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Untangling industry training

The Australian training package for electrotechnology – including refrigeration and air conditioning – is under review. Revised units are now available for public feedback.

The project was originally intended to be a straightforward “transition” to reorganise the material in line with the Standards for Training Packages 2012 format. But it soon became apparent that the refrigeration and air conditioning units needed more work.

Australian Industry Standards (AIS) is coordinating the project, with support from a technical advisory committee (TAC) comprising 17 industry experts.

Legacy learning

The history of the training package is a long and winding one. Since the original set of national standardised modules was published almost 30 years ago, the industry has evolved, as have the needs of students coming into it. But despite some reorganisation and new topics, large parts of the package have remained unchanged.

“The national modules came out in 1990 as a first attempt to try to standardise education across Australia,” says TAFE NSW Product Manager and long-time educator Steve Smith, M.AIRAH, who is part of the TAC. “A lot of work was put into their production.

“These were replaced in 1998 with the release of the nationally endorsed Training Packages, a concept that has survived, and remains in use today. These were intended to contain ‘units’ of training that were focused more on ‘competency’– the ability to do something – rather than previous training schemes that tended to focus more on the ‘knowledge’ of how to do something.

“This new concept was not quite adopted within the electrotechnology training package, with many units ending up a direct conversion from the previous modules. As a result, we have ended up with a package that is a bit of a butchered tool for registered training organisations to use and for the auditors to audit. That brought us to a stalemate.”

A comprehensive review process was started in 2014. This was cut short when the government disbanded the companies looking after the training packages in 2015.

A review, not a rewrite

This latest project has cracked opened the door for changes – but only a crack.

Smith describes the current project as a “slight maintenance job” rather than the much-needed “knock-down and rebuild” required to re-align the trade course with current industry trends and future needs.

Highlights include two new units: one on flammable refrigerants and one on refrigerant reclaim. There is also a proposal to reorganise three units so that students learn how to install, commission, repair and maintain one type of system – for example, low-temperature refrigeration systems – before moving on to the next type of system.

As the course stands, students learn how to install all types of systems in one unit of competence, then commission them in another unit, then repair and maintain them in a third unit.

“This delivery format does not provide any continuity for the student,” says Smith. “As technicians, and as human beings, we naturally store related information all together in our minds.”

The public review process is broken into four phases, with Phase 2 set to finish on March 1, Phase 3 scheduled for March 11–29 and Phase 4 for April 8–26. The new units mentioned above are yet to be presented for public review.

If all goes according to plan, RTOs will have access to the revised package in July this year.

The project team is looking for input on the revised package from all industry stakeholders, not just teachers and RTOs.

“We’re hoping to get feedback from companies,” says Smith. “Especially those that provide services to a wide range of sectors within our refrigeration and air conditioning industries.”

Information overload

At ARBS last year, Smith highlighted the need to streamline the package.

“Although content on new technologies has been added to the course over the years, older material has not been cleared out to make way for it, meaning that teachers and students are forced to cover much more than is practical,” he says.

“I’d love to remove two-thirds of the course content and replace it with current technologies and practices, at a level that can be digested by young apprentices. The expectation that an apprentice should know everything about everything in our industry, after approximately 100 days of formal training, is a long-dead argument.”

A complete overhaul, however, is beyond the scope of the current project. Other parts of the qualifications that need updating are being left alone for next year when, it is hoped, a full review will be undertaken.

“We’re all somewhat dubious as to whether it will actually happen” says Smith. “The companies that maintain the training packages are under-resourced and rely heavily upon the ‘free time’ of volunteers, like the members of the RAC TAC, the general teaching community and our industry. Many of us are worried that the real knock-down and rebuild will end up being stalled once again.”

Phase 4 of the review will be the last opportunity for the refrigeration and air conditioning industry to have its say on this transitional work.

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2 Replies to “Untangling industry training

  1. Is the review refrigeration only or also for the mechanical plumbing apprentice program, which is also in desperate need of change

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