implementation of PRIME, an initiative designed to help industry transition to a low-emissions future.

Developed by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH), PRIME is recognised as the industry blueprint to move toward a low impact, low carbon future.

Last year, industry came together to establish the PRIME steering council and 2015 is set to be a pivotal year for PRIME's implementation.

PRIME stands for the five pathways to transition: professionalism, regulation, information, measurement, and emission abatement.

AIRAH CEO Phil Wilkinson is keen to see the PRIME initiative evolve and grow this year as industry moves toward low carbon HVACR.

He said part of this transition was the development of the Flammable Refrigerants Safety Guide.

"Seminars on the safety guide were booked out across the country last year and AIRAH plans to run them again this year," Wilkinson said.

"Another priority is closing the skills gap and providing training that aligns with the ever-changing needs of our industry, and ensuring there is compliance across all areas."

AIRAH is continuing work on its Graduate Training Program, while also supporting the review of RAC training at a TAFE level.

"We will continue to share information and connect people through our workshops,  publications, conferences and events. And we’re keeping an eye on the digitisation of the industry. Our BIM 101 seminars were well attended last year and we’re looking forward to more work in this space in 2015," he said.

Also in AIRAH's top five was climate change and reducing the industry's impact on the environment, as well as designing resilient buildings and HVACR systems.

The list wouldn't be complete without nominating "the shifting economic and political climate" as an issue and "ensuring the HVAC&R industry is represented to government and the wider public".

"We contributed to policy and regulatory deliberations on everything from the Ozone Act Review, NABERS and the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and that work will continue in 2015," Wilkinson said.

Engineering and design

Engineering consultancy Norman Disney & Young said the economy is the biggest challenge facing industry this year.
NDY CEO Stuart Fowler said the tough economic climate is the biggest barrier to business growth.

"Economic growth remains subdued resulting in hesitation and some uncertainty in the markets in which we operate," he said.

"Globalisation and the consolidation of professional services firms is also impacting this industry.

"Greater levels of automation and the design process is another challenge for all design firms." Fowler nominated skills and training in the top five.

"Skills and talent shortages are an ongoing problem, not to mention the high cost of developing talent locally," he said.

"And finally, there is the ongoing challenge of climate change. We need to consider the impact of our work in the built environment and what that means for climate change."

Fowler said NDY has launched its second annual Sustainability Report which covers operations right across the globe.

"This is the first time NDY has taken a forensic view of its entire operations through the lens of the internationally recognised Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)," he said.

"We are proud that NDY is one of the first Australian engineering consultancies to adopt these stringent reporting benchmarks and see it as proof of our efforts to improve our environmental impact."

Commerce and industry

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) CEO Kate Carnell said steps are being taken in 2015 to provide Australia with a more flexible and modern workplace system.

The Productivity Commission is currently undertaking a wide-ranging review of the Fair Work Act to address major flaws in the system.

"The current system is not delivering what is required and we see the consequences of that every day in rising unemployment and business closures," Carnell said.

"There are major flaws in the Fair Work Act that are harming our productivity and undermining growth.

"It really is crunch time. We either use this review as a foundation for meaningful productivity enhancing reforms or we remain bogged down in a legacy workplace system unsuited for our 24/7 economy."

Carnell said Australia's workplace system must enable job creation, greater business investment and flexibility for new business models.

"Otherwise we risk being left behind. There are a range of sensible measures that we know work – such as individual contracts with a no-disadvantage test and exempting small businesses from onerous unfair dismissal laws," she said.  

"We also expect some detailed recommendations on how issues with penalty rates can
be addressed."

Refrigeration and refrigerants

While the Australian Refrigeration Association (ARA) also rated the economy as a top issue for 2015, its president Tim Edwards said economic uncertainty is being exacerbated by government inaction.

Edwards said there is a great deal of change in the HVACR industry being driven by international agreements that will generate cost savings and reduced emissions. Despite global progress, he said there is no clarity in Australian government policy.

"As a result the industry locally is unsure how international agreements will be reflected in Australia and if this uncertainty isn't addressed we will fall behind," Edwards said.

Other priorities for 2015 includes the need for industry to embrace energy efficiency engineering, nationally consistent skills based licensing for the use of low GWP refrigerants and the need for a considered innovation policy for the HVACR industry.

"It is well understood that low GWP refrigerants require new licensing provisions because their use requires new engineering and significantly stricter risk management techniques," Edwards said.

"Nationally consistent skills based licensing will enable the entire industry to acquire the skills needed for low GWP refrigerants."

Edwards said the entire industry needs to collaborate in the national interest regardless of government policy and this work includes the implementation of PRIME. 

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