National training review priorities


A national training review to update HVACR skills and address critical gaps across the industry has identified a long list of challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the trade continues to meet industry needs.

Acknowledging current certifications and training for the RAC trade are out of date and in need of a complete overhaul, the Federal Government announced a review of the Electrotechnology Training Package which covers certifications for HVACR.

The Electrotechnology industry includes the design, maintenance, installation and repair for all electrical and electronic equipment. It covers a range of sectors including the electrical services industry, manufacturing, construction, renewables, domestic and commercial refrigeration and air conditioning.

It is an industry worth $87.1 billion in revenue and employs 340,000 people.

As part of the review, Australian Industry Standards released a Discussion Paper identifying the biggest challenges that need to be addressed to upskill the RAC workforce. It’s clear the future of Australia’s HVACR industry depends on a well-trained workforce.

Businesses are struggling to meet staffing demands and are continuously trying to upskill, retrain and recruit from a workforce that is seriously lacking. The need for more training is paramount, according to the discussion paper which found the average age of workers in the Electrotechnology industry is 39 with 24 per cent aged over 50.

“The loss of key skills and industry knowledge created by retiring workers will put strain on the workforce and further increase competition for employment,” the discussion paper said.

“With major disruptions caused by changes in the use of technology, ensuring workers have the right skills cannot be overstated.

“The industry struggles to recruit new trainees and retain skilled workers. There is considerable effort within the industry to increase apprenticeship enrolment figures and completion rates via a new training model.”

In addition to an ageing workforce, another serious shortfall is the lack of women in the industry. Female participation has been gradually decreasing over the past 30 years, from approximately 22 per cent in 1987 to 17 per cent in 2017, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“Encouraging a diverse workplace and increasing the cohort of women in the Electrotechnology industry would be beneficial to keep up with demand for skilled workers. This will help ensure the sustainable and economic viability of the industry for the future,” the discussion paper said.

It is an ongoing struggle to recruit new trainees and retain skilled workers with enrolments continuing to decline.

The discussion paper also pointed to strong industry concern that the language, literacy and numeracy capability of new apprentices entering with school certification are significantly below the recommended standards to satisfactorily complete Electrotechnology qualifications.

At the same time there is a lack of upskilling opportunities and post-trade training.

“The reduction of post-trade training has the potential to further widen the ‘skills gap’ between the highly technical systems being manufactured, and the trade technician’s ability to keep those systems operating. This is further affecting the industry’s knowledge base,” the paper said.

Australia is currently aiming to reduce HFC emissions by 85 per cent by 2036. This means the entire industry needs to be trained in the use of low GWP refrigerants.

This shift in refrigerant use requires new skills and knowledge requirements, just as new technologies and increased automation has contributed to the need for new education strategies.

“Technological advancements and new energy efficiency targets will create an increased demand for electrotechnology workers. These workers require new skills in these technologies as the design and installation of these products will shape the industry over the coming years,” the paper said.

One example is in the area of renewable energy. Current training for the design of renewable energy systems is inadequate for commercial/utility scale installations of greater than 100kW.

The discussion paper points to the Federal Government’s billion dollar Clean Energy Innovation Fund which aims to facilitate change by supporting emerging technologies as a positive step forward.

One initiative involves investigating the development of solar-powered system which use concentrated solar thermal energy to cool commercial buildings.

This enables the building to operate and achieve greater energy efficiency than using current air conditioning systems.

Priority skills

In order of priority the following skills were identified as the most important for the Electrotechnology workforce over the next three to five years:
1. Testing/diagnostics
2. Health/safety
3. Maintenance/servicing
4. Electrical
5. Air conditioning/refrigeration

Skills shortage
The discussion paper found 71.6 per cent of employers reported experiencing a skills shortage in the last 12 months.

Shortages were identified for the following occupations:

Refrigeration/Air Conditioning Technicians
Specialists in Renewables

Employers identified the following reasons for the shortage with the most frequent response listed first:

Ageing workforce/current staff retiring
Cost/time to achieve the required qualification
Wages/salaries considered too low
Unattractive job/poor industry image
Competition from other organisations

A special report including a section where ‘Readers have their say’ is published in the March edition of CCN available later this month.

By Sandra van Dijk | 23 February 2018

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