• Young female apprentices at work
    Young female apprentices at work

Meet the talented technicians that make up Australia’s next generation technicians for 2022.

NextGen continues to be an annual showcase of our best and brightest technicians under the age of 25.

This year’s Top 20 are profiled in alphabetical order and provide a first hand account of why refrigeration and air conditioning is such a great trade.

CCN in partnership with the Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) is proud to present NextGen 2022.

Second year apprentice, Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke, describes refrigeration and air conditioning as an all-encompassing trade.

“We do a bit of electrical work, chemistry and plumbing, there is a lot to learn,” he said. When the 22 year old technician joined Woolworths two years ago, he was familiar with the trade but didn’t know specifically about supermarket refrigeration.

“I was looking for a trade but didn’t realise how interesting supermarket refrigeration would be,” Nicholas said.

“Even after I complete my apprenticeship I will continue to work in this area because it will take more than four years to be good at this job. It will take many years to learn everything.”

Jarred Budny is a former WorldSkills competitor who has already made his mark as a refrigeration and air conditioning technician.

He has won apprentice of the year at AJ Baker & Sons where he is employed and has also been a finalist for CCN’s Male Rising Star Award.

The 22 year old got into the trade by undertaking a pre-apprenticeship course at TAFE. While studying Jarred heard plenty of great stories about the trade. His cousin also became a technician and had only good things to say about HVACR as a career.

Jarred enjoys supermarket refrigeration and wants to continue working in that area of the trade.

Perth-based technician Tom Clancy will be representing Australia later this year at WorldSkills.

The Central West Refrigeration employee is only 20 years of age and has already completed his apprenticeship. He began his trade at 15 years of age.

“My dad is a fridgie so I got in through him,” Tom said. He tried to do a school-based apprenticeship while at high school but there were only three options and it didn’t include refrigeration and air conditioning. He could be a plumber, electrician or bricklayer.

Tom loves the trade especially with the introduction of Co2 systems. “Each one has to be diagnosed differently, no two systems are the same,” he said. “We do commercial refrigeration so it is all big stuff that is hard to break even when you mess up.”

Jason Galea is enjoying his apprenticeship because he gets to do different tasks every day. “It is a dynamic trade, it is never monotonous,” he said. “Each day I do something different and there is always plenty to learn,” the second year Woolworths apprentice said.

The 24 year old technician heard about the trade through friends and decided to do a little investigating on his own. “When I saw how broad the subject matter was I knew it would be interesting,” Jason said.

“Right now I do repairs, maintenance, breakdowns as well as cool room work,” he said. “I am happy to continue working in supermarket refrigeration after I finish my trade although industrial work looks interesting as well.”

“I do repairs, maintenance and breakdowns as well as cool room work.”

Jack Hamilton almost became a plumber but was lucky enough to land an apprenticeship at AJ Baker & Sons.

The 21 year old is a fourth year apprentice and will complete his trade in December. “I came in straight from school,” Jack said.

“We are lucky here we get plenty of training and support. We also get to use a lot of new technology.” Jack just won Apprentice of the Year at AJ Baker & Sons and is looking forward to doing more work with transcritical CO2 systems.

“I really enjoy the refrigeration side of the business and we get to do a lot of commercial work here,” he said. Jack is keen to keep learning and is hopeful he will be able to stay at AJ Baker & Sons once he completes his trade.

Ryan Harris is already well known as a WorldSkills competitor winning the silver medal in 2020. He joined Airmaster 18 months ago and has completed his apprenticeship.

The 22 year old was previously employed by ETS Refrigeration.

‘At my last job I did a lot of refrigeration and I joined Airmaster to learn about commercial air conditioning,” Ryan said. “I wanted to do big aircon and now I am doing CRAC units, chillers, big fan coil jobs.”

He also gets to work with a big team of technicians with 30 staff based in Canberra alone.

“A lot more young people are becoming aware of this trade which is good,” he said. “It has definitely changed a lot compared to when I first started. Back then people didn’t know the trade existed.”

Woolworths apprentice Mitch Hart turns 21 next month and is happy to be in the second year of a career that he loves. Although he initially had plans to be a sparky, he discovered refrigeration and air conditioning because his best mate’s brother became a fridgie.

“I really think this job was meant for me I plan to make it a life long career,” Mitch said.

He is currently part of the install team working at new stores and moving old ones over to Co2. “I get my hands on all the new stuff and when we redo a store we do it from the ground up which is awesome,” he said.

“We also work with really experienced older technicians that teach us a lot.”

Ryen Imrie is a 23 year old chiller and data technician employed at Airvision.

He joined the company straight out of school. In fact Ryen was one of the lucky ones because his father was already working in the industry.

This meant his father was able to organise work experience for Ryen at Airvision.

He has completed his apprenticeship and wants to continue working with chillers for a few more years.

“There is still more to learn,” he said. “There is never a dull day in this trade because this type of work is always challenging. There are also a lot of options to keep it interesting from installation work to repairs or services.”

First year apprentice, Oliver Keitlan, said it isn’t an easy trade because there is a lot to learn.

“But that is what makes it so great. I am always being challenged,” he said.

“I had other jobs in high school that were so boring I just watched the clock. But with this job the day passes really quickly because I am so busy.”

The 18-year-old said he knew very little about refrigeration and air conditioning before commencing his apprenticeship.

“I really didn’t know about this job until I saw an advertisement and applied,” Oliver said.

“I am so glad I got the job and everyone is really helpful.”

Second year apprentice technician, Bailey Love, had initially looked into being an electrician. “But this is much better than being a standard sparky,” he said.

The 19-year-old is currently employed at NJR Refrigeration in Queensland. Bailey applied for his apprenticeship after seeing a job advertisement at NJR.

“I knew I would do a trade and did my Cert II while I was still at school,” he said.

“This is a lot more interesting than other trades I am really enjoying it.”

Bailey has a particular interest in refrigeration.

“We do a lot of transport refrigeration here which is great, we get to go out and get dirty,” he said. “I prefer it to the basic air conditioning work.”

Woolworths apprentice, Brodie Mackenzie Jones, is moving into the third year of his apprenticeship as a technician. The 21 year old did do work experience as a sparky and found out about refrigeration and air conditioning from a neighbour.

Brodie loves his job because he is always learning. “I also work with a good team,” he said. “Right now I am doing service work but will be moving over to install shortly.”

Brodie said the RAC trade is the best of everything. “We do a bit of electrical but we are not putting down cables, we do a bit of gas work and a bit of plumbing, but we are not cleaning toilets,” he said.

Asked if he plans to stay in the trade and he doesn’t hesitate: “Definitely 100 per cent!”

Fourth year apprentice, Ryan Marsh, discovered refrigeration and air conditioning while attending the Australian Industry Trade College in Queensland.

His original plan was to become an electrician.

“While doing work experience I was at a place that did electrical work but also did refrigeration and air conditioning,” Ryan said.

“I found myself drawn to the refrigeration and air conditioning work and decided to make it my trade,” he said.

The 21 year old said working as a technician means his daily tasks are much more varied. “There is a lot to learn even welding,” he said. 

Ryan works at IceCap Refrigeration on the Gold Coast and plans to stay.

“I feel like I am still learning every day. There is still so much more for me to learn,” he said.

Mohanned Bilal Rashidi is a 20 year old technician based in Port Hedland in Western Australia. He didn’t know the refrigeration and air conditioning trade existed when he left school. He did six months work experience at Tec Services and was then offered an apprenticeship.

“I love how broad our work is we do a lot of different things and its very mechanical which I enjoy,” Bilal said.

“I am also about to sign up for my electrical training license I want to do as much as possible.”

Bilal wants to be exposed to both the HVAC and refrigeration side of the business to be an all-rounder. “I want to be able to do everything,” he said.

First year apprentice, Emma Rogers, always had an interest in all things mechanical.

“I was like that from a young age and knew when I was in high school that I would do a trade,” she said. “My older brother is also doing an apprenticeship so it gave me an idea of what I should expect.” The 19 year old joined Cool Cats last year.

“I haven’t stopped learning it is great. I knew I wouldn’t deal with an office job or being in one spot all the time,” Emma said.

“My goal right now is to finish my apprenticeship and then I will start thinking about what I will do next.”

Airvision technician, Darcy Sexton, is happy to let everyone know that refrigeration and air conditioning is the best of all trades.

The 23-year-old chiller technician enjoyed his apprenticeship from day one. Darcy heard about the trade through family friends and was drawn to how varied each day can be.

“It encompasses so many things, I could be brazing copper one day, doing electrical work the next and then another day I could be on a laptop analysing data,” he said.

“There is a lot of thinking involved and it definitely keeps you busy.”

Darcy has encouraged his girlfriend’s younger brother to take up the trade.

“I am so glad I work with chillers that’s the best part of the job,” he said.

ABS Air Conditioning & Sheetmetal Services Pty Ltd technician Byron Smith said no two days are the same for tradies working in refrigeration and air conditioning.

He said the job is so varied there is no time to get bored.

“Every day I do something different,” he said. Byron has just completed his apprenticeship as a technician and is now studying to be an electrician.

He began his first trade at the age of 16 and by 2024 will be an electrician as well.  Byron is hard at work getting his qualifications in order to ensure he has more options long term.

Byron was lucky he had family members that were already in the trade so he made up his mind at an early age.

First year apprentice Holly Stynne was introduced to the refrigeration and air conditioning trade by a close relative who was already working in the industry in a sales role.

“He helped me with my application and knew that it was something that would interest me,” she said. “I love fixing things.”

The 19 year-old grew up around tools as her father is an automotive mechanic and in his spare time restores old vehicles.

“As soon as I finished school I worked with my cousin. He has his own maintenance and handyman business,”Holly said.

“He didn’t have enough work for me during the pandemic so I ended up doing construction work until I got my apprenticeship.”

Sydney-based technician, Matthew Stewart, has just embarked on a whole new phase of his career in refrigeration and air conditioning.

The 24 year-old technician has been working in the trade since leaving school.

“When I left school I knew I didn’t want to be a plumber and I did want to do a bit of electrical work so this trade was a good fit,” Matthew said. “Also I knew people already working in the industry so I was able to find out about it.”

Matthew has worked for a couple of employers since leaving school but just over a month ago decided to set up his own business.

Known as Climate Care Air Conditioning Services, Matthew said it has been a big change but a good one. “I wanted to see what I could do on my own,” he said.

Mitch Wells is a 21-year-old technician from South Australia who ended up in the trade by accident. He had his sights set on a trade but didn’t know which one.

While undertaking work experience with electricians he came across refrigeration and air conditioning technicians at the same workplace.

“Their work looked a lot more interesting than the work we were doing,” Mitch said.

“The more I talked to the technicians the more interested I was in the trade.”

Mitch soon began applying for apprenticeships in refrigeration and air conditioning and landed a job.

“I finished my apprenticeship this year and immediately decided to become a contractor,” he said. Mitch is planning further study to be a business owner before opening the doors of his very own business.

Aedan Whyte became a chiller technician by default. “I had applied for a pre-apprentice plumbing course at TAFE but there were no places left so a family friend suggested refrigeration and air conditioning,” he said.

“When I was in high school I didn’t even know this trade existed and initially I thought it was just some kind of handyman job.”

Today the 22 year old is glad he discovered such a great trade, even though it was by accident. “This trade definitely needs a higher profile because it is such a great job, it is a mix of all trades,” he said.

“I enjoy fabrication, pipe work, fixing a leak, just being able to fix a problem on the spot.” Aedan has completed his apprenticeship and is currently employed at Airvision in Western Australia.