27 January 2022
Institute of Refrigeration chief executive Miriam Rodway interviewed George Lowrey, the first student to achieve a Level 3 RACHP Eng Tech “Trailblazer” Apprenticeship award.
George works for TClarke’s climate solutions division in Plymouth and trained with Channicool Training Services. He completed his apprenticeship in Spring 2021 overcoming Covid disruptions of college closures, interruptions to his training and a short period of furlough.
Congratulations on achieving your RACHP EngTech Apprenticeship at Level3. How did you get into the RACHP sector?
I had already completed an IT apprenticeship but had become disillusioned with office-based work and being in front of a computer screen all day. I wanted to do something that was more practical and get out on the road. I leapt at the opportunity to do a Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heap Pump apprenticeship and work in air conditioning and climate control.
As one of the first people to finish the apprenticeship, can you tell us what was the most challenging part for you?
That would be the end-point assessment. I had already completed the Level 2 and Level 3 exams but it felt like a big step to do the end-point and have to remember everything from my training. This was especially difficult as there had been a six-month gap between college and the final exam due to Covid. But my trainer, Channicool, set up some refresher revisions and practice sessions on refrigeration equipment and that really helped. All of my work experience is on air conditioning systems, so I had to really focus on the college training on refrigeration systems to get through the course. I thought we got a really high standard of training from start to finish. There were just 10 apprentices in my group, and we learned through a block release approach, but the tutors were always available in between sessions to help, especially when we were being prepared as the first group ever to go through the new End Point exams.
Was there one thing that stood out for you in your training at college that really surprised you or made you look at things differently?
I just loved learning about how the refrigeration cycle works. It has given me a better appreciation of the equipment I’m working on in the field. Throughout my apprenticeship, I was working with experienced supervisors but now that I’m out on my own I am able to apply that classroom knowledge to do the more technical breakdown and maintenance jobs. The apprenticeship has given me the confidence that I know how to do my job. People I was apprenticed to are now asking me for advice and I’m doing the commissioning instead of just the install and pipe fitting.
The Professional Interview is a new part of the end-point assessment, what did you learn from preparing for and taking part in the discussion?
Once the interview got started and we were into discussing the jobs I had put together it seemed to flow like a natural conversation. I had been prepared with some sample questions, but the interview questions were relevant to the jobs I had done, and I’d chosen jobs I had done properly – where I was responsible, not just watching others doing the work. I just had to read back through the jobs to remember what they were. I think if you are passionate about your work and enjoy what you do it’s easy to talk to someone about it. For example, one of the jobs I included in my interview involved me leading on the whole project, decommissioning an old system, recommissioning with change of refrigerant in a VRF system and I had to go to Scotland to do it, although most of my work is based in Devon, so it was particularly memorable.
What are you looking forward to at work now that you have qualified?
I really enjoy going out and doing jobs on my own now, although I might be getting an apprentice of my own to train and work alongside soon. My employer has been great at recognising the work that I have put into my apprenticeship and encouraging me to take on more responsibilities now that I am a qualified RACHP Engineering Technician. They gave me my own van once I had finished my exams and I’ve had pay rises too.
What advice would you give anyone thinking about starting an apprenticeship or midway who might be finding it difficult?
It is really hard work but there is a lot of satisfaction in completing it and it really does increase your level of confidence at work so it’s worth it. You need your apprenticeship so that you can go out on your own to jobs and not always be working under supervision. The practical assessment for the apprenticeship was probably harder than my day-to-day work so I feel happier now when I’m on site and I know what I can do. The hard work of the apprenticeship will pay off in the end as you learn to apply your knowledge in different types of jobs and systems. I was really lucky that my tutor Andy Channon was really helpful and encouraged me with extra training to get through the refrigeration assessment even though I only do air conditioning at work. In the end I passed it first time, so I’m really pleased.
Any final thoughts?
Not many people know about this industry, you don’t hear about air conditioning at careers fairs, only electricians and plumbing. I’d like to see more promotion of RACHP apprenticeships – you can earn good money and get out on the road and the work is really interesting.
The IOR will be encouraging George to sign up to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) Ambassadors programme as an example of how dedication to training and hard work on site can pay off with a great start to a career in RACHP.