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SkillFRIDGE Apprentice engineers reach Worldskills UK final

Following a closely contested series of regional heats at colleges up and down the country, the organisers of SkillFRIDGE, the national refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps (RACHP) skills competition, have revealed the six apprentices who have qualified to compete in the 2018 final at WorldSkills UK LIVE.

Held at Birmingham’s NEC from 15-17 November and attracting over 73,000 young people annually, WorldSkills UK LIVE is the UK’s largest apprenticeships and careers event, of which SkillFRIDGE is just one part.

Bath College is the only training provider in the 2018 competition to see two of its students – Chandler Davison and Kevin Ballantine – make the SkillFRIDGE top six.

Chandler, who topped the national rankings and received the SkillFRIDGE National Winner accolade at the BESA Awards on 1 November, is employed by Thermocold Ltd – a family-run business working in and around the South West region.

Speaking on what led him into the refrigeration and air conditioning industry, Chandler says: “It was a great apprenticeship programme to enter at college and was a subject that I was interested in, especially due to the fact that my Dad has worked in the industry his entire life.”

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) provided a platform to recognise the highest national scoring competitor, with Chandler receiving his accolade at the BESA National Awards on 1 November at the Park Plaza Victoria London.

Kevin Ballantine spent 15 years in other trades before pursuing a career in RACHP, after his elder brother asked him to partner with him and they started their own company, TKB Air Conditioning.

Following a year on the tools, Kevin opted for a course with Bath College. He notes: “We decided it would be beneficial for me to get a qualification in the industry to help us progress further.

“I signed up to a two year apprenticeship with the possibility of doing a third after. I’ve just completed my first year and it’s all going well so far.”

Sam Gills is employed and trained by Star Refrigeration – the UK’s largest independent industrial refrigeration engineering company – and has also qualified to compete in the SkillFRIDGE final.

Sam has been an apprentice at Star Refrigeration’s Newcastle branch for three years, and aims to complete his apprenticeship by his fourth year. Prior to starting his apprenticeship, Sam completed work experience at Star Refrigeration and enjoyed learning on the job and working on various refrigeration plants, cooling different applications.

Variety was a key factor when it came to pursuing his apprenticeship, as Sam notes: “Working on different sites and being involved in different service, maintenance and install tasks was a big attraction to me.”

The diversity of a RACHP career also caught the eye of another SkillFRIDGE finalist, Thomas Thompson, who studies at Grimsby Institute and is employed by Refrigeration Lindum – experts in commercial and industrial refrigeration, much of whose business is associated with the expanding fresh and frozen food industry.

Thomas notes: “I was drawn to the trade because of the range of skills I would be learning, for example both electrical and mechanical, as well as brazing and welding pipework.”

Thomas has just finished his Level 2 qualification and has been an apprentice for two years. The security of a career in this vital sector was also a key consideration for Thomas, who continues: “Refrigeration is an industry that we will always need, and will only improve in the future.”

Eastleigh College boasts a successful history within the SkillFRIDGE competition and this continues in 2018, with student Dominic Dray qualifying for this year’s final. Dominic works for Royale Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, and is halfway through his two year apprenticeship. He notes that he was drawn to the industry because he “wanted to get a trade, and this industry offers a bit of everything.”

The sixth finalist for the SkillFRIDGE 2018 competition is Edward Davis, who studies at Cardiff and Vale College and is employed as an apprentice by Dunbia Foods, a meat processing factory in West Wales. He has just finished the second year of his two year apprenticeship, which he was put forward for by an on-site refrigeration engineer after showing an interest in how the ammonia plant operated.

SkillFRIDGE Competition Operating Partner (COP) Manager Karena Cooper comments: “This year the regional competitions were a showcase of real talent, so qualifying for the final is a huge achievement for which our top six apprentices should be congratulated. I’m looking forward to seeing to seeing their developing skills, knowledge and passion on display in November!”

The six competitors are now undergoing a series of intensive training days provided by industry experts in preparation for the final at WorldSkills UK LIVE.

Funded by the Department for Education, WorldSkills UK operates as a partnership between businesses, education and government, working collectively to help accelerate young people’s careers and bolster the reputation of apprenticeships.

WorldSkills UK chief executive, Dr Neil Bentley, states: “WorldSkills UK is all about improving the prestige of apprenticeships and technical education, to inspire more young people to consider these as career routes and get off to a better start in work and life.”

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