Apprentices in South Australia will soon be able to complete both electrical and RAC qualifications concurrently, thanks to a new program.
The Electrical, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technician apprenticeship will run for five years. At the end of the program, graduates will have a Certificate III qualification in both electrical and RAC.
“The dual-trade qualification is designed to increase productivity and capability for businesses, who can in turn offer customers a broader range of services,” says Minister for Innovation and Skills David Pisoni.
“For some time now the refrigeration and air conditioning sector has reported a shortage of electrical refrigeration technicians who are fully skilled and licensed in both the electrical and refrigeration trades.
“Despite both qualifications being in demand, until now the only way to resolve this issue was by people completing two apprenticeships – a pathway that can take up to eight years.
“Through concurrent delivery of the training, it is intended that the dual trade qualification can be achieved in just five years, making the new apprenticeship attractive to both employees and employers.”
A pilot project will be established during the first stage of implementation, with a small number of apprentices starting in early 2021.
Teamwork across trades
An Australian first, the qualification was developed in consultation with the SA/NT chapter of the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA).
NECA’s Executive Director Larry Moore – who is also a board member of the Australian Refrigeration Council – says the dual-trade pathway would address demand for broader skills sets in the industry, providing greater efficiencies and productivity for industry.
“We’ve worked closely with the state government to develop this dual-trade apprenticeship, and we’re excited to see this implemented so that our members can benefit from having multi-skilled workers to grow their businesses.”
According to Moore, the qualification has been in the works for almost a decade. To develop the program, RTOs on both the RAC and electrical sides mapped out the units from both qualifications, identified those that overlapped, and then organised the others into a single program, which runs for around 1,500 hours, compared to the usual 1,000 hours for a single-trade qualification.
Moore says that the qualification makes sense for HVAC&R technicians when so much of their work requires a full electrical licence.
A contractor’s perspective
Damien Staltari is Managing Director of mechanical services company D-Stal in Royal Park, South Australia.
He has welcomed the announcement of the dual-trade pathway.
“This reform and the new wage subsidy from the federal government for new apprentices will encourage employers to take on new or additional apprentices, which will create more jobs,” says Staltari.
“Having people employed with this dual trade will deliver efficiencies on certain jobs for a business like ours, which will allow us to grow our business and deliver more cost-effective services.”
A dual-trade’s perspective
Kevin Navarro is a fully qualified electrician in Melbourne who is now completing his refrigeration and air conditioning apprenticeship.
“Having dual trade qualifications is great for job security and flexibility,” says Navarro, “as you have a wider range of transferable skillsets and licences.
“It also gives you more confidence on the job. For example, when an electrical fault occurs, I am able to look at it not only from an electrical point of view now but also from a mechanical point of view and vice versa with a mechanical fault.
Navarro says that the success of the new course will depend on apprentices getting good on-the-job exposure to both trades. He’s also in two minds about whether five years will be enough to learn electrical and RAC.
“Unless you put in personal time and are proactive in your learning on and off the job, then five years may leave the average person lacking some foundational knowledge and skills that someone who did both the full electrical and RAC apprenticeships has achieved,” he says.
“Of course, you will have people who will excel in their apprenticeship and could probably learn everything in only two or so years. But when dealing with things like electricity or refrigerants that can cause harm to people or the environment, it’s better to be safe and cater the course for the majority.”
Pros and cons
Navarro believes there are parallels between the new course and the electrical and instrumentation dual-trade apprenticeship that also goes for five years. And based on this he says the result of the new qualification may be “bittersweet” for those already in the industry, especially HVAC&R technicians.
“My concern is that, as time goes on, employers may insist on someone who holds both electrical and refrigeration qualifications as opposed to just a refrigeration qualification even though the refrigeration mechanic may know much more than the dual trader about the specific job and equipment.
“Not only are you dealing with flammable refrigerants and gases that that have a big effect on the ozone layer and global warming potential, you are also dealing with fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, instrumentation and electricity. The variety of practical and theoretical skills required to be well rounded in this trade more than deserves it having its own licence, just like you have with plumbing and electrical.
“On the plus side, however, there is a massive demand in the industry for RAC technicians who have electrical knowledge, as well as a licence to install new electrical wiring rather than just disconnecting and reconnecting equipment.
“This new apprenticeship will definitely assist in supplying that demand and at the same time will also get more people interested in learning about the world of air conditioning and refrigeration.”
To read the government media release, click here.