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Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA) president, Kevin O’Shea, reflects on a 50 year career as a technician.

NextGen has brought back memories of my early days of working in the refrigeration and air conditioning industry; back then the majority of tradesmen were fitter & turners.

I was part of the cohort of apprentices that actually studied refrigeration and air conditioning at the college. Before me, most apprentices in our trade would complete an engineering apprenticeship and all the refrigeration knowledge and skills would be learnt on the job - I must add that this is the United Kingdom that I am referring to.

My off-the-job study was a block release course where I had to live away from home to complete my city and guilds qualification.

Why would I recommend a career in refrigeration and air conditioning to someone looking for guidance in their career choice? I might be biased but refrigeration and air conditioning is a great trade and I would recommend it over all other trades.

Some of the questions you might ask first are: Do you like working with your hands? Does a challenge appeal to you? Can you solve simple puzzles? Do you have an inquisitive mind? Are you prepared to never stop learning?

A positive reply to these questions, is a good start. As an industry we have a problem attracting the right calibre of entrants to our industry. I have heard of apprentices repeatedly failing their capstone test and the teacher having to give them extra coaching to get them through. This is a major problem for our industry. Furthermore, lack of visibility is not making our industry appealing to the brighter kids, it just widens the gap for us trying to compete for talent with universities.

It is not all doom and gloom - NextGen, along with World Skills - are a testament to that. Both programs highlight upcoming ambassadors of our industry to the broader public and shows that our industry recognises its outstanding young participants.

Recently RACCA has been working with Daikin and Kirby to do our bit in promoting our industry to schools and have done so through the NSW Government’s Educational Pathways Pilot Program.

The program invites years 9, 10 and 11 students to apply classroom mathematical concepts learnt during their Mathematics in Trades study unit to HVAC&R scenarios. Activities include using equations to measure the mass flow of a refrigeration unit and calculate heating efficiency, alongside hands-on activities such as copper pipe bending.

Looking back over the past 50+ years, we still have the same issues with our industry that we had back then – a serious skills shortage and not being able to attract enough apprentices that will excel in our trade.

It is for this reason we need to encourage our apprentices. Congratulations to this year’s Top 20 for a job well done.

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