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The most common training route as a technician apprentice is through the Apprenticeship and Advanced Apprenticeship scheme.
THE WORK INVOLVED
Refrigeration and air-conditioning technicians, sometimes known as building services technicians, are responsible for the design, installation and maintenance of systems, which control temperature, humidity and air quality in domestic, retail, light commercial premises.
Refrigeration work covers sectors such as food production, transport, storage and distribution services and hospital medical services. Technicians' duties include:
- Undertaking initial surveys of proposed installation sites
- Assessing the feasibility and implications of plans
- Producing estimates for installation and equipment costs
- Organising work schedules, craftspeople and materials
- Supervising work through to completion
- Carrying out inspection and testing of systems.
In most cases, technicians work as part of a team. For a major project, the team works under the direction of a qualified engineer, but smaller jobs may be supervised by technicians.
HOURS AND ENVIRONMENT
Technicians work a 38-hour week, but this is flexible depending on the type of work and deadlines. Overtime may be available and will be paid on an agreed basis.
Conditions vary depending on the building or site. Personal protective equipment may be required for some jobs.
SKILLS AND INTERESTS
As a refrigeration or air-conditioning technician, you should:
- Have good numeracy skills for calculations and costing
- Have good communication skills
- Be able to explain technical matters in clear terms
- Be able to read technical drawings, cabling plans and basic circuit diagrams
- Have a polite, pleasant manner
- Have normal colour vision
- Keep up to date with national and European directives on refrigerants
- Be aware of health and safety issues.
ENTRY & REQUIREMENTS
The most common training route as a technician apprentice is through the Apprenticeship and Advanced Apprenticeship scheme. Most apprentices start between 16 and 19, but entry can be up to 24. You will need four GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3), including maths and science or technology, or an appropriate equivalent qualification, which is to the same standards.
If you prefer, you can take a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in Building Services Engineering. This contains modules covering refrigeration and air conditioning. The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers ' website contains a list of colleges offering relevant qualifications. The Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board (ACRIB) also has details of entry and training. The Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association website is a useful information source about this career path. You can also obtain careers publications for the building services engineering sector.
When training to become a technician you would normally work towards City & Guilds (6017) NVQ/SVQ Level 2 Mechanical Engineering Services - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (Small Commercial Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Systems). You then undertake the NVQ/SVQ Level 3 with one of the following options:
- Commercial and Industrial Air-conditioning Systems
- Non-Ammonia Commercial and Industrial Air-conditioning Systems
- Ammonia Refrigeration Systems.
In June 2006, new mandatory regulations came into force, requiring anyone handling ODS (ozone depleting substances) to hold minimum qualifications as proof of competency. City & Guilds (2078) Safe Handling of Refrigerants and the Construction Industry Training Board's Safe Handling Certificate are both accepted as proof. All workers must be qualified when the transition period ends in December 2006.
Several other awards contain optional units covering this area including:
- NVQ Engineering Maintenance levels 2 and 3
- NVQ Installation and Commissioning Level 3
- City & Guilds Certificate in Engineering Level 3.
There is plenty of scope to move onto higher level courses, which may include BTEC HNC/HND or even a foundation degree in Building Services Engineering (refrigeration and air conditioning). There are opportunities available throughout the country at a number of colleges specialising in the profession.
You can eventually work towards the EngTech qualification. To do so, however, you must register formally with The Engineering Council as an engineering technician. For further facts on registration requirements, please contact the Engineering Council.
The Institute of Refrigeration is also another key research tool. There are various membership grades from student level upwards. Membership provides access to a range of workshops and training courses run by the Institute.
In England, there are Apprenticeships (level 2) and Advanced Apprenticeships (level 3). To find out more about Apprenticeships, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk
Apprenticeships can be different in for each country in the UK. For further information see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Refrigeration and air-conditioning are an exciting, growing industry with many opportunities in the UK and abroad. With experience and dedication, there are opportunities for progression into supervisory management positions. Technicians can undertake further training and to eventually become fully qualified engineers.