The power of short courses


20 April 2017
training refrigeration engineer
Safe isolation and lock-off
Jane Gartshore, Director of Cool Concerns, says five days of intensive training can provide a solid foundation for the future.

​Can you turn a mechanic or electrician into a refrigeration engineer in five days? It’s a controversial question. Our industry has a wide range of short courses available and they are a very effective way of upskilling engineers.
Formal training for apprentices is in depth and starts at the very basic fundamentals, with repetition of theory and hands on practice to ensure apprentices have a very good grounding. The scope of the apprenticeship is designed to produce well rounded engineers with a solid technical knowledge and sound practical skills. It enables them to develop their later careers, for example into commissioning or design.
On a recent electrical short course, following a practical session on single phase motor basics, a course attendee asked if we could look at several compressors he had in his van, condemned by others. He had the task of replacing these compressors. We brought the condemned compressors in and metered them as we had been doing on the course.  This revealed no earth or winding resistance faults. We then wired them up to a single phase compressor starter and ran the two compressors - neither had any faults and ran perfectly.
I will let the service managers do the costings on that!
Training provision for the RACHP industry can be split into two broad groups:

  • Apprenticeships – long term formal training coupled with on the job experience
  • Short courses – mostly of one week or less and usually aimed at experienced engineers.
There’s little in between those two options apart from e-learning, which certainly has its place, especially for motivated engineers who are able and keen to learn on their own.
Short courses
Good short courses are based on an evaluation of what engineers need to know and they fill the gap.   No more and no less. They are targeted to meet specific needs and are generally aimed at existing engineers (although they also have a role to play in apprenticeship training). Typically they are provided for engineers who may have little formal training beyond that required to pass the F Gas assessment.
They are also provided to upskill engineers, such as case cleaners/maintenance engineers who are moving into service and need a better understanding of system operation and basic procedures.
Short courses are also ideal for developing “soft skills”, for example for new managers or supervisors, showing them how to work effectively with others, communicate well and build a good team. This can be extended into hard skills such as giving effective presentations, time management and mentoring.
Cost-effective investment
Good short courses should be time efficient. They minimise time away from work (and hence lost income) so are a cost-effective investment with a fast payback.
To get the most from a short course delegates should understand why they are attending and what is going to be included in the training. They should see the benefit to themselves. They should be prepared for intensive days (so they should not be on standby the night before, for example). Self-study material in advance of the course helps in many cases.
Engineers need training usually for one of two reasons – either as an update on new technologies (e.g. A2L refrigerants) or to backfill knowledge.
An example
A good example of the latter is electrical training - something which engineers need to know more about (but are often afraid to ask). Many refrigeration engineers have had no formal electrical training.   They often lack an understanding of how basic electrical devices work and are therefore not able to effectively diagnose faults. This leads to misdiagnosis, resulting in condemning perfectly good compressors.
Targeted training fills in the gaps. For example in one (intensive) day it is possible to cover the essentials for service engineers:

  • Safe isolation – working dead wherever possible, but how to work safely when it is necessary to work on live circuits;
  • Using electrical test meters and understanding and interpreting the readings;
  • Single phase compressors electrics – including relays and capacitors and how to check if they are working properly;
  • Three phase compressors – direct on line and part wind start and how these compressors are protected;
  • How to read a wiring diagram – from simple to multi page.
Mixing theory with hands-on practical work keeps up interest and uses time effectively. Most engineers learn better by doing than by listening! It is important to ensure that the whole session is relevant. There’s no need to spend time on basics for service engineers – they just don’t need to know about Coulomb’s Law! What they do need is the essential information to enable them to diagnose electrical faults safely and reliably.
Hitting the spot is key to making the most out of the limited time available on short courses. Pennies continually drop during good short courses!
New technologies
New technologies are commonly covered in short courses (actually often old technologies which are new to today’s engineers). A good example of this is the British Refrigeration Association’s R744 Short Course – put together by an industry group to meet the needs to engineers working on the increasing number of CO2 installations on retail sites.  It took a relatively short time to scope out and prepare, and precisely meets the needs of engineers who have to understand how the various R744 systems operate and how to safely work with this refrigerant.
New products
Effective short courses aren’t just the remit of traditional training providers. For example, look to equipment manufacturers for information about specific split AC systems, compressor technologies, refrigerants, controls. Tool suppliers can provide training on effective leak detection, new jointing methods, effective refrigerant recovery.
Training for trainers
Trainers need short courses too! We all benefit from attending these courses. For example, two days on an assessor award course has provided up to date ideas on improving how we continually assess engineers attending our training, and how we can make the process even more effective and less painful! We all learn from training, obviously, but sometimes we forget the need to update or simply revise what we already know or maybe forgot along the way.

So, in conclusion… can we turn a mechanic or electrician into a refrigeration engineer in five days?   Of course not! But we can provide a basic understanding of how a refrigeration system works and teach the necessary practical skills. This gives a sound foundation on which an enthusiastic person, through on the job experience, can build.
Conversely can we significantly improve practicing refrigeration engineers’ knowledge, of course we can! This is evident time and time again during and following short courses - engineers with already excellent skills, but who for one reason or another have missed or simply never quite understood something, gain essential knowledge. And after all that there is Coulomb’s Law of course!

For more information contact [email protected]
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