IoR president Steve Gill with the students (l to r) Jack Wootton, Reece Brumby, Tristan Harper-Bill and Hafsa Kalsoom

UK: New IoR president Steve Gill broke with tradition last week by turning the platform of his presidential speech over to aspiring young engineers.

In an industry beset by skills shortages and the challenge of raising the profile of air conditioning and refrigeration amongst young career seekers, Steve Gill chose to give youth the opportunity to air their concerns and frustrations to an influential audience.

And they were not to disappoint, exhibiting a refreshing determination and commitment to find their way in the industry.

The inspired move saw Steve Gill eschewing the normal presidential platitudes to introduce four young engineers: Jack Wootton of JD Cooling, Tristan Harper-Bill of Daikin, Reece Brumby of Star Refrigeration and Hafsa Kalsoom, who is currently without an employer.

Each had their own story to tell but all displayed a refreshing commitment to their chosen career, one making a six-hour train journey from his home in Bristol to Grimsby College.

Sadly, at a time when the industry has been pushing for more female engineers, it was the woman in the group Hafsa Kalsoom, who finds herself without employment despite funding her own Level 2 qualification.

All remarked that the problems of the profile of the industry remain a barrier to attracting young people. The roles of electricians and plumbers are more readily understood by aspiring young engineers.

Due to current methods of funding, there were also criticisms that many of the courses are now too building services biased – one of a number of concerns that should be addressed by the new incoming Trailblazer apprenticeships.

While, as at school, those who want to learn are held back by those in the classes who don’t, there was a feeling amongst the students that too much emphasis was spent by the colleges just ensuring that they passed the course. While this is perhaps understandable, there was a desire expressed for extracurricular activities to expand their refrigeration knowledge, especially if in the modern cost-driven world there is no such opportunity in their employment. 

It was felt that apprentices are often just used as an extra pair of hands and that employers need to remember that the apprentices are there to learn. One expressed a desire for there to be slightly more time added on to jobs to enable the apprentice to be more hands on. “Nothing replaces actual hands-on experience,” said one.

Again, with the changes in funding and a greater emphasis on employer involvement many of these concerns seem likely to be addressed by the new Trailblazer apprenticeship.

Finally, at a time when the industry was crying out for engineers, it was questioned whether we were not setting the bar for apprenticeships too high in some cases. One student pointed out that you can’t get on the course if you don’t have the right grade in English. “You could be missing out on a really good engineer just because they don’t have the right grade in English,” he said.