When it comes to strengthening the trade and raising the profile of HVACR, there is one person that has been leading the charge for many years and that’s the president of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA), Kevin O’Shea. Long before the launch of the NextGen program O’Shea was working tirelessly behind the scenes trying to make a difference. O’Shea is hopeful about the future, even after 50 years in the trade and in the following article shares his insights.
Is refrigeration and air conditioning an attractive career choice? Well I have always thought so and over many years I have tried to lift the profile of our industry. The last 4 years I have been testing ways to highlight our industry to the outside world.
The first careers evening I attended was with the Electrotechnology ITAB at a local school and we shared a stand with them. This was an eye opener for me as I saw the money and resources that other industries were throwing at these nights to attract school leavers.
On our stand that night we were trying to attract people to come over and hear about our trade. I must say I left that night disenchanted because to every one visitor to our stand there were would be 30 at the university stands and probably 20 at the armed services stands.
As a parent myself, I know that we tend to push our children into going to university as a first choice; which in a lot of cases turns out to be the wrong choice. How many times have you heard about university graduates that can’t get a job in their chosen studies?
As an employer for over forty years I have seen the standard of tradespeople and apprentices and it has always been a struggle to attract a full complement of applicants that are good, capable apprentices. I am not saying that all are incompetent but I will state that a reasonable percentage are only just employable.
I hear stories from TAFE that are frightening. Some of the apprentices will not pass their final year’s capstone exam and some of the new apprentices don’t have the basic maths and English to start their coursework. We have to do something about this and that’s what RACCA is trying to achieve by attending careers nights.
Until I started attending careers events, I did not realise that it is a whole other industry, with some sectors having full time employees dedicated to recruiting young people. Some of these sectors also have big budgets to influence career advisors in steering their students in their direction.
It is very hard to make headway in lifting the profile of our industry when competing with such heavyweights, but if we are not in that space we will become even more invisible to the public. Last year RACCA attended a few careers days (and careers nights) hosted by the schools.
One of these events was hosted by Blacktown City Council called Inspiring Apprentices Careers in Construction. The Blacktown event was well received as we had two female apprentices talking to the students about our trade; it was like a speed dating format where the industry representatives moved from table to table.
At 2018 ARBS we carried out Try-a-Trade with school children, we found this successful and will be bringing it back for 2020 ARBS. The 2020 ARBS Try-a-Trade will have the school children bending and flaring copper.
Refrigerant Reclaim Australia (RRA) are joining us with their Virtual Reality (VR) headsets which will allow the school children to experience a refrigeration system through virtual reality – both RACCA and RRA are really excited about this. The difficult part is getting schools involved as it takes a lot of behind the scenes hard work.
RACCA has been in contact with ASHRAE to find out more about their STEM package for K-12 students. The Americans are focusing on younger children, aged around 11 years old and bringing their awareness to STEM which has some material about our industry. We are keeping an eye on this and if worthwhile will try something similar here in Australia.
Looking at other industries that are successful in attracting students, it can be attributed to a range of factors - it can be parental pressure, the student may work with equipment or be familiar with a particular industry like information technology.
Children from an early age use technology and this familiarity inspires an inclination to ensure their career choice involves computers. Hence, our industry can be introduced through STEM at school to bring about awareness of refrigeration and air conditioning.
The missing link in lifting the profile and attractiveness of our industry is money. As stated earlier, we are competing with industries with deep pockets and as an industry are well behind the eight ball. 2020 will see RACCA try ways to lift our industry profile and hope we can find the key to attracting the right calibre of apprentice.